Guinness Premiership Previews and Predictions: Round 18
Northampton Saints v London Wasps
Last Sunday Northampton won the LV= Cup at Sixways in an action packed game of entertaining end-to-end rugby.
So the Saints have one prize safely stashed in their trophy cabinet and are still firmly in the Heineken Cup. They are also second in the league and have a great chance of being crowned Premiership champions. This means confidence is really riding high at Franklins Gardens, which is no surprise as the Saints have won seven of their last eight games in all competitions. In fact, Northampton have won their last 20 games at home since Newcastle triumphed there, 19-13, on 28 February 2009.
London Wasps, on the other hand, have lost two of their last three games in the league. These came on the road to relegation battlers Leeds and Sale, but despite this, Wasps are still two league places behind the Saints and are clinging on to fourth.
Even though Northampton have won just two of their last twelve games with Wasps, form says that the Saints will probably win this round.
My prediction: Northampton to win by 9.
London Irish v Sale Sharks
London Irish have won five of their last six encounters with the Sharks, and Sale last tasted victory at the Madejski Stadium way back in October 2006.
However, the Exiles have won just one of their last nine games in all competitions, which was the 29-14 home win over Harlequins in the Premiership on 28 February.
Sale Sharks' eight game losing run in all competitions came to an end with their 19-8 victory over London Wasps at Edgeley Park on Friday. This result saw Sale climb off the foot of the table and up into 10th.
But the Sharks are a team on the edge and look to be suffering from low morale. Can they turn their season round at this late stage with the return of international stars Mark Cueto, Mathew Tait and Dwayne Peel?
It’s going to be tough. Sale's only away win in the league since January 2009 was their 24-17 result at Leeds on 22 November. Contrast that with fifth place London Irish who are gunning for a top four finish.
My prediction: The Exiles will be too strong for their visitors, and will win by 10 points.
Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers
Bottom of the table Worcester might be struggling, but they do have a small claim to fame over Leicester: the lowly Warriors are the only side to take a Premiership league point from Welford Road so far this season.
But can they grab all four points in the home reversal?
Probably not. Leicester have won eight of their last nine matches against Worcester, including the 19-14 win at home in round five.
Worcester’s only victory in their last dozen league matches was 13-0 win at home to Newcastle on 26 February. However, the Warriors have won their last three games at Sixways in all competitions and the Tigers’ form away from home has seen them lose three of their last four away games.
All that aside, this is a top v bottom clash which I can only see going one way.
My prediction: Leicester to win by 12.
Gloucester Rugby v Leeds Carnegie
Last Sunday saw another dose of cup final heartbreak for Gloucester when Northampton snatched the LV= Cup in a thrilling game.
But will this loss affect them on Saturday? Neil Back’s Leeds will certainly hope so.
Gloucester have won their last five matches against Leeds, and the home side are unbeaten in their last eight games at Kingsholm.
However, Carnegie have won their last three Guinness Premiership games in their best run in the competition since 2004/05. Leeds will hope to add to this tally at the start of the run in, but the Yorkshiremen have won just once in seven previous visits to Kingsholm. That came in the 33-15 in the Guinness Premiership on 9 April 2005.
My prediction: The two week break could well have derailed Leeds’ momentum, and Gloucester will have a point to prove. Gloucester to win by 8.
Saracens v Newcastle Falcons
Saracens have lost their last four matches in all competitions and have picked up just eight points from their last six league games. This is hardly impressive form for the team who led the way at the start of the season.
Newcastle Falcons are also in a bad run of form and have lost their last six games. Their last win came in the Amlin Cup game at Kingston Park on 22 January against Petrarca Padova. The Falcons haven’t won on the road in the Guinness Premiership since their 12-6 victory at London Wasps on 3 January, so this weekend’s trip will be tough.
History tells us Sarries have won three of their last four games against Newcastle, and the Falcons have only won on two of their previous visits to Vicarage Road
My prediction: Both teams are under pressure to win, with points scored from the boot likely to decide this encounter. Saracens to win by 6.
Bath Rugby v Harlequins
Bath are the best side in the Guinness Premiership on current form having dropped only four of their last 30 possible league points. They approach this game having won their last five games in all competitions and four of their last five matches at The Rec.
Harlequins have won two of their last three games in the Guinness Premiership, but are winless away from home since their trip to Leeds on 4 December.
But the Quins have won their last four encounters with Bath including a 13-11 victory at Twickenham Stoop in round five.
So who will win?
My prediction: On current form, especially at home, it’s got to be Bath by 9.