Last week’s Powergen cup matches underlined a trend established during the early weeks of the Premiership season. The mighty are not so mighty, fortresses are not impregnable and nothing can be taken for granted.
Just last week, for instance, Leicester lost at home for a second time this season to Sale, while Gloucester lost at home for the second time in eight days. With Northampton and Harlequins also crashing out of the Cup, four of the six most successful national knockout sides have been removed from the competition before the quarter-final stages. As the Premiership resumes, it is safe to assume that the number of shock results will continue to rise.
WASPS (5) vs GLOUCESTER (7)
Wasps thrashed Bristol 48-6 at the Memorial ground in the Cup last weekend after losing their last Premiership match to Leicester by 32 points to 22. Gloucester went down 29-35 at home to London Irish, a second successive home defeat. Bath took the Premiership spoils at Kingsholm the week before, edging out the Cherry and Whites by 20 points to 14.
Wasps have won three of their four matches at the Causeway Stadium this campaign, their only defeat being by a single point against Bath at the beginning of last month. Since then they have won four their last five Premiership games. Gloucester have won just once on the road this campaign, a 16-0 win at Harlequins. They lost their last away match, at Northampton, and they lost their last home match-to Bath. Including that Cup reverse at home to London Irish, the Cherry and Whites have now lost three matches in a row.
Wasps have won eight of the last 12 Premiership fixtures with Gloucester, and have posted victories in their last five home games against the Cherry and Whites. Last season they won 23-16 at the Causeway Stadium in October, before going down 24-17 at Kingsholm.
Gloucester’s pride has been stung by two consecutive home defeats. It may suffer further damage at the Causeway Stadium this weekend
SALE SHARKS (6) vs SARACENS (11)
Sale won an extraordinary Cup match at Leicester – 43-28 after extra time- after thrashing Leeds 37-21 in their last Premiership match. Saracens won 30-20 at Penzance-Newlyn in the Cup after losing 31-34 at home to London Irish in the Premiership.
Sale have only won one Premiership match at their new home of Edgeley Park. They started with a 37-all draw against Northampton, but then came unstuck against Bath, Wasps and London Irish before posting a 37-21 win over Leeds a couple of weeks ago. They followed that victory up with six tries in that astonishing 43-28 extra time Powergen Cup win at Leicester to suggest that they are at last starting to hit form. The Sharks have now won four of their last five Premiership fixtures.
Two of Saracens’ three victories this season have been away from home. After beating Newcastle at Kingston Park on day one Saracens have also accounted for Rotherham at Millmoor. They have only won one of their last five Premiership matches.
Sale have won just three of the last 12 fixtures again Saracens, although they have tasted success in both their last two home matches. Last season they won 37-26 at Heywood Road in November before going down 34-19 at Vicarage Road in May. Victory over Leeds a fortnight ago was the first home win this season. Now, after a second successive win over Leicester, confidence is high amongst the Sharks.
They should inflict further misery on a Saracens side who once again are struggling in the Premiership.
BATH (1) vs NEC HARLEQUINS (2)
Bath followed up their treasured away victory at Gloucester in the Premiership with a 42-13 Cup thrashing of Northampton at the Recreation Ground. A week after romping to a 43- 17 victory at home to Northampton in the Premiership, Quins came unstuck at Leeds in the Cup, going down by 13 points to 6.
Bath have won eight of their nine fixtures this season, and all of their matches at home. The only team to beat them is Newcastle who triumphed 19-17 at Kingston Park a month ago. With two victories more than Harlequins, Bath have conceded 63 points fewer than the Londoners, and scored 6 points more.
Quins only head third placed London Irish on points difference, and while they are eight Premiership points adrift of leaders Bath, they are only five Premiership points clear of Newcastle in eighth place. They won their last away match in the Premiership – a 30-16 win at Headingley against Leeds – and they have also been successful at Rotherham, while losing their only other fixture on the road at Saracens.
Bath have won seven of their last 12 fixtures with Harlequins, while the last time they lost at the Londoners at The Recreation Ground was in May 1999. Since then they have won four on the trot in front of their own fans including a record 77-19 win in Apr 2000.
It is unlikely that Harlequins will go down by as many this weekend, but is also unlikely that they have the means to prevent a rampant Bath side from extending their lead at the top of the table.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS (4) vs LEEDS TYKES (9)
Northampton’s 42-13 reverse at Bath in the Cup, was a second successive big defeat for the Saints. In their last Premiership match at Harlequins, they went down 43-17. Leeds gained quick revenge for a Premiership defeat at Headingley two weeks previously to edge to Harlequins out of the Powergen Cup with a 13-6 victory. Their last Premiership game was a 37-21 defeat at Sale.
Northampton’s last home fixture was a 38-17 win over Gloucester, and they have won three of their four fixtures at Franklin’s Gardens this season. With three victories in their last four Premiership matches, the Saints were running into some kind of form before the big defeat at Bath in the Cup.
Leeds, by contrast, won in the Cup but have lost their last three Premiership matches in a row. The Tykes have lost all four of their away fixtures this season.
Northampton have won three of the four Premiership fixtures they have played against Leeds. Last season they want 28-6 at Franklin’s Gardens in May, to avenge a 26-19 defeat in at Headingley in November. On the only other occasion that they played in the Tykes at Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton won 34-14.
Saints should win again.
ROTHERHAM TITANS (12) vs LEICESTER TIGERS (10)
Rotherham lost to Newcastle Falcons for a second time in two weeks, a 38-10 home defeat in the Cup following hard on the heels of a 56-10 thrashing at Kingston Park in the Premiership. Leicester lost 43-28 to Sale in extra time in the Cup, a week after beating Wasps 32-22 at Welford Road in the Premiership.
Rotherham have not won a match in any competition, home or away, this season. The Tigers, just two places above them in the Premiership, beat Wasps at Welford Road in their last Premiership match but have lost three and drawn one of their four matches on the road this campaign.
Rotherham have only played Leicester twice the Premiership, losing 27-9 at Clifton Lane in December 2000 and 26-18 at Welford Road the previous September.
However difficult this season has been for Leicester, it is extremely unlikely that they will lose to the Titans this weekend.
LONDON IRISH (3) vs NEWCASTLE FALCONS (8)
London Irish picked up a third successive away win when they triumphed 35-29 in the Cup at Gloucester. In their last Premiership match they won 34-31 at Saracens. Newcastle’s 38-10 cup win at Millmoor was a second successive victory over Rotherham. The previous week, in the Premiership, the Falcons thrashed the Titans by 56-10.
The Exiles have won all three of their home matches this season and have posted victories in five of their last six matches to shoot up to third in the Premiership. Newcastle have lost all four of their away matches, although their form at Kingston Park keeps them just five points behind the Exiles.
Although the last twelve matches between the two sides have been evenly shared, the Irish have won their last two fixtures against Newcastle. Last season they won 20-nil at the Madejski Stadium in December after running up a 24-16 win at Kingston Park.
The form book suggests that Irish will make it three in a row.