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Premiership Preview – Finally the Rugby takes centre stage

After a week where almost any talk about Aviva Premiership Rugby has been focused on just two topics, the European issue and refereeing decisions, it will be a pleasure when the rugby gets underway again tonight.

Friday 19.45 – Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks

It is a measure of just how good Saints are this season that they can leave the likes of Kahn Fotuali’i, Tom Wood, and Samu Manoa on the bench tonight without any obvious weakening of the side.

In the absence of the injured Nick MacLeod, Danny Cipriani makes his first start of the season for Sale tonight after his superb performance last week. His match up against the now undisputed number one number 10 at Saints, Stephen Myler (who is making his 200th appearance), will be fascinating.

Northampton may have narrowly lost last weekend, despite that try, while the Cipriani inspired Sale won, however it ought not to have any bearing on tonight’s result. Northampton simply look to powerful for Sale to handle, despite their improvements.

Oh, and George North believes he is due a try, a scary prospect for Sale fans.

Prediction – Northampton

Saturday 15.00 – Bath v London Irish

After their slightly bizarre team selection against Saracens last week left Bath on the end of a tough defeat, they have named a strong team to take on London Irish tomorrow. That fantastic backline is back in force, with the intriguing prospect now of centre partners Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph perhaps battling for a place in the England midfield in the Autumn now that both Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt have been ruled out.

The real point selections that ought to make a difference though are the return of George Ford and Peter Stringer at half back and the reuniting of James, Webber and Wilson in the newly formidable Bath front row.

Irish meanwhile are in the midst of a bit of an injury crisis, however with the try happy Marland Yarde, whose father this week has brilliantly been rumoured to be named ‘Scotland’, in their ranks they will feel that they always have a chance.

It is hard to see past Bath though who look like serious top four contenders this season.

Prediction – Bath

Saturday 15.00 – Wasps v Worcester Warriors

Wasps and Worcester are the only teams left without a win so far this season but the manner at which they have arrived at that point could not be more different.

Dean Ryan’s Worcester have really struggled and look as though the loss of Andy Goode and Matt Kvesic has really hit them hard, their fixtures have been tough but they have been deservedly beaten in each.

Wasps by contrast have actually looked pretty decent, that is not to say that they have looked like table toppers but they have certainly looked capable of challenging for European qualification (assuming such a thing exists now!), their defeats have seemed far closer than Worcester’s – particularly that opening day defeat to Harlequins.

It would therefore be a huge surprise if Wasps were not to pick up their first win of the season tomorrow, particularly at home. Worcester will be fired up though, they know how important it is in this league to get cast too far adrift of your rivals, particularly in a relegation dogfight, which it unfortunately looks like they will be fighting.

Prediction – Wasps

Saturday 15.15 – Harlequins v Saracens

The fixture of the weekend without a doubt, Harlequins had a slow start to the season but looked excellent last week against Worcester, whilst Saracens have been sublime in every game so far.

Quins keep Nick Evans in the second row, allowing Tom Guest to fill in at eight, a move that could be shrewd against a Saracens pack that are notoriously ferocious on the floor; an extra back row player for Quins could make all the difference there.

Saracens make just one change from the side that beat Bath last weekend with Kelly Brown coming into the back row to replace Ernst Joubert. Brown’s return means a first start for Saracens at number eight for Billy Vunipola. The giant back rower had been playing at six but Mark McCall will be hoping that a return to his natural position will help to put Quins on the back foot.

It ought to be a brilliant game and if Quins can get their offloading game going and Chris Robshaw plays as well as he has been so far then they could easily come away with a victory, however the smart money has to be on Saracens who just seem to have added an extra dimension to their game this season.

Prediction – Saracens, just.

Sunday 14.00 – Exeter Chiefs v Leicester Tigers

Both Exeter and Leicester have won two and lost one of their opening three games and both will be pretty happy with those starts, though Leicester will be a little concerned about their first half against Bath.

As ever against the Chiefs though, on paper Tigers look the far stronger outfit, however as everyone knows Exeter are all about the collective strength not the individual. As Will Greenwood said on School of Hard Knocks last night, “The strength of the wolf is in the pack, the strength of the pack is in the wolf.”

Exeter have made Sandy Park just about the hardest ground to visit in the Premiership and you can guarantee that this is not a fixture that Leicester will have marked down as an easy win.

The Leicester pack looks built for a fight; Ed Slater plays at six with Louis Deacon coming back in to partner Geoff Parling in the second row. Tom Youngs comes back at hooker with Dan Cole packing down next to him.

The loss of Manu Tuilagi is a blow though and Vereniki Goneva will have a job on his hands to match the contribution of Tuilagi.

It is in the centres where the Exeter team particularly excites us; Sam Hill, the unsung member of Exeter’s crop of England U20s JWC winners, makes his third start of the season and looks like he could be heading for a real breakthrough year.

Leicester should probably win this, but we suspect it will be a tough a gritty affair. Look out for our editor on BT Sport on Sunday for this one.

Prediction – Leicester

Sunday 14.00 – Newcastle Falcons v Gloucester

Gloucester eased the pressure on themselves last week with that dramatic late win against Northampton while Newcastle took a bit of a hammering against Leicester.

However Dean Richards’ side are a tough outfit and will be back and ready for action against Gloucester tomorrow, particularly given that they are at home.

The challenge for Gloucester is for their forward pack to be able to match what will be a highly physical and intense Newcastle pack, if they can then they have the backs to be able to cause some real damage.

The Falcons know that if they are to stay in this league then they need to pick up points at home and you can be certain that Richards will have them targeting that perceived Gloucester weakness up front.

Prediction – Gloucester

Fixtures:

Friday 19.45 – Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks

Saturday 15.00 – Bath v London Irish

Saturday 15.00 – Wasps v Worcester Warriors

Saturday 15.15 – Harlequins v Saracens

Sunday 14.00 – Exeter Chiefs v Leicester Tigers

Sunday 14.00 – Newcastle Falcons v Gloucester

Do you agree with our predictions? Let us know what you think, you can get in touch via Twitter, Facebook, or through the comments box below.

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