With all Premiership teams having only a few games to go, there is still a huge amount up for grabs in the final few weeks. The race for the final top four spot is very much still on and this weekend could be crucial with only a few weeks left of the season.
Northampton Saints vs Harlequins
The weekends action starts with two great games on Friday night. The first may be the game of the weekend as third placed Harlequins travel north to face fourth placed Northampton.
For the home team, this weekend is a huge game for the Saints. While they do currently sit in fourth place, the race for the top four is still very much on. There are five teams still easily in touching distance of the Saints, with Gloucester and Exeter only one point behind the Saints in the table.
The teams last game was a thrilling encounter. Northampton looked set for a disappointing loss to Bath at the rec, trailing 31-12 after 65 minutes. But they produced an incredible comeback with late tries from Mike Haywood and a penalty try helped to take the Saints to all five points.
The team have also been encouraged by the news that Courtney Lawes could return later in the season. They will also be without Dan Biggar again as he serves his three week ban for his red card against Gloucester. Their team is still incredibly talented and club captain Lewis Ludlam will be crucial to any positive result.
But they are up against a very difficult challenge, with Harlequins coming into this game third and in great form. After a disappointing loss in the Champions cup over two legs to Montpellier, Tabai Matson’s men have bounced back brilliantly. A close win over league leaders Leicester will encourage the team massively.
Marcus Smith is continuing to play brilliant. Quins may also feature Will Evans, who is coming back from a broken leg last season. Evans was brilliant in the first half of the Montpellier game and could feature again this weekend.
It looks to be a brilliant tie, but I just think that Quins will have too much. They are playing at their attacking best at the moment. So, the game should be high scoring, but with the visitors coming out on top.
Sale Sharks vs Newcastle Falcons
The other Friday night game will also have big implications for the top four as Sale host Newcastle.
The home side are one of the teams desperate for a good end to the season. Losing Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager is huge for Alex Sanderson’s men, and they would love to finish the season in the top four and have a shot at a title.
Recent results have not always helped that. Sale have only won one of their last five premiership games, drawing two of them. Having come off the back of beating Bristol in the Champions Cup, Sale will be looked to improve their results this weekend.
Despite Manu Tuilagi’s return, Sale are likely still going to be missing Tom Curry, AJ McGinty and Marland Yarde. But the team’s success comes from up front, with Bevan Rodd playing phenomenally over the past few weeks. This weekend should be another chance for Rodd to get a ticket for the plane to Australia with England this summer.
He does have a big task ahead of him, however. Despite the Falcons dreadful form, their front row has been a rare highlight with Jamie Blamire, George McGuigan and Trevor Davison all playing well.
But as a team the Falcons have been poor. In 2022, the Falcons have only won one Gallagher Premiership match, against the lowly Worcester Warriors. Their season is well and truly over, but the Falcons don’t have to worry about relegation this season thanks to the premiership deciding to forgo relegation this season.
This does not mean that the Falcons won’t want to win. Momentum is huge in rugby and the Falcons would love to eliminate Sale from the top four race. I don’t think this will happen. After a week’s rest, the Sharks look very dangerous in the hunt for the top four and should definitely take five points from the Falcons on Friday.
Gloucester vs Bath
Saturday begins with one most exciting fixtures in Premiership history with Bath travelling the short distance to Kingsholm to take on Gloucester.
The two teams come into this game both looking to end the season positively but having had very different seasons. Gloucester are one of the teams in the race for the fourth spot, sitting just one point behind Northampton with a huge game this weekend.
Having missed out on the top four the past two seasons, Gloucester are in a great position for fourth. They were the definitive favourites for fourth spot but have slipped over the last couple weeks. Their last win the premiership that was actually played was back on the 5th of March. Since then, Gloucester have lost three of the last four games in the premiership, being awarded five points after Worcester could not put out a team for their fixture.
It means this weekend is much more important than Gloucester fans will hope. It is the second west country derby in two weeks for Gloucester. Last week they lost 29-28 to lowly Bristol. Despite a man advantage, Gloucester conceded in the 78th minute to lose disappointingly.
This is despite the team being pretty healthy heading into the final few weeks of the season. They need a positive result this weekend and have what should be the easiest opponent in the premiership. Bath still sit bottom of the Premiership and are lucky to be avoiding relegation.
Injuries have hurt them massively this season, but a relatively healthy team lost in the last minute to Northampton last week having held a 19-point lead with 15 minutes remaining. Internationals Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels and Taulupe Faletau all featured in the loss last weekend and should be available this weekend.
It actually looks to be a very good game despite the two teams being at opposite ends of the table. Bath can produce a good performance on their day and the team is relatively healthy compared to previously this season. But with the pressure on, I would still just say that Gloucester will pull off the result, just don’t be surprised if Bath pull off the upset in Gloucester.
Leicester Tigers vs Bristol
Premiership leaders Leicester have secured top four already, but their loss last week means a result this weekend is crucial to hold onto top spot and avoiding Harlequins in the semi-final. The have a great chance for a result this weekend with Bristol rolling into town.
The Tigers have had an incredible bounce back season. Two years on from finishing second bottom of the Premiership, Leicester have been the best team in the league this season and look like the favourites for the title.
While the Tigers lost last weekend, it was only six points at the Stoop. This was despite Leicester putting out a much weaker team than expected, with Ellis Genge, Julian Montoya and Jasper Wiese all not in the starting 15.
So, with a full-strength team this weekend the Tigers look unstoppable. George Ford leads a brilliant attacking line-up and can easily dominate Bristol on both sides of the ball. But Bristol are a tricky team.
They will be a lot less of a worry for Leicester, with Semi Radradra’s season ended by knee surgery. They will also be with centre Sam Bedlow after a dangerous tackle last week. Despite Bedlows tackle, the Bears pulled off a brilliant win over rivals Gloucester, young Toby Fricker scoring with just 90 seconds remaining.
It was the Bears first win in the league since the 25th of February as they have dropped off massively since finishing top of the table last season. They will be much stronger next season with Leicester captain Ellis Genge joining his hometown team Bristol for next season.
For now though, Genge will be trying to dominate the Bears scrum and it looks like this will certainly be the case. As long as Leicester put out a strong team, they should win this game pretty easily and take another step towards securing top of the table.
Worcester Warriors vs Saracens
The final game on Saturday sees two teams in very different form. There are very strong arguments to say that Saracens are the most inform team in the premiership as they travel to Worcester, who are likely the least in form team in the premiership.
It has been a dreadful season for the Warriors. Currently sitting in 12th, they have had a terrible 2022 with Worcester’s last win in the premiership being a surprise 35-31 win against Exeter in March thanks to a red card for the Chiefs in the 15th minute. Their recent forfeiture of the Gloucester game shows the state the club is in.
But there is some optimism next season will be better. Worcester have made a lot of signings already and have some good players in place. But their focus is clearly not on the premiership, as they have named an almost full-strength team for the Premiership rugby cup semi-final on Wednesday against Gloucester.
It means that there will likely be a very young team against Sarries, and it could be a very difficult game for those youngsters. In their first season back in the Saracens are second in the table and look set for a home semi-final.
Saracens form has been excellent this season despite difficult games. Wins against Exeter, Sale and Leicester in the last couple of months highlight exactly how good Saracens are, particularly with Owen Farrells return last month. Farrell adds to their huge contingent of stars like Billy Vunipola, Elliot Daly and Ben Earl.
Saracens have talent all over the pitch and are looking very good at the moment. Mako Vunipola should still miss out, but Saracens are incredibly talented, and it should be a very long afternoon for Worcester, with Saracens taking all five points back down the M4.
London Irish vs Wasps
The single game on Sunday should have huge implications for the top four, with both of these teams still having an outside chance for that fourth spot.
Very few predicted London Irish to have a chance of the top four at the start of the season. But they have developed into one of the most exciting teams in the Premiership and are only five points behind Northampton in fourth.
Three losses in their last four premiership games have really hurt the team as they challenge for their first top four spot since 2009. Despite still being in with a slim shot of the top four, Irish did put out a very strong team midweek as they advanced to the Premiership Rugby Cup final.
That team was missing their key stars though, with Agustin Creevy, Will Goodrick-Clarke and Ollie Hassell Collins all having brilliant seasons. Paddy Jackson has also been crucial for the Irish, starting every Premiership game this season.
Injuries have ruined the visitors season this year. Wasps looked far off the top four a couple of months ago, but with the squad quickly getting healthier they have put in a good run of form. They have won their last three games in the Premiership including beating fellow top four hopefuls Gloucester at Kingsholm.
The Wasps team returning to near full health is a big reason for this. Alfie Barbeary, Malakai Fekitoa and the Willis brothers have all faced injuries this year but are back to full health. Jacob Umaga is continuing to take to the fullback role very well and Wasps are in with a great chance of the top four, six points behind Northampton but on the same number of games played.
It means that a bonus point win for Wasps would be massive for the team and that is exactly what I am predicting. With London Irish struggling for form and stars playing midweek, I think the visitors have a great chance of taking all five points. Imp reciting Wasps to put in a statement win as they move closer to the top four.