Last Word on Rugby looks at the upcoming Aviva Premiership Round Eight fixtures with an eye on those pushing for an international spot.
Aviva Premiership Round Eight
Worcester Warriors vs Northampton Saints
This was the match that set Worcester Warriors up for survival last season, with a last-second Tom Heathcote drop goal sealing a 13-12 win. It could also prove to be the catalyst for their 2016/17 season. The Saints are still stuttering and will miss Louis Picamoles badly. The Warriors will consider themselves unlucky to be in 11th place after two home draws and will see this as a chance to move up the table. However Northampton know how to win in tight situations e.g. against Montpellier in the Champions Cup as well as cope without their England stars.
Verdict: A narrow Northampton win
Bath Rugby vs Bristol Rugby
This would be the long-awaited return of a West Country rivalry, had the two not met three weeks ago in the European Challenge Cup. Bath were victorious 22-6 that night and will expect to win again even without a number of their international players. Last time this fixture was played in the Premiership the home side won 45-8 and helped relegate their neighbours. The past and the present is stacked against Bristol, with the men from Ashton Gate struggling to contain their Premiership opponents and without a Head Coach.
Verdict: Comfortable Bath win
Newcastle Falcons vs Exeter Chiefs
This is similar to the Worcester vs Northampton match-up, with the home side hopeful of tripping up their faltering visitors. Neither side is hugely affected by the loss of internationals so the Falcons will hope they can continue their good home form. They expect a large crowd with Friday night’s game being billed as the ‘Big night Oot‘. Exeter Chiefs have regained some confidence after a 62-25 win against Cardiff Blues but they have still yet to find form in the Premiership.
Verdict: A tight Newcastle win
Gloucester Rugby vs Wasps
The table and recent form suggests nothing other than an away win at Kingsholm on Saturday. However this was the case in this fixture in March, and Gloucester won 13-10. The Cherry and Whites will hope the loss of key players like Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes and the Anglo Welsh break will catch Wasps cold. But with international quality players like Danny Cipriani and Matt Mullan still available themen from Coventry are still a big threat. Gloucester have lost Jonny May almost as soon as he has returned which will weaken their attack.
Verdict: Wasps win
Sale Sharks vs Saracens
One of the toughest games to call with the spine of Saracens’ team away at Twickenham. Sale continue to defy pundits and are very proud of their strong home record. Saracens were one of only two premiership sides not to lose at the AJ Bell Stadium last season. This is another opportunity for players like Alex Lozowski to demonstrate to Eddie Jones his early season form wasn’t temporary. The prospect of George Ford leaving Bath and possibly moving to France only increases Lozowski’s motivation. For the Sharks the likes of Josh Beaumont and Mike Haley will want to prove they can step up to international level.
Verdict: A very narrow Saracens win
Leicester Tigers vs Harlequins
Finally at Welford Road a clash of two teams who traditionally suffer during the international periods. Leicester are boosted by the release of Ellis Genge which will compensate for the loss of Dan Cole. In contrast Marland Yarde will return for Harlequins after appearing against South Africa last weekend. This is a timely boost after the Quins squad was stretched with a match against Maori All Blacks. Only the brave would bet against Leicester at home and with their superior strength in depth it is difficult to see anything other than a home win. But Harlequins have beaten Saracens this season and are always capable of upping their game when needed.
Verdict: Leicester to win