The Aviva Premiership is back after a two week holiday in Europe. As ever, it's predictions time...
Leeds Carnegie v Sale Sharks
Leeds are still searching for their first league win of the season after a tough start to their Aviva Premiership campaign. The Yorkshire team is currently four points adrift at the bottom of the table with the 23-9 win over Bucuresti Oaks in the Amlin Challenge Cup their only victory of the season. The pressure is starting to build at Headingley, but a strong performance against Stade Francais last Sunday hinted that things are finally starting to gel.
Now, Carnegie are looking to seal their second consecutive win against local rivals Sale after claiming their first ever victory in their most recent meeting at Edgeley Park last February.
Sale have been in fine form in the European competition, demolishing Petrarca 56-9 and running in 15 tries against Centransa El Salvador in a 97-11 hammering in South Manchester. However, the Sharks have not won away from home in the Premiership since they last visited Headingley Carnegie on 22 November 2009. Sale are struggling for league form this season with only the 21-17 win over Harlequins to their credit.
My prediction: Leeds Carnegie by 7.
Newcastle Falcons v Saracens
The Falcons’ last win was the 22-16 victory over Bourgoin in the European Challenge Cup two weeks ago. Alan Tait’s men have only won once in the league so far this season which was against Wasps on 10th September. Last week they didn’t seem to turn up against Montpellier and slumped to a disappointing 32-8 defeat.
Sarries, on the other hand, have been victorious in four of their five Aviva Premiership clashes but the Fez heads approach this game following back-to-back defeats in the Heineken Cup. Cue a quick rant from Brendan Venter just so we know all is well in the world…
Saracens will still be the favourites when they run out at Kingston Park though and I am backing them to win with ease over 11th placed Newcastle. The Londoners have won four of their last five games in all competitions against the Falcons and been winners in their last five away league games played at their opponents’ regular home grounds.
My prediction: Saracens by 18.
Leicester Tigers v Bath Rugby
Leicester are unbeaten in their last seven clashes with Bath in all competitions, a statistic that goes back to when Bath won 25-21 at The Rec in November 2008.
The Tigers are the only side in the Heineken Cup with maximum points after the first two rounds, but they have made a slow start to their Premiership campaign by their own high standards, winning only their two home games from the five they have played. However, to wheel out the old sporting cliché, Welford Road remains a veritable fortress as Leicester have only lost one game there since September 2008 which was against Saracens on 8th May. Add to that last weekend’s scintillating 46-10 romp over the visiting Scarlets and the Tigers look to have finally found their momentum.
Last Saturday, Bath claimed a crucial 22-6 win at Aironi to keep their Heineken Cup dreams alive. However, Bath’s league form has looked a bit shaky, and the home defeat by Biarritz in the Heineken Cup was a massive blow. Their only previous league win at Welford Road was a nail biting 13-12 on 29 November 2003. Can Bath rediscover the league form that saw them finish with a flourish last season? Not just yet.
My prediction: Leicester by 12.
Gloucester Rugby v Harlequins
If Gloucester beat Harlequins they will be one step closer to celebrating a year’s anniversary since their last defeat at Kingsholm in the Premiership. Wasps were the last team to silence the Shed in a Premiership game on 24th October last year. The history books suggest the cherry and whites are in reasonable shape to win on Saturday, as believe it or not, Harlequins haven’t won at Kingsholm since 1999.
The last seven league games between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day. Like Gloucester, Harlequins have won three of their last four games in all competitions. Conor O’Shea’s men are targeting their third consecutive Aviva Premiership Rugby win for the first time since April 2009. If they can beat the Kingsholm hoodoo it would also mark their first league win on the road in 2010.
My prediction: Gloucester by 7.
Exeter Chiefs v London Irish
It is 10 years since the Chiefs last played London Irish and Saturday’s game will be the first time the sides have met at Sandy Park. Exeter will be hoping to continue their excellent start in the Aviva Premiership and claim their first Exiles’ scalp to add to their growing collection from the Premiership. The signs are ominous for league leaders London Irish as the Chiefs have won both of their home league games this season.
The Premiership new boys have also tasted success in Europe, ending a three game losing run with a shock 34-19 win in Bourgoin last Friday. London Irish have won four from five in the league and are currently top thanks to winning bonus points, but their four-game winning run in all competitions was ended by the Ospreys in Swansea on Friday, and the Exiles’ only away win so far this season was 46-12 at Newcastle in the Premiership in round four. This is a difficult one to call as Sandy Park is a tough place to go, but I think the class of Irish will shine through.
My prediction: London Irish by 12.
London Wasps v Northampton Saints
Northampton have started the season strongly and have only lost one game in all competitions – the 24-17 defeat by title rivals Saracens at the end of September.
A successful start in the Heineken Cup saw the Saints build on their narrow home win over Castres to record an excellent second-half comeback and beat Edinburgh 31-27 last Saturday. Stephen Myler was handed the kicking duties once again as the Saints continue to search for their best option at 10. The fly-half seemed to have all the answers and helped himself to a 16-point haul. However, the Saints have never won in their nine previous trips to Adams Park and Wasps haven’t lost there since Newcastle were the visitors on 3 January.
Wasps are also looking strong following a convincing 38-26 win over Glasgow in the Heineken Cup on the back of a hard-fought bonus point against Toulouse. The European break has definitely been a welcome boost for the High Wycombe-based side after they have struggled to come to the boil in the league. Will home advantage play? I’m not so sure.
My prediction: Northampton by 9.