With two weeks gone in the Premiership, it is becoming increasingly clear as to who is stepping up, and who is in trouble.
Half the teams in the league have one win and one loss. However, Bath have beaten two top class sides in impressive victories, making a statement for their chances this year.
In contrast, Worcester and Sale have already suffered two poor defeats, and look as if they will be in the relegation scrap.
There are some crucial games, even at this early stage. Making this an exciting weekend at the start of the Premiership season.
Northampton vs. Bath
Northampton were simply terrible in the first half of their 55-24 defeat to Saracens, but they out-scored their opponents in the second half of that game – and then followed it up with a comfortable win over Leicester.
They looked a different team, overwhelming Leicester in the first half. Defensively they were also very strong, limiting a fiery Leicester backline to very few opportunities.
Bath have had two fantastic wins. Their superb backline seems to be hitting its potential, despite the loss of George Ford.
They have been clinical against two great sides, and found a way to win both games when there was a chance they would lose both.
I back them to win a very close game. Saints will challenge hard, but Bath are looking very hard to beat at the moment and I can see them coming through for another huge win.
Prediction: Bath to win by 4 points
Worcester vs. Exeter
Worcester have got real problems. Not just on the pitch but off it. Their disinterested owners are becoming increasingly keen to sell after two disappointing performances which have led to convincing defeats.
With decent coaching staff, you would expect them to do much better. But there is no doubt they have been dragged into the relegation scrap.
Exeter weren’t quite at their best as they went down to Gloucester at Kingsholm but looked like champions as they hammered promoted London Irish in week two.
They have a great team and with the confidence back in their ranks, I can’t see them struggling against Worcester.
I can see this being a comfortable win, but they may struggle to get four tries.
Prediction: Exeter to win by 16 points
Sale Sharks vs. London Irish
Sale made two fantastic signings in the summer, but have suffered two defeats from two. They have shown real promise in both games but poor defence out wide and a disappointing lineout against Wasps and Newcastle respectively have left them in a difficult situation.
They’ve got some top class players, but their individuals won’t make the team and they will need to find their best at home if they want to avoid a genuine relegation battle.
London Irish were motivated, clinical and very sharp as they blew Harlequins away at Twickenham, but against Exeter the following week, they were anything but that.
They will see this as a game they can win, and will be well up for it, but it’s a rare event that a bottom half team wins at Sale, and that’s where Irish will be come the end of the season.
I find it very difficult to separate these teams, but I will give Sale the nod, as they are the team that need this to be a win much more. That said, it will be a very tough battle for them
Prediction: Sale to win by 3 points
Leicester vs. Gloucester
I really felt this was Leicester’s year to return to the Premiership final, four years after their last outing at Twickenham, but they’ve not played well. In both their two games they’ve only really managed to score consolation tries, and have been dominated for large parts of both games.
The forward pack has been weakened by departures and their backline simply isn’t gelling.
This hasn’t been helped by Matt O’Connor being their third coach in 2017, but top individuals are also not performing, George Ford being one.
Gloucester were terrific in their fantastic Friday night win over Exeter in week one, but were pretty poor as they allowed Harlequins to regain confidence the following Saturday.
Head coach Ackerman made it clear that it wasn’t good enough, and I do expect a big reaction, despite an improvement in the second half.
I think they will give Leicester a stern test, but surely Tigers’ team of stars will come through on this occasion to finally open their account.
Prediction: Leicester to win by 3 points
Newcastle vs. Saracens
For a brief period over the weekend, Newcastle enjoyed being top of the table in the Premiership for the first time since they won the title in 1998.
They looked superb as they dismantled Worcester in week one, and while they were far from perfect against Sale, they managed to grind out a win at a place notoriously hard to come away with anything.
Saracens were perfect for a half, but haven’t been at the standards they set themselves for their last three.
Their managed to come back from a long way down against Bath, but fell apart in spectacular fashion as Rokoduguni ran through twice to give Bath victory. Rokoduguni was fantastic for both tries, but both were very avoidable from a Saracens perspective.
That said, they relish a neutral occasion, particularly one in a different country, and I fancy them to move back into the top four with a relatively comfortable victory.
Prediction: Saracens to win by 10 points
Wasps vs Harlequins
A few pundits felt that Wasps would struggle after the disappointment of last season, but they have dispatched two (albeit limited) opponents without being greatly tested.
That said they have had weaknesses exposed, against sides that have shown very little this season or the back end of the last.
Harlequins were much improved after a disappointing start to the season as they beat Gloucester, but already this season it seems they are running into their usual problem.
Since January 2016, they have won just three out of their last 18 away games (with two coming against relegated sides). Their home form has generally been really good, but their inability to win away is preventing them from moving up the table.
The aggregate of the three Wasps vs. Quins games to be played at the Ricoh is 126-34, at an average winning margin of 31. It’s hard to see Quins coming away with a bonus point, let alone a victory, and I would expect another comfortable win for in-form Wasps.
Prediction: Wasps to win by 20 points
Nick Powell, Pundit Arena