Rugby Union: Gallagher Premiership Preview

The first derby is in the East Midlands where Leicester Tigers, the Premiership leaders, take on their old rivals Northampton Saints at Welford Road on Friday evening..kick off at 19.45.

Although both teams are missing players because of the Six Nations, the atmosphere will still be special as 20,000 plus will attend, and with home advantage, you’d expect the Tigers to win what would be their 13th league contest.

The Saints, 5th and aiming to reach the play-offs, travel the short distance to Leicester hoping to gain revenge for their heavy the Tigers at Franklin’s Gardens at the end of October.

Leicester scored seven tries in the first Premiership match and go into Friday night’s game full of confidence as several younger players made a strong impression as Worcester lost by 36-16 in the last league game.

Northampton arrive in pretty good form, having beaten Worcester at Sixways 29-13 and before that victory they played some thrilling attacking rugby to overwhelm Newcastle Falcons 44-8.

As they like to keep the ball alive, expect Northampton to put the Tigers ’ defence under a lot of pressure, so the contest may be closer than the clash in October.

Can Exeter return to winning ways against Gloucester?

Saturday afternoon at Sandy Park will also attract another big crowd as Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester feature in a West Country derby.

On current form, Gloucester should make the top four play-offs and are enjoying an excellent run of form…three consecutive wins against London Irish, Newcastle and Saracens.

Gloucester’s Head Coach, George Skivington, will be aware that Exeter are unlikely to repeat the collapse they suffered against Wasps recently who clinched the points right at the end after the Chiefs had led by 18 points.

Exeter have been badly hit by the absence of players either because of the Six Nations, illness or injury, so coach Rob Baxter, rather like Steve Borthwick at Leicester, has been forced to give inexperienced players an opportunity, and while his side lost to Wasps, he was delighted with their attitude.

Baxter needs to stop the sequence of three successive league defeats, and will no doubt remember how they won the first league meeting against Gloucester by 16-13 in October.

Saracens and Harlequins clash on Sunday

Both clubs are without about half a dozen players who are on duty with England..Saracens, for example, are missing Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly, Jamie George, Nick Isiekwe and Max Malins, and Quins will have to compete minus Marcus Smith, Alex Dombrandt, Louis Lynagh, Joe Marchant, and Joe Marler.

Saracens have won the last two Premiership games against Sunday’s visitors who must recover their composure having lost 36-14 at the Twickenham Stoop last Sunday to Sale Sharks, meaning that Quins’ coach Tabai Matson must inspire his squad to achieve a special result away from home as his squad try to fight back from consecutive defeats in the Premiership.

Saracens, second in the league, prepared satisfactorily for the Quins game by thrashing Bath by 40-3, and it makes sense to back them to win again on Sunday.

Elsewhere in the Premiership – Bristol and London Irish also play on Friday evening at Ashton Gate..kick off 19.45, a game whose outcome is hard to predict, and then on Saturday, Sale Sharks should beat second from bottom Worcester and you’d think that Wasps, with a home game in Coventry, will be too strong for Bath who remain at the foot of the Premiership table.