Aviva Premiership Rugby: Round 19 Preview
8th April 2014
With just three rounds left of the regular Aviva Premiership season before the semi-finals and final, Sports4Bars.com looks ahead to this weekend's crucial televised ties
Friday April 11, 7.45pm
Sale Sharks v Harlequins
Fresh from their impressive 29-6 away win over Stade Francais in the Amlin Cup last weekend, Harlequins will be ready for another bruising game on the road, this time against a Sale Sharks side who have looked extremely dangerous in recent weeks. While Quins look to be out of the title reckoning they will be aiming to finish the season in style and will be helped in that regard by the incredible form of some of their key players, not least 2014 Six Nations Player of the Tournament Mike Brown.
Brown has slotted straight back into club colours after his storming performances in the international arena and was among the try scorers in Paris last week. Of course, the chief architect of that victory was Quins' fly-half Nick Evans, the former All Black producing another masterclass in the art of No.10 play in Paris.
But underpinning the fine display of the backs was the solid platform provided by the pack with England skipper Chris Robshaw leading from the front as usual, ably supported by former international No.8 Nick Easter.
As for Sale, they are on something of a roll on the domestic stage, having beaten both Bath and Northampton Saints in recent weeks and are very much aiming for a top-four spot, currently holding down fifth place in the league, directly above Harlequins.
Perhaps lacking some of the star names of many of their rivals, Sale are nevertheless playing as a really cohesive team at the moment and in centre Sam Tuitipou, have a player capable of creating space in the middle of the park against the strongest of defences.
Saturday April 12, 3.15pm
Gloucester Rugby v Bath Rugby
There will no love lost between the teams in this West Country derby and Gloucester – seemingly out of contention for a semi-final slot after an inconsistent season – will be out to put a dent in Bath's title hopes at Kingsholm.
Bath come into the game on the back of a very one-sided victory over Brive in the Amlin Cup, the second-tier European competition, but are likely to face a stiffer challenge against their local rivals, particularly at a ground where the roar of the Cherry-and-White faithful who populate 'The Shed' have a tendency to bring the best out of their players.
One of the fascinating subplots on display in this game will be the head-to-head battle between the two No.10s – Freddie Burns for Gloucester and George Ford for Bath. Both players are in the England frame as potential understudies for incumbent fly-half Owen Farrell and this sell-out Aviva Premiership tie will be a great opportunity to show their skills. Burns may be off to pastures new at the end of the season but he will still be giving his all for the Gloucester cause until the league reaches its conclusion.
Another player to watch out for on the Gloucester side is Billy Twelvetrees. The England centre enjoyed a fine Six Nations and is a real playmaker who can bring the best out of the players around him.
This season's previous league encounter between the sides resulted in a 15-13 win for Bath on their home turf and it is likely that it will be a close call once again between these two traditionally fierce local rivals.
Sunday 13 April, 2pm
Saracens v Northampton Saints
Unquestionably the tie of the round, this top-of-the-table clash will be a really bruising encounter between two ambitious teams desperate to take a giant step closer to the Aviva Premiership trophy with a victory here.
Saracens are riding high at the moment in the table and their domestic form has been replicated at the highest level of European rugby, the North Londoners despatching Ulster last weekend in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup in a highly physical game against the much-fancied Irish province.
That win will give Saracens a real psychological boost going into the run-in of the season and they will be out for revenge following the hammering they received at the hands of the Saints in the earlier fixture between the sides.
Northampton's 41-20 victory on that occasion was one of the standout team performances of the entire season, a six-try demolition which left Saracens clutching at shadows as the Saints' backline went through their full repertoire of moves.
That scenario is unlikely to happen again with Saracens now in steely defensive mode and ready to maintain their place atop the table. With the likes of international stars Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola and Chris Ashton all looking very sharp in recent outings, Sarries will be favourites to shade this tie at the Allianz Arena.« Back to Features