Avoiding the trapdoor
May 2, 2012
Wasps look set to avoid the drop according to Ben Kay but it could have been a very different story © Getty Images
I will be taking in the season-defining clash between Wasps and Newcastle at the weekend but it was one moment at the Recreation Ground a couple of weeks ago which could have already decided the outcome of the match. Tom Varndell's timely intervention on Sam Vesty is going to make it very difficult for Newcastle to get the required points, but it will hopefully still be a highly entertaining game.
The Falcons will come out and play some rugby and if the game opens out then you never know they might get the necessary bonus-point win. But I can see Wasps trying to suppress some of the Falcons' threat and use some of Christian Wade's pace on the counter-attack.
The Falcons haven't secured a four-try bonus point for a fair while now but that's the beauty of these one-off matches, we just don't know what Falcons team will turn up on the day. The pressure's off them really as they are the favourites to go down unless they pull out a once-in-a-season performance. Knowing John Wells he'll probably advise them to not go too silly too early and cost them the game but you have to go out there and attack.
One key man for the Falcons will obviously be Jimmy Gopperth. He's their main attacking threat and I imagine that he will look to have a big influence on the game. If I was Wasps I would double-load him and take him out of the game. While he is great from the tee, he can also make breaks but usually doesn't have the numbers there with him. He's a huge attacking threat for Newcastle, but take that away then he'll get frustrated and maybe try too hard.
So it looks likely that the Falcons will finish bottom but had Vesty scored his try last week then I'd have backed Wasps to go down.
While the Falcons look likely for the drop, if rumours are true about Gary Gold going to Bath then it's great that he'll still be in the Premiership next term. He's exactly the sort of man Bath need - he'll shake them up and make sure they aren't enjoying their superb facilities too much.
At the other end of the table it's a tough one to call. I can see Harlequins bouncing back against Sale and getting the win but the bonus point will be beyond them. Leicester are the team to beat at the moment and they will be favourites without a doubt when they entertain Bath at Welford Road. Their performance against Quins was unbelievable and it showed how far they have come since the start of the season and also showed the amount of belief they have in themselves.
The other game involving the top three is potentially the most exciting one with Saracens entertaining the Exeter Chiefs. While you would expect the Saints to pick up the points against Worcester, it will not deter Rob Baxter's side. I expect them to go all out for the win against Sarries and although the odds are against them for a spot in the play-offs, they'll put up a good fight and look to lay down a marker. But I still expect Saracens to win with the top two in the Premiership to be Harlequins and Leicester come 4pm on Saturday.
I also expect those top three sides to dominate the Aviva Premiership awards next week. I was struck by how strong the categories were for Player of the Year and Discovery of the Season. I reckon Owen Farrell will take the latter award with his international form boosting his claims. Having three opensides in the Player of the Year category ensured picking ESPN Dream Team was no easy task but I think Chris Robshaw, although he has perhaps struggled for form post-Six Nations, looks to be the standout candidate for that honour after his incredible first half of the campaign.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ben Kay is a co-commentator for ESPN
Last year's thrashing at the hands of Wales was not the first time England have fallen to their rivals. Scrum Sevens looks at whether they have bounced back the following year
With just two rounds left in the 2014 championship, the intensity cranks up a notch at Twickenham. Tom Hamilton previews the weekend's action
"I had a perfect record against England as did a few other Welshmen. England always seemed to bring the best out of us." John Taylor on the age-old rivalry
Are the margins between the teams in the Six Nations getting smaller year-on-year? Huw Richards gives some answers