Cipriani looks to impress the watching Lancaster
December 20, 2013
Danny Cipriani, a man playing the sort of rugby which could lead to England recognition © PA Photos
After two weeks of eventful European action, the Aviva Premiership returns to centre stage with a series of intriguing matches in prospect. On Friday evening, Sale host newly-minted London Irish with Bath kicking of Saturday's action when they welcome Racing Metro-conquerors Harlequins to the Recreation Ground. Exeter, fresh from their back-to-back games against Toulon, find themselves up against Newcastle at Sandy Park with Wasps hosting Northampton Saints at Adams Park.
Perhaps the most eagerly-anticipated match on Saturday will be at Allianz Park as Saracens come up against Leicester. And on Sunday, the weekend's action is concluded at Kingsholm as Gloucester host Worcester Warriors - a match where both sides will be going all-out for a victory.
The headlines this weekend, and not for the first time, will focus around Danny Cipriani. He starts for Sale on Friday evening against London Irish with Stuart Lancaster watching on from the stands. His 28-point haul against Oyonnax was impressive, but as he knows more than most, consistency is important alongside flash-in-the-pan brilliance.
Team wise, Harlequins were superb in Europe as they secured impressive wins over Racing Metro. Saracens and Leicester also impressed and they will hope to take that form into the Premiership. And Northampton will look to push on after their shock win over Leinster in Dublin.
Out of form
Gloucester's performance and eventual defeat to Edinburgh was poor. They are a team struggling at the moment and although they have bolstered their front-row with Richard Hibbard and John Afoa for next season, their arrival is still a way off. They need to find form now, not next term. They play host to Worcester Warriors on Sunday, a side yet to triumph this season in the top flight, and a win is essential for both teams.
There are plenty of eye-catching games this weekend but none more so than the match in Barnet. Saracens play host to the Tigers, a game that could end up being the Premiership final this season. Both teams won their games in the Heineken Cup and it should be a good gage of just where both teams are at present.
The fly-half issue
While Cipriani is the man in the spotlight at the moment, it is a big weekend for England's other fly-halves. Lancaster unveils his squad for the Six Nations in early January and is likely to pick three. Toby Flood, who has been heavily linked with a move to Toulouse, will look to put in an impressive showing against Sarries while Owen Farrell, who has the fly-half shirt at the moment, needs to continue his steady form. Elsewhere, Henry Slade, George Ford and Freddie Burns, who recently admitted talk of his future is affecting his form, are all in action - there will be plenty for the England coaches to ponder.
Who's the favourite for the Premiership?
Bath have been victorious just once in their last six fixtures with Harlequins: 21-18 at The Rec in November 2012.
Worcester have not managed to get a single point in their last seven games in the Premiership.
Northampton have won their last eight fixtures against Wasps - they were last victorious against the Saints on October 4 2009.
Gloucester and Northampton have picked up the most yellow cards this season - both have had a player sin-binned on seven occasions.
Bath's George Ford is the top points scorer in the Premiership - he has contributed 111 this term.
He may not be getting much of a look in on the international stage, but David Strettle is the top try-scorer in the Premiership with six.
On Friday night, Sale Sharks will win while Saturday will see Bath, Exeter, Tigers and Saints emerge victorious. Sunday will be painted Cherry and White with Gloucester winning.
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.