As the winter weather draws ever closer and conkers fall from the tree, the Aviva Premiership appears to be playing out very much like a game of conkers.
Unpredictable, wide open and full of thrilling encounters across the board. Round 4 was no different to the first three weeks of Premiership action as Newcastle toppled Bath at The Rec, while Leicester stunned Harlequins at The Stoop and Exeter Chiefs prevailed in a replay of last season’s final, beating Wasps 31-17.
And the action keeps coming thick and fast as Round 5 hits earlier with a Friday night triple-header, before two tasty Saturday clashes and one Sunday outing. So let’s take a look at the lowdown…
Newcastle Falcons 19:45 London Irish
29 September – Kingston Park
Back on home soil at Kingston Park for the first time since Round 1, Newcastle Falcons travel host a struggling London Irish squad in the first of Friday’s trio of fixtures.
The Falcons last ‘home’ tie was played in Pennsylvania, where they lost to Saracens, but they bounced back in significant style last weekend, ousting Bath 33-32 in front of a 14,000-strong partisan West Country crowd.
It all looked so promising for the Exiles after beating Harlequins in Round 1, but it has been downhill ever since with a hat-trick of defeats – and a buoyant Falcons swooping down on back-to-back wins are not a welcome sight for London Irish.
Worcester Warriors 19:45 Saracens
29 September – Sixways Stadium
It is no surprise Worcester Warriors enter Round 5 winless and with just a solitary losing bonus point to their name, but the visit of Saracens to Sixways means inevitably more pain inflicted on a side increasingly destined for relegation.
Since losing to Bath in Round 2, reigning kings of Europe Saracens have notched up successive wins and head north on the back of a 41-13 thumping of Sale Sharks, proving there is plenty of momentum in their tank.
Worcester, unfortunately, are showing no signs of hope. It would be pulling at straws to even to begin to launch any case in their defence – this will be a runaway victory for Sarries, the lone question; how many tries can they chalk up?
Sale Sharks 20:00 Gloucester
29 September – AJ Bell Stadium
Sale Sharks complete Friday evening’s line up as they welcome Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester to the AJ Bell Stadium, both sides having had a mixed start to the season.
The Sharks have just one win from four, while Gloucester have a 50 per cent win ratio, yet some of their play is starting to show signs of great promise.
Billy Twelvetrees dotted down one of the finest team tries you will see this year as Gloucester beat Worcester last time out and the Ackermann regime is starting to click, something we expect more of this weekend, but the Sharks may just have an added sting in the tail as they seek to reverse a slovenly start.
Leicester Tigers 15:00 Exeter Chiefs
30 September – Welford Road
Since their Round 1 failure against Gloucester, Exeter Chiefs’ title defence has been flawless, notching up a hat trick of victories, a streak they look to extend on Saturday as they travel to Welford Road to face a struggling Leicester Tigers.
On paper Matt O’Connor has developed a blockbuster backline at Leicester and Jonny May’s four tries in four shows great intent going forward, but with 89 points leaked already, as many as they have scored, it’s easy to see why they languish in eighth.
The Chiefs head into this clash with a clear upper hand, playing dominant rugby at both ends of the field – conceding the least points in the competition thus far, while scoring the second most. Expect Rob Baxter’s men to extend their advantage at the top.
Northampton Saints 15:00 Harlequins
30 September – Franklin’s Gardens
Northampton Saints enter Round 5 on the back of a hat-trick of triumphs, with Harlequins – the visitors at Franklins Gardens – in desperate need of some consistency after two wins from four.
Despite losing to Sarries on the opening weekend, Saints have produced some eye-opening displays and their 40-25 win over Bath was another special offering for the Franklins Gardens crowd, who Saints who will rally them on to another win this time out.
Quins have unearthed a spellbinding talent in fly-half Marcus Smith, but consistency lacks from the team in general, although their narrow defeat to Leicester Tigers last weekend shows they can keep pace with the big guns this term.
Wasps v Bath
1 October – Ricoh Stadium
Runners-up last season Wasps welcome Bath to the Ricoh Arena in Sunday’s lone offering, just days after the stadium staged the launch of the 2017/18 European Champion Cup.
Fair to say both sides have been indifferent thus far, both winning and losing two of the first four rounds – the two sides offering moments of great promise and concern in equal measure.
While Bath’s defensive capabilities have shone brightly, Wasps attacking prowess has been their forte, making for an intriguing and intense clash this weekend at the Ricoh.