After the drama of the Heineken over the last two weeks we return this weekend to the English Premiership and some intriguing matches. Alongside injury problems the clubs now have to deal with the absence of players during this week’s preparations for the autumn internationals. There’s a break during the games against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand but this week many of the squad are away with Stuart Lancaster.
The Friday night game sees a big West Country clash when Gloucester travel across to Bath.
Bath will have been pleased to get Dave Attwood and Kyle Eastmond released by Lancaster with Gloucester getting Freddie Burns and Matt Kvesic back from the squad. All four will be keen to show that they should have been kept fresh for the Australian match. Attwood in particular might have hoped for a starting place alongside Courtney Lawes. Bath are likely to lose Paul James to Wales and Heathcote to Scotland for R7 after England have finished their matches but they are available this week and expect James to start and give the Gloucester front row some problems.
Even with Freddie Burns back Gloucester will miss Henry Trinder and Billy Twelvetrees in the backs and on current form it has to be a win for the home side.
On Saturday bottom of the table Worcester also head west to the Exeter Chiefs. The Warriors will be desperate for a first win of the season but whilst they will dog it out for every point they are unlikely to be celebrating on the way home. Returning form the England camp, Chief Tom Johnson will be busting to show Lancaster that his form demands a spot on the bench next week.
Saturday’s other games see Sale Sharks at Harlequins and Saracens away to Northampton Saints.
Quins have so far taken a battering in the Heineken as well as the Premiership.and will benefit from Danny Care being released. This will be close but it may well end with an away win and Quins having to settle for just a bonus point. Expect Danny Cipriani to add to his revitalised reputation. Harlequins are going to get it together and give someone a hiding soon, but not this week.
What should have been a major top of the table clash between Saints and Saracens is somewhat diminished by the absence of the England players – Courtney Lawes, Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood, Lee Dickson and Alex Corbisiero will be missing for the Saints whilst Saracens will be without Chris Ashton, Owen Farrell and the Vunipola brothers. George North won’t be required by Wales until the following week and the abrasive Saracen Kelly Brown is still available before he joins the Scotland team.
Released England players are Alex Goode (Saracens) and Luther Burell and Ben Foden of the Saints.This one could go either way but I think the Saracens squad is better equipped to handle the losses than the Saints.
On Sunday Leicester Tigers travel to Wasps without the Young brothers, Geoff Parling, Dan Cole and Toby Flood – whilst they are used to having a lot of players missing for internationals they have suffered a lot of injuries this season and will also be without both Antony Allen and the impressive Goneva in the centre
Lancaster has allowed Christian Wade to return to Wasps who have had two easy games in the Amlin over the past fortnight. Despite not having won at Adams Park since 2007 I still take the Tigers to just about snatch am important away victory. They will be helped by the return of Mafi and Marcos Ayerza
The final match sees London Irish up at Newcastle Falcons – two clubs on equal points near the bottom of the table.
Irish will be boosted by the news that James O’Connor may be joining them for at least some of the time but not enough to secure victory at the Falcons where Dean Richards is proving that they will not be the whipping boys in the Premiership this season. Irish should get something out of the game though to further distance them from the Warriors.
My predictions once again fly in the face of picking safe home wins – with the Tigers and Sharks the most likely to let me down in my three away win forecasts –
Bath over Gloucester
Exeter Chiefs to add further woe to Dean Ryan’s Worcester side
Quins to go down at home to Sale Sharks
Northampton to fall to Saracens
Wasps fail to hold the depleted Tigers and
Newcastle to hold out against Irish
It’s always harder to call when so many players are out and three away wins looks either brave or reckless – they are all going to be close and bonus points should be available in most games – but more for close losses than 4 tries!
I don’t know when James O’Connor will arrive up North but it will be interesting to see someone of his undoubted talent in the Premiership. If Irish can keep him off the Guinness he will no doubt help to unleash the exciting Marlon Yarde for even more tries.
Next week I’ll be previewing the England v Australia game and bringing you up to date on the mess that surrounds the future (or not) of the Heineken Cup.