As the Autumn Internationals simmer to a close and December nears, we’re rapidly approaching the halfway stages of the Aviva Premiership and Round 9 this weekend will give a great gauge of who the runners and riders will be come May.
With key players away on international duty, Round 8 saw upsets aplenty as Worcester Warriors defeated Northampton Saints to pick up their first win of the season, while Saracens were stunned by Gloucester in a tense Friday Night Lights fixture at Kingsholm.
Newcastle Falcons v Gloucester
The action in Round 9 also begins on Friday evening as Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester seek another big scalp with a trip to Kingston Park to face the Newcastle Falcons, who have slipped to ninth in the Premiership Rugby standings after a flying start to the season.
As they lock horns, the Cherry and Whites and Falcons find themselves in absolute opposing form, with Gloucester on a run of three successive wins – towing Northampton, Bath and Saracens in their most recent outings, while Newcastle have lost three on the bounce and will be desperate to see their home crowd drive them on.
Bath v Harlequins
Saturday’s opening fixture in Round 9 see two sides with mixed form come head-to-head as fourth-placed Bath host seventh-placed Harlequins at The Recreation Ground.
Bath head into the home fixture on the back of victory over London Irish, albeit a tense win in the end, while Quins were suffered defeat at the hands of defending champions Exeter Chiefs last weekend, but you would expect this one to go the way of the West Country side, who have lost just once at The Rec this term.
Leicester Tigers v Worcester Warriors
Winless is no longer a word we can associate with Worcester Warriors, but despite their valiant efforts last time out, it is hard to see them testing one of Premiership Rugby’s most in-form sides, Leicester Tigers, when they travel to Welford Road on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers have pressed up to third in the standings with a six-match winning streak, hot on the heels of Saracens now in second place, while Worcester have sneaked above London Irish following their 30-15 triumph over Saints at Sixways last weekend. Back-to-back? You’d have to be a big risker to take it.
Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints
From one of the most in-form sides to two teams desperate to get a win under their belt after a hat-trick of defeats as Sale Sharks host Northampton Saints in the last of three Saturday fixtures in Round 9 of the Aviva Premiership at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford.
Eighth-placed Saints boast the unwanted title as the lone side to crumble at the hands of Worcester following last weekend’s exploits, while the Sharks have failed register a victory since their 57-10 drubbing of Gloucester in Salford in Round 5 making this an evenly matched fixture on paper, one you expect home advantage may just decide.
London Irish v Wasps
As Worcester collected their first scalp of the season last weekend, London Irish slipped to the foot of the Aviva Premiership ladder having not now won since the opening weekend, with a run of seven straight reverses, likely to stretch to eight as last season’s runners-up Wasps visit the Madejski Stadium.
Wasps have not been in the glistening form of last term thus far, but back-to-back wins have pushed them up to sixth in the standings, just four points shy of fourth-placed Bath meaning a bonus-point win this weekend and results going their way could catapult them into the knockout positions.
Saracens v Exeter Chiefs
If there was any fixture we didn’t want to land during the international window, it was this one – the reigning kings of Europe, Champions Cup holders Saracens taking on defending Aviva Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs at the Allianz Stadium in Barnet on Sunday.
It will be a shame to see this fixture played out without a raft of international stars, leaving it very much hung in the balance, but Saracens may just nudge the edge on their preferred 3G surface, prone to some exciting running rugby.