Worcester, England – After a two week break for Six Nations and LV Cup action, the Aviva Premiership returns to round out the season. On top of the heap, the Northampton Saints will look to cruise to the first place position, but plenty of jockeying remains. The fate of the European Cup appears settled, and the top six sides in the Premiership will qualify for European action next season, a prospect that adds intrigue to the run-in. With five rounds remaining, England continues to offer the most interesting club competition in the world, and as always, RugbyWrapUp has you covered, with our Aviva Premiership preview.
Worcester vs. London Wasps
Worcester receives the Friday night package at the Sixways, as they will try to avoid becoming the first English top-flight club in the modern era to finish the season without a domestic victory. The Wasps have not been as impressive as they might have hoped, but they retain hope for a European place with the news that a seventh seeded English club will receive a playoff versus a similarly positioned French side. Dai Young and Dean Ryan will relish facing one another in a battle of the brains, with Nick Pennell looking to continue his run of impressive performances. Though the Warriors will likely by plying their trade in the RFU Championship next season, it is imperative that they finish the season by demonstrating some fight, as they will have a massive task trying to bounce right back into the Premiership next season.
Saracens vs. Harlequins
Sarries have boated that their annual match at Wembley has become the “it” feature in the domestic club rugby calendar. By ticket sales alone, they may be justified. After setting an English record with an attendance of over 83,000 the last time they played at Wembley, the London side are aiming to improve their gate totals, and set the world record with over 86,000 spectators. The match promises to be a treat, though the Quins may rest some of their four tired England stars, including Chris Robshaw, Danny Care, Mike Brown, and Joe Marler. It would be difficult for Connor O’Shea to claim that they do not deserve a rest, but equally difficult to justify holding the four out of the lineup when the Harlequins face such a difficult task to qualify for the playoffs. Club and national interest will collide this weekend, with a healthy dose of commercial interest. Tune in to see which side holds the power.
Leicester Tigers vs. Exeter Chiefs
Richard Cockerill shook things up by claiming that the Tigers were only just beginning to play decent rugby when they slid into joint-third place after the last round of matches. The Chiefs enter the seventeenth round on a run of their own, having lifted silverware for the first time in recent memory by triumphing in the LV Cup. This fixture is always absorbing, and the turning point should be the contact areas, as Leicester features an unusually rested side heading out of Six Nations action. No Tigers took regular part in the England campaign, possibly allowing the club to peak at exactly the right time with a combination of rest and club familiarity. Only time will tell, but it looks as though Cockerill is positioned exactly where he would like to be.
Best of the Rest
Freddy Burns will try to regain his form at home, as Gloucester face off against Newcastle. The fly-half will be desperate to make a positive impression before he leaves for Leicester. Having fallen completely out of the England frame during his abysmal performances for the England Saxons, Burns has tried and failed to turn things around several times this season. With the pressure off, he can hope to make amends versus a Newcastle side in a classic “dead-rubber” fixture. London Irish try their luck against Bath in an important match for the latter team, who will try to re-integrate their England call-ups, each of whom mainly served in reserve roles during the Six Nations. George Ford did not gain much match time at the international level, but he did train with the best players in the country for a month and a half, which could have only had a positive influence. Sale will duel Northampton, who have put together an immensely impressive campaign and hope to keep their momentum moving into the last few rounds of the season. Though the Saints have a tendency to fall short at crucial moments, this year may be the year, and they will be able to rest their best XV to best prepare for the playoffs.