So here we are with the last round Of Aviva Premiership games before teams across Britain and France dust off their passports - and some players get to find out where exactly Einsei-SMT are located. (Siberia is the answer)
Kicking off this weekend an injury ravaged Bath greet their northern friends Sale Sharks at the Rec. Sale have proved to be one of those teams that seems to play unbelievably well at home yet somehow once they get on the team bus and leave the borders of Cheshire they regress to a decidedly average side. It has to be mental because they do have the talent and with a vulnerable Bath who are missing world class players such as Faletau, Charteris, Louw and Watson - Sale could sniff an opportunity.
Gloucester, oh my Gloucester. It is just not clicking is it for the Cherry & Whites and just to make things look even worse they have to travel down to Sandy Park to play Exeter. It’s a struggle to put your finger on what is going on at Glos as they certainly can’t blame the quality of their players. Their win up at Sale earlier in the season was sensational and they were the only team to win up there last year so it was a big, big victory. Maybe going down to Exeter the pressure will be off and with no one expecting much it could free the players to have a real crack at Ex. The Chiefs themselves on the surface look like they are wobbling but their losses have been to the top sides and Glos sadly can’t at the moment include themselves in that.
For Quins there must be some dread in the camp. Pulling off a sensational win against Saracens is not much good if you don’t back it up so the team will know they have to get that win against Saints or they sink further down the league table. They got taught a bit of a lesson at Wasps and for some reason gave up on defending. I would back them to improve as against Saracens their defence was superb so we know they can do it. They were one of the few teams to beat Saracens last year so they would have gone into that particular game believing and knowing they could win which is crucial to confidence. Bring that same mentality to the game at the Stoop and we could see a cracker.
For me Saints are looking back to their best. Their French import Picamoles is a beast and gives them that lovely front foot ball that those good looking backs love to play off. George North is also suddenly shining this season and what a cracker of a try he scored last week. There was a little help from a blocking line but it was still a magical finish. Saints pack looks a little powerful for Quins with their normal organised set piece but what I am loving this season is the unexpected results and this could be one.
Worcester I have been very pleased to see are putting in some good performances. Their game against Newcastle was probably only for the purist but what an important win for them. Now they have the Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. If I am honest - not as scary as that used to sound when I was playing and I am sure Richard Cockerill is chewing bricks over his team’s woeful defence. All the traditional Tiger virtues seem to be missing at the moment as they try to play a more expansive, chuck it around game but forget all their defensive drills. Worcester are improving and will definitely be aiming for at least a LBP.
The big clash for me is Saracens v Wasps on Sunday – can’t wait for this one. Some star names missing on both sides but Wasps to me are quite rightly at the top of the league. Dai Young’s men have been superb so far. Not perfect but their backline almost makes me wish I was a fancy three quarters who could join in! It just oozes class with threats in every position. Cipriani is playing unbelievably well but although most Wasps fans are scratching their heads at his exclusion from the England EPS squad I do understand Eddie Jones thinking. To Eddie Cipriani is not a development player he is currently third choice fly half. Therefore unless there are two injuries (could happen) to the first two he will not be playing. That means young Saracens fly half Lozowski gets the nod as the next project player. Eddie likes his EPS squad to include a definite 1 and 2 in every position plus a player with potential to become a first choice in time.
So - some thundering clashes in North London and as always sub plots all over the place. Ex Waspie Lozowski probably will start with Farrell still injured so Danny boy will want to put the young pretender in his place. Then there is the battle of the 8’s with Big Billy Vunipola out to prove to Nathan Hughes that he will need to work very hard for that England shirt.