After a two-week break during as the Autumn Internationals kick-started Aviva Premiership rugby returns this weekend, with the depth of squads set to be tested with key players unavailable for many sides due to their national team commitments.
During the absence of Premiership Rugby, sides have been bleeding through their next crop of talent in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, but Round 8 will prove crucial, with valuable points on offer while many talismanic players are unavailable.
There is no time to lament the absences, now is the time to highlight squad strength and stake a case for the Premiership crown.
Gloucester v Saracens
Reigning kings of Europe, Saracens, kick off Round 8 with a Friday evening trip to Kingsholm to face an in-form Gloucester side, albeit the defenders of the Champions Cup should have all the necessary elements to extend their lead at the head of the Aviva Premiership standings.
Gloucester beat Bath and Northampton Saints in their two most recent fixtures in the English top flight, but despite their positive statements, Saracens are a different animal altogether and will be out for a sixth successive Premiership victory on under the Friday night lights.
Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints
Worcester Warriors’ search for a first win of the season enters Round 8, but the visit of Northampton Saints suggests that will go on longer than Lord Sugar’s search for a new Apprentice.
Prior to the break in fixtures, Saints suffered back-to-back losses, but they will welcome a trip to Worcester as a fine way to reverse their form and bounce back to winning ways, with the Warriors three points thus far all coming by the way of losing bonus points.
Wasps v Newcastle Falcons
Wasps will aim to rebuild their season following a disappointing start to the campaign as Newcastle Falcons make their way to the Ricoh Arena on Saturday, with the Falcons beginning to slip after a buoyant opening to the new term.
Newcastle head into the fixture seventh in the standings after an encouraging stat, but have lost their last two Premiership outings, while last season’s finalists Wasps – prior to victory over Saints last time out – had lost four on the bounce, meaning they languish down in ninth.
Exeter Chiefs v Harlequins
Defending Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs return to action with a home clash against Harlequins at Sandy park with both sides out to complete a hat-trick of wins.
Quins have climbed their way up to fifth in the standings thanks to back-to-back wins, while defeat to Leicester Tigers in Round 5 mean Exeter are just about keeping pace with league leaders Saracens, but victory in front of a partisan Devon crowd on Sunday is a must if they are to remain in touch.
Leicester Tigers v Sale Sharks
Welford Road will provide the backdrop for the second of three Sunday fixtures in Round 8 as Leicester Tigers welcome Sale Sharks to the Midlands, with the hosts boasting the best form in the Premiership.
With five successive wins Leicester have elevated themselves to third in the standings, pressuring Exeter and Saracens at the top of the pile, while back-to-back defeats since their 57-10 thumping of Gloucester have left Sale struggling in 10th.
London Irish v Bath
From Leicester in the best form, to London Irish, who apart from the winless Worcester Warriors have the second-worst record of the 12 Premiership sides, having lost their last six outings, giving Bath a prime opportunity to advance from fourth place this weekend.
Bath travel to the Madejski Stadium on the back of defeat in Round 7, but do have four wins to their name thus far this season and are playing some excellent rugby under Todd Blackadder, so you can expect an away win – and a fairly comfortable one at that – being on the cards here.