The first game takes place on Friday evening at the Recreation Ground in Bath where Harlequins, third in the league and also making good progress in the European Champions Cup, face the bottom club.
The reigning champions start as clear favourites, and it wouldn’t be right to put money on Bath causing a big upset. It’ll be interesting to know how Bath have been affected mentally by the mauling suffered in Saturday’s Heineken Cup game when they were slaughtered 64-7 by Leinster.
The Irish side scored 10 tries and while Bath did win their first Premiership game recently, it’s hard to see them beating Quins who’ve won their last three Premiership matches and two consecutive contests in the Heineken Cup.
Newcastle to pull off a shock?
London Irish, back at Brentford, and seventh with four wins in 12 games, have the ambition to repeat one of the shocks of the campaign.
Remarkably in October, they beat Exeter Chiefs down in Devon by 33-21, so now they have the opportunity at home to produce another top class display against the former champions who are just above them in the table and, importantly, chasing one of the four places in the play-offs.
So don’t dismiss the chances of Rob Baxter’s team.
Similarly with Gloucester, fourth on 38 points, who’re so keen to remain in contention, and will be optimistic as they confront Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.
However, although Newcastle, ninth, were badly defeated in their previous Premiership games by Northampton and Leicester, they recovered with a fine win against Biarritz in the European Challenge Cup, and their spirits will also have been boosted by the expected come-back against Gloucester of forward Mark Wilson, one of their best players and all set to play his first game of the season.
Betting on Newcastle to win is worth taking a risk.
Down in the West Midlands, Worcester Warriors are at Sixways where Northampton Saints, who performed unsatisfactorily in the Heineken Cup, are determined to move beyond their fifth position.
Worcester, second from bottom with only three wins in 12, have, though, shown signs of a revival. Beating Zebre in the European Challenge Cup has renewed confidence, and in their last Premiership game at Sixways they overcame Gloucester, so backing the Warriors should be considered.
Two big clashes on Sunday
After qualifying for the last 16 of the Heineken Cup, Sharks’ boss, Alex Sanderson, spoke confidently about his team’s prospects, but with the Tigers, having lost only once in the Premiership, it would be a massive coup if Sale, even with home advantage, toppled them.
On 24 points and 10th, at this stage, it’s hard to see Sale making the play-offs, and the same probably applies to Wasps, but it would be foolish to cast aside the chances of the Coventry team faced with the challenge of Saracens.
Any side that beats Leicester Tigers and then European Champions Toulouse must be respected, and it will be fascinating to see if Lee Blackett’s side can recover from the 45-7 hammering Munster inflicted in the Heineken Cup.
Gallagher Premiership games this weekend;
Friday January 28th – Bath v Harlequins
Saturday January 29th – London Irish v Exeter Chiefs, Newcastle Falcons v Gloucester & Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints
Sunday January 30th – Sale Sharks v Leicester Tigers & Wasps v Saracens