After enthralling back-to-back rounds of European action Aviva Premiership rugby hits the halfway stage as Round 11 gets underway in the weekend before Christmas; which clubs will be enjoying the festivities and who will be shedding tears as they bite into their protein-ladened turkey and trimmings.
Defending champions of Europe Saracens come into this next round of domestic action on a torrid run of seven straight defeats, while Northampton Saints return to the Aviva Premiership with the search for Jim Mallinder’s successor ongoing following his departure between Rounds 3 and 4 of the Champions Cup.
Worcester Warriors v London Irish
The halfway marker of Aviva Premiership Rugby kicks on with a bout of Friday Night Lights and what a billing it is as relegation rivals Worcester Warriors and London Irish lock horns at Sixways.
London Irish currently prop up the table having not won since the opening day of the season, while Worcester Warriors, just six points ahead of their visitors, will be buoyant despite defeat in Round 10, having claimed the scalps of Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers in successive weeks prior to their most recent reverse.
Points here could prove crucial in retain Premiership status.
Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins
After a disappointing couple of weeks on the continent, suffering back-to-back defeats to Ulster Rugby, Harlequins return to Premiership action with a Saturday afternoon trip to the North East as they take on Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.
Both sides enter the clash level on points in seventh and eighth respectively in the Aviva Premiership standings; Harlequins will be encouraged having claimed the scalp of Saracens in the latest round of top flight action, while Newcastle Falcons’ Round 10 victory away to Northampton Saints also highlights their recent upturn in form.
This could be a tense encounter and a partisan Newcastle crowd go see the Falcons soar.
Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs
Reigning Aviva Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs will be desperate to return to winning ways on the domestic frontier after success defeats at the hands of Leinster Rugby in Europe, and a trip to a despondent Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.
Rob Baxter’s Chiefs are well on course to defend their Premiership crown with them racing ahead at the summit, eight points clear of second-placed Gloucester Rugby, while Northampton find themselves languishing down in 10th, with no permanent head coach in place following the sacking of Mallinder, who spent more than a decade at the club.
This should be a run of the mill winter warmer for Exeter Chiefs, who will look to go big for a bonus.
Sale Sharks v Bath Rugby
Fresh from an impressive victory over three-times European Rugby Champions Cup winners RC Toulon, Bath Rugby return to Aviva Premiership action seeking to close the gap on runaway leaders Exeter Chiefs as they travel to Salford to take on Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Bath produced an exceptional blend of expansive attack and stoic defence to hold out for a crucial Champions Cup victory over French heavyweights Toulon at the Recreation Ground last weekend and will seek the same performance levels again as they look to chip away at the 10-point deficit between fourth and first in the Premiership against ninth-placed Sale, who have struggled for consistency all term.
A bonus-point win would come in real handy for Bath Rugby here as they look to consolidate their place in the top four.
Wasps v Gloucester Rugby
Wasps are seeking back-to-back home wins on Saturday as they welcome second-placed Gloucester Rugby to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena for what promises to be an intriguing clash.
Currently fifth in the Aviva Premiership standings, last season’s runners-up Wasps had been struggling for form, but seem to have found some rhythms, which was seen in a 21-3 victory over La Rochelle, a fine response after being thrashed by the same opposition the previous week, but Gloucester Rugby arrive in the Midlands in fine form, a run a five successive top flight successes, including claiming the scalp of Saracens.
It could well be a classic Premiership encounter this one, but the way Johann Ackermann has the Cherry and Whites operating, they could just have too much for Wasps.
Leicester Tigers v Saracens
Without doubt the treat of the weekend is a case of saving the best until last, with Christmas Eve’s lone fixture pitting Leicester Tigers against the beleaguered European champions Saracens at Welford Road.
Both heavyweights of the English game, but both endured a brace of reverses in the Champions Cup, Leicester ousted by Munster and Saracens put to the sword twice by ASM Clermont Auvergne and only three points separate the sides, with Saracens have the edge in third, while the Tigers are down in sixth, but victory on home soil could seem them leapfrog the Barnet-based side.
This would be a significant marker for Matt O’Connor’s Leicester Tigers and there is no better time to play Saracens, who are desperately missing key players through injury.