It's Valentines' weekend, and here are my rose-tinted previews and predictions for this weekend's Guinness Premiership fixtures:
Northampton v Newcastle
Chris Ashton's release by England will please Saints fans making the trip to Franklins Gardens on Saturday but Northampton will miss prop Euan Murray. Murray starts for Scotland after missing last weekend's Six Nations clash due to religious reasons. Last week Newcastle narrowly lost 9-3 in the LV= Cup away to Wasps, whilst Northampton beat Leicester 23-11. The Saints have been nothing short of a revelation this season, and I predict they will march on and tame the Falcons this weekend. Praise be.
My prediction: Northampton by 9.
Leeds Carnegie v Leicester
At the start of 2010, Stuart Barnes declared that if Leeds were bottom of the Premiership after this game then they would definitely be relegated. The pivotal game is now here and Leeds are still bottom of the table whilst Leicester are top of the pile. Even the most romantic Leeds supporters now have to admit the magnitude of the challenge Leeds face to avoid the drop. A bonus point win against the Tigers would see Leeds join Worcester on 19 points (provided that Worcester lose at Saracens) but Leeds would still be bottom on points difference. The Yorkshire side has crashed out of the LV= Cup and Amlin Cup in recent weeks and they are yet to win a Guinness Premiership game at home. I can only see this result going one way, despite Leicester losing key players to international duty.
My prediction: Leicester by 15.
London Irish v Bath
If this game was being played at the Rec then I would tip Bath to sneak a win based on their recent home form. Happily for England fans, Matt Banahan has been released back to his club, which means the crowd at the Majedski Stadium will be treated to the sight of him dawdling down the wing at 0.2 miles an hour on Sunday afternoon. Irish have faltered of late, losing 19-9 away at Worcester in last weekend's LV= Cup, whilst Bath pulled off a 40-7 victory at home to Sale in the same competition. Of course the Premiership is the Exiles main target after dropping out of the Heineken Cup. I think they'll turn around their fortunes and win this one.
My prediction: London Irish to win by 12.
Wasps v Sale
Wasps narrowly beat Newcastle 9-3 in last weekend's LV= Cup, and Sale were hammered by Bath. When these sides last met controversy ensued, with the game eventually being called off because of a waterlogged pitch. Wasps lost 34-8 away at Leicester in their last Guinness Premiership outing when their scrum was taught a lesson. Therefore the men in yellow and black will be pleased that Martin Castrogiavanni and Dan Cole are on international duty, but then again so is Tim Payne.
My prediction: Wasps to win by 8.
Gloucester v Harlequins
When these sides met in the first half of the season Harlequins ran out 35-29 winners in an action packed game. Quins' half backs Danny Care and Nick Evans ran riot for the hosts, but Care, Monye and Easter are all on England duty this weekend. In their last premiership game, Gloucester drew 13-13 with Worcester, whilst Harlequins were defeated by Sale for the third time this season (twice in the Heineken Cup and once in the Premiership).
My prediction: Gloucester to win by 5.
Saracens v Worcester
Saracens have been pushed off top spot by the snarling Tigers, helped when Sarries were defeated 22-15 at home by Richard Cockerill's men on 2 January. Worcester are second bottom in the Guinness Premiership, five points ahead of relegation favourites Leeds Carnegie. Worcester seem to be drawing games for fun this season, but I doubt they will do enough to hold the Saracens who are looking to reclaim top spot. Saracens and Worcester both lost their last games in the Guinness Premiership.
My prediction: Saracens to win by 9.