Paul Wassell takes a closer look at the standout fixtures happening in the Aviva Premiership this weekend.
Harlequins vs Leicester, Friday 19th February (Kick-off: 7:45pm)
After last weekend’s 28-6 loss to Gloucester, Harlequins will be looking to make amends against a revived Leicester outfit. Marland Yarde will be looking to show Eddie Jones what he is missing out on and push for a place in the England team, whilst Dave Ward retires from temporary openside duty to take his place amongst the front row again.
Luke Wallace gets another opportunity to cement his place at seven and push Matt Kvesic, Will Fraser, Jack Clifford and James Haskell for an openside spot on England’s summer tour this year.
Leicester Tigers have named Manu Tuilagi at 12 and this will be fascinating to see given Eddie Jones is looking at him as a potential solution to England’s inside centre problems.
Freddie Burns will be hoping to continue to impress and he finds the form that catapulted him into the England reckoning.
Saracens vs Gloucester, Saturday 20th February (Kick-off: 3:00pm)
After Saracens were completely out-thought and out-muscled by an impressive Wasps outfit, they will hope to get back on track with a victory over a Gloucester side brimming with confidence thanks to a convincing victory over Harlequins last weekend.
England outcast Brad Barritt captains a side that includes England hopefuls Will Fraser and Jackson Wray in the back row. Ben Spencer will also be hoping to come off the bench and show the fine form that has impressed fans and pundits alike of late.
Gloucester have made five changes from the team last weekend and include youngster Billy Burns at fullback. Matt Kvesic will hope he can show England coach Eddie Jones why he deserves the number seven shirt against league leaders Saracens.
Worcester vs Sale Sharks, Saturday 20th February (Kick Off: 3:00pm)
Relegation battlers Worcester Warriors take on a mid-table Sale Sharks rocked by the news that star fly-half Danny Cipriani is off to Wasps at the end of the season.
Springbok international Francious Hougaard makes his debut at Sixways and joins fellow countryman Dewald Potgieter in the starting 15.
Scotland fly-half Tom Heathcote will relish the opportunity to push for a starting place after his nation has struggled in the Six Nations so far. Meanwhile, Chris Pennell and Ryan Mills will hope that someone outside of the West Midlands starts to take notice of their excellent form.
Sale captain Josh Beaumont will take his frustration out on the Warriors, after he was left out of England’s training squad this week.
Youngsters Ross Harrison and Tommy Taylor further showcase the talent that is on offer from the north west side.
Bath Rugby vs Wasps, Saturday 20th February (Kick Off: 3:15pm)
Bath will hope that their tense victory at Sixways last weekend was not a flash in a pan. England squad member Ollie Devoto is given a rare opportunity to start for Bath and partners former England wing Matt Banahan in the centres.
Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland, who recently abandoned plans to take a sabbatical from international rugby, will hope Wales coach Warren Gatland is watching closely.
Bath’s impressive depth in the front row sees youngster Max Lahiff start at loosehead with England World Cup squad members Rob Webber and David Wilson joining him.
Fans were gobsmacked by Wasps’ magnificent victory against Saracens and will be hoping they can continue in that rich vein of form.
Wasps’ Christian Wade, who has only just returned from injury, will be pushing for an England squad place on their summer tour and Ruaridh Jackson – who made an impact from the bench against Wales last weekend – will continue his fight for the Scottish 10 jersey.
Fijian-born Nathan Hughes will want to remain in Eddie Jones’ thoughts as the England coach weighs up his back row options for later in the year.
London Irish vs Exeter Chiefs, Sunday 21st February (Kick-off: 3pm)
Basement side London Irish have made a number of changes in the hope of reviving their ailing fortunes. Youngster Theo Brophy Clews is given the chance to shine at fly-half having replaced seasoned international Shane Geraghty.
Prop Tom Smallbone, recent signing Elliott Stooke and blindside flanker Ofisa Treviranus all come into the side.
Exeter Chiefs continue to impress and will be wish to apply as much pressure as possible to league leaders Saracens after their surprise loss against Wasps.
England EPS member Sam Hill starts at 12 and Luke Cowan-Dickie continues his recovery by starting on the bench.
Former England stalwarts Geoff Parling and Thomas Waldrom will hope Eddie Jones has not discarded them completely by showing off their skills against a struggling Irish side.
Newcastle Falcons vs Northampton Saints, Sunday 21st February (Kick-off: 3.00pm)
After last Friday’s shocking victory over Leicester, the Falcons will hope English rugby’s equivalent of Chuck Norris, Andy Goode, will continue to act as their talisman.
Newcastle have made only one change to their team by bringing back Mark Wilson into the back row, with former England international Mourtiz Botha taking over the second row berth.
The Falcons will face a Northampton Saints side buoyant after a 35-7 thrashing of London Irish last weekend.
Ben Foden, Luther Burrell and Tom Wood will all hope that Saints’ revived form and more expansive approach to the game will see them back in Jones’ thoughts.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena