In what is a rest week for the Six Nations, the Premiership takes full focus this weekend. There are two matches tonight. The Northern derby between Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons at the AJ Bell Stadium whilst Leicester Tigers come up against London Irish at Welford Road.
Sale Sharks v Newcastle Falcons, AJ Bell Stadium,7:45pm
Last Friday, the Sharks managed to pull off a close victory over the reigning Premiership and European champions Exeter Chiefs. The ending was marred by controversy, however, after Ross Harrison seemed to have impeded Chiefs Sam Simmonds during a line-out.
The Sharks looked excellent. Their forwards fronted up well and, in the backline, World Cup winner, Faf De Klerk, was back to his brilliant best after outsmarting the Chiefs with his quick-thinking and pace.
The Falcons have not had much luck of late as their two away games against Northampton Saints and Worcester Warriors were cancelled due to the pandemic. But they did make a welcome return to Kingston Park last Saturday, and a late Brett Connon penalty made sure that they came away with a victory.
Despite cancellations, the Falcons have looked solid at home, pulling off wins against Gloucester and Sale earlier on in the season. They will look to improve their away record this evening, with the side registering just two wins on the road so far this season.
Team News and Predictions
Sharks’ coach Alex Sanderson has named a starting lineup that features two changes. Cobus Wiese will start at blindside flanker and Akker Van Der Merwe in on the bench as the replacement hooker.
De Klerk will captain the side with Jono Ross absent and will continue his partnership with USA Fly-half AJ MacGinty. The backline remains unchanged as Marland Yarde, Byron McGuigan and Luke James occupying the back three positions.
Falcons Director of Rugby, Dean Richards, has given a first Premiership start to Argentinian Sevens star Mateo Carreras. Carreras made his debut last weekend coming off the bench against Harlequins.
John Hardie and Rob Farrar start in the back-row in place of Sean Robinson and Philip van der Walt as the Falcons go in search of back-to-back wins over the Sharks this season.
Prediction: Sale by 8
The Sharks played exceptional against the Chiefs with their pack fronting up well against a red-hot Sam Simmonds. They’ve only lost twice at home this season and with Alex Sanderson naming his preferred XV, it should be a routine win as they look to push for a top four finish.
Leicester Tigers v London Irish, Welford Road, 7:45 pm
The Exiles travel to the Midlands in search of two away wins on the trot. A fortnight ago, they pulled off the most remarkable of comebacks against the Bristol Bears as the game finished tied at 34 points each. They then went on to beat Wasps last weekend in Coventry.
Strong showings have seen The Exiles up to 7th in the table and three points off the play-off places. Their half-back combination has worked wonders this season as Nick Phipps and Paddy Jackson have done well to control games from their respective positions. Curtis Rona will look to add to his scoring tally after having already scored four this season, whilst Ollie Hassell-Collins has breathed new life into the No.11 jersey.
The Tigers were disappointing last week against the Bears and despite a good effort in the first half, they failed to capitalise on any opportunities. They will be thankful that this game is at home given they’ve won their last four there.
Apart from his yellow card last weekend, Argentina’s Matías Moroni has been one of the standout performers in the Tigers backline. His pace and skill have made him one of the most effective players in the line-up.
Team news and Predictions
Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick has made eight changes to the side that lost by 14 points against Bristol. Freddie Steward starts at full-back and Kobus Van Wyk and Guy Porter make up the wings. Richard Wigglesworth starts at scrum-half and Tom Youngs captains the side from hooker.
Elsewhere, Callum Green starts in the second row alongside Tomás Lavanini. Meanwhile, Cyle Brink joins Tigers Academy graduates Harry Wells and Tommy Reffell in the back row. England international Dan Cole will start up-front along with Luan De Bruin.
The Exiles line-up sees returns for Albert Tuisue, Rob Simmons and Terrence Hepetema. Tuisue joins up with Blair Cowan and Matt Rogerson in the back row. Hepetema will combine with Rona in the centre in a bid to add pace to a strong middle partnership.
The backline sees Hassell-Collins, Ben Loader and Tom Parton start, with Phipps and Jackson continuing to apply their trade at nine and ten respectively. The bench sees Scotland prop Alan Dell named alongside Ben Meehan and George Nott.
Prediction: Tigers by 3
This will likely be a tight affair and the game could go either way. However, the Tigers will need to fully bounce back and with the side that Borthwick has named, they should just edge the Exiles.
If you want to see more Premiership Rugby Predictions, check out the Sports Gazette Twitter account every Friday night as Myles McDevitt and Rugby Editor Xander Chevallier give their predictions ahead of the weekend’s matches.