Thursday, 22 April 2010
Guinness Premiership Previews & Predictions: Round 21
But which teams will come out on top? Here are my previews and predictions for this weekend:
Sale Sharks v Newcastle Falcons
Friday night sees 11th placed Sale meet 10th placed Newcastle in a fight for Premiership survival. The teams drew 16-all at Kingston Park in round two, but Sale beware: the Falcons have won two of their last three visits to Edgeley Park.
The Sharks have been in a torrid run of form and have only won two of their last 13 games in all competitions since New Year's Day. Crucially, these wins were against Worcester and Wasps in two of their last three games at home.
The Falcons' form has been equally poor, and their only win in their last eleven matches in all competitions was the 25-13 home league win to Gloucester on 31 March.
My prediction: This is a tough one to call. The winner will secure Premiership rugby for next season. The loser will anxiously be waiting for the result of the Leeds v Worcester game on Sunday. With Charlie Hodgson at the helm, I think Sale will edge it by 6.
Gloucester Rugby v London Irish
Playoff chasing London Irish will be hoping to bounce back from their shock 23-13 home defeat by Leeds last Sunday. When the Exiles played Gloucester at the Madejski in September they won 40-10, but Irish have only ever won once at Kingsholm in the Premiership: 13-9 on 28 January 2006.
Gloucester's current home form is impressive. They are unbeaten in their last ten games at Kingsholm in all competitions since Cardiff Blues won there in the LV= Cup on 8 November.
My prediction: London Irish were a shambles last weekend and their form is deserting them at the crucial point in the season. Gloucester to win by 8.
Leicester Tigers v Harlequins
Leicester are unbeaten in their last 19 games at Fortress Welford Road - the third best home winning run in Premiership history.
The Tigers are hunting top spot in the league to secure a home semi-final, and have suffered just one defeat in their last ten matches in the Guinness Premiership. That was the 19-3 loss to Northampton on 27 February.
Quins' record against Leicester isn't glittering. They have lost their last 13 matches against the current league champions, with their most recent win way back in May 2003.
Harlequins were taught a rugby lesson by Saracens at Wembley on Saturday, when they lost 37-18. Conor O'Shea's men have not won away from home in the league since a visit to Leeds Carnegie on 4 December.
Add to this the stat that their last win at Welford Road was in the old Division One on 26 April 1997 and things aren't looking great for the team from West London.
My prediction: There can be only one winner. Leicester by 12.
Northampton Saints v Saracens
This season in the league, the Saints have played ten, won ten at home and are bidding to go through a complete campaign in the top flight unbeaten at Franklins Gardens for the first time.
Saracens have won three of their last four games in the Guinness Premiership and more than doubled their try tally for the entire Premiership season in the process.
The Saints approach this game on the back of the 21-20 loss to Bath on Tuesday after fielding a much weakened side due to EPS restrictions. Jim Mallinder's men are vying for a home semi-final and they must win one of their final two games to cement second place.
Saracens beat Harlequins in fine style last weekend, and will be looking to improve on their previous two visits to Franklins Gardens in the LV= Cup, where they lost 3-19 and 20-31.
However, Sarries won 19-16 when the two teams clashed at Wembley in round two of the Guinness Premiership.
My prediction: A tough one to call. Sarries' are in a fine vein of try-scoring form, whilst Northampton have been one of the teams to beat all season. Home advantage plays. Saints to win by 7.
London Wasps v Bath Rugby
Only two league points separate 4th place Wasps and 6th place Bath. It really is that tight at the top.
This game will be played at Twickenham, where Bath have the edge. The boys in black and blue have won three of the clashes against Wasps at HQ to the London side's one.
Bath beat Northampton Saints 21-20 at the Rec on Tuesday night in a nailbiting game.
Wasps won 17-15 at The Rec in the Premiership in September and have won their last three games in all competitions. They have also been victorious on their last three visits to Twickenham.
Bath, on the other hand, have not won at HQ since the Pilkington Cup final in May 1996 when they beat Leicester.
My prediction: Wasps are hitting form late, but they are hitting it never the less. This is a very close game to call, so I won't. I'm going for a draw.
Leeds Carnegie v Worcester Warriors
For me, as a Leeds fan, this is the game of the season. This fixture is being touted as the "Million Pound Match", due to the extra funding Leeds will receive from the RFU if they survive in the Premiership.
Leeds grabbed a shock 23-13 away win over London Irish on Sunday to catapult them to 9th in the table. Worcester are currently rooted to the bottom, and only a win will keep their Premiership dreams alive for next season. No mean feat, as Mike Ruddock's men have not won on the road in the league in this campaign.
However, the Warriors took the spoils when the two teams met at Sixways in round two but they have only picked up one league point from their last four games.
This is a crucial clash for both sides. I expect to have no voice left on Monday morning after all the shouting I will be doing at Headingley on Sunday!
My prediction: Leeds' well deserved win in Reading will have boosted their confidence no end. I've got to go for a home win. Leeds Carnegie to win by 9.
But what do you think?