BATH, ENGLAND: The Aviva Premiership soldiers on in the absence of its brightest stars, but, as more than one manager has seen fit to remind a disinterested public, at the end of the day, five points are still at stake in all of this weekend’s contests. The January through March period traditionally tests a team’s depth, and it is not a coincidence that in the last five years, teams that have come out of the matches scheduled during Six Nations play have proven some of the most successful come playoff time. RWU has this weekend’s Aviva Premiership action covered, previewing all six matches.
Bath vs London Wasps #BathvWasps
Bath haven’t been shy about signing cross-code converts, and Sam Burgess will travel to West Country next season to join with Kyle Eastmond in what will be a truly formidable center pairing. George Ford will likely be manning the pivot for years to come, so Bath’s ascendancy will likely reach far beyond this campaign. The Wasps looked like another team on the upswing as recently as last season, but injuries to their young stars and Billy Vunipola’s defection damaged their 2013 campaign. The London side will be looking to establish long-term stability in the backs, and build a sustainable front row to give Dai Young an attacking platform to build from. For the first time in years, Bath is genuinely hurt by England call-ups, so this may be a tighter match than the form book indicates. Still, expect Bath to cruise to victory at the Rec, and continue to close in on a playoff spot.
Gloucester vs Harlequins #GlawsvQuins
Saying that things have not gone as planned this season for Gloucester would be like saying the Russians were slightly disappointed by their early exit in men’s hockey; that is to say, it’s a massive understatement. New signings won’t arrive for six months, and the current situation looks bleak. Freddy Burns has never found any form, even after his contract situation was resolved, the forward pack is an embarrassment, and Gloucester’s home record is shameful for a side with such fantastic support. Harlequins have not been lighting the league on fire, but they have performed competently in matches against lower table sides. After a last minute victory against Newcastle, Quins won’t be taking anything for granted, but they should be able to hold on to a victory, even at Kingsholm.
Worcester Warriors vs Sale Sharks #WorsvSale
Probably the least glamorous of this weekend’s fixtures, it would be surprising to see more than 8,000 fans at Sixways as the Warriors try to collect a first victory of the campaign. Dean Ryan remains outwardly optimistic, and the Warriors continue to attract new signings, but their season is likely over, and they will attempt to become the most recent team to bounce straight back into the Premiership after relegation. Chris Prennel has done himself great credit, and will likely be moving to a bigger club after shining in each of the last three matches. Sale continues to dwell in mid table mediocrity, and will not be making a serious run for the playoffs. Danny Cipriani’s form has been outstanding, and were it not for George Ford’s emergence, the former England star may have had a claim on a place in the Elite Player Squad once more.
London Irish vs Leicester Tigers #LIvTigers
This is surely the worst spate of injuries endured by a top flight club in England’s professional era. The Tigers have lost Tom Croft, Manu Tuilangi, Dan Cole, and Geoff Parling, four members of this summer’s Lions contingent, to injuries for significant parts of the season, and simply have not possessed the depth to deal with the blows. A bright spot for American fans has been the emergence of Blaine Scully, who has staked his claim to a regular place in a competitive back three. Veniki Goneva continues to run riot, but the Tigers will not be looking forward to their Heineken Cup quarterfinal with anything but trepidation. London Irish will attempt to capitalize on their opponent’s weakness and continue their rich vein of form at home.
Newcastle Falcons vs Northampton Saints #NcslevSaints
The Saints cruised to victory over the hapless Warriors last week, and will try to take out the eleventh place team without expending too much effort. The match is at Newcastle, which has traditionally been a tricky place to travel, and the Falcons have managed to keep scores low at their home ground this year. Nonetheless, Northampton is so overwhelmingly favored in this match that bookmakers have largely taken it off the table.
Saracens vs Exeter #SarriesvChiefs
The weekend’s marquee fixture will be slightly diminished by the presence of so many Saracens at Twickenham, but the Chiefs will take heart. The match will be played at Allianz Park, which the Sarries are quickly turning into a home fortress. Charlie Hodgson has hardly missed a beat after returning from injury, and remains a canny operator in midfield. Though the Chiefs will likely finish on the outside of the playoff picture once more, their rise of the English club scene’s hierarchy is impossible to ignore. This may be a fantastic opportunity for Kevin Baxter’s outfit to snatch some points.
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall and Declan Yeats, respectively.