Sunday 26th December 3pm
Saracens v NEC Harlequins
After a break of a month, the Zurich Premiership resumes, and first up is a tie that has �revenge' written all over it as far as Saracens are concerned, as they face fellow London side Harlequins at Vicarage Road on Boxing Day. It was only five weeks ago that Saracens went to the Stoop and after conceding four tries in the opening 14 minutes, went down 40-10, giving Harlequins their first win of the season.
Following the departure of Rod Kafer, Saracens beat Newcastle at home on Sunday in the Powergen Cup in their first match with Steve Diamond at the helm. They are in eighth position in the league, only three points ahead of Harlequins, and have won 4 of their 11 fixtures to date, all at home. They are the only team in the division not to have won a match away from home this season.
Harlequins went out of the Powergen Cup at the first hurdle when they lost heavily to Bath at the Rec on Saturday. As they have no chance of progressing in the Heineken Cup, they can now concentrate all their efforts on finishing as high as possible in the Zurich Premiership. Some teams suffered during the recent Autumn internationals, but Harlequins took advantage, and won all three of their fixtures which took them off the bottom of the table. They now sit in 10th place, but they have only won one match, at much weakened Sale, away from the Stoop this season.
These matches tend to go with home advantage and Saracens are tipped to reverse last month's result.
Prediction: Saracens to win by 8 points
Monday 27th December 2:30pm
Leeds Tykes v Newcastle Falcons
A Christmas Northern derby fixture takes place at Headingley on Sunday when ninth placed Leeds Tykes look to close the six point gap between themselves and seventh placed Newcastle.
Leeds went through to the quarter finals of the Powergen Cup on Sunday with a facile victory over last season's fellow beaten semi finalists Pertemps Bees. In their last three matches since they played in the league they have scored 255 points, which is 43 more than they have scored in their 11 league matches this season. They have played six matches at home in the Zurich Premiership to date and beaten Harlequins and Worcester. They have lost to top sides Wasps, Sale, Bath and Gloucester, but only by a total of 14 points, and their biggest defeat was a 21-16 loss to the men from Kingsholm.
Newcastle have had a reasonable month, and followed up their victory against Northampton last time out in the league, with back to back Heineken Cup wins against Edinburgh. Unfortunately, they failed in their defence of the Powergen Cup when they lost to Saracens at Vicarage Road on Sunday. After winning their first two away games in the Zurich Premiership, they have lost the last four, and if they are to threaten the top sides they will need to improve on their travels.
Newcastle have the upper hand in this fixture. They have won five of the seven league games played between the teams, the last one being the 29-16 victory at Kingston Park in November. Last season, they played out a 30-30 draw at Headingley and this game is likely to be another close encounter.
Prediction: Leeds to win by 3 points
Monday 27th December 3pm
Leicester Tigers v Worcester Warriors
Leicester, looking strong contenders in the Heineken Cup and topping the Zurich Premiership, welcome Worcester to Welford Road for the first time in a league match, in front of what will be another packed house.
The Tigers lost at home to Gloucester for the second time during this calendar year when they played a virtual reserve side on Saturday in the Powergen Cup. However, they are eight points clear at the top of the Zurich Premiership and if they win this week, they will achieve a one year unbeaten record at home in the league.
Worcester are having their best period since they joined the elite league. On Saturday they were beaten by two points by London Irish in a dour game at Sixways in the Powergen Cup. The previous fortnight they cruised through to the second round of the European Shield with two resounding victories over Italians Rovigo, and previously in the Zurich Premiership they recorded their best home win against London Wasps, and first away win against Northampton. Despite this good run of results, it is difficult to see them getting anything at Welford Road.
With second placed London Wasps playing fifth placed Gloucester and third placed Sale facing fourth placed Bath today, Leicester will see this as an opportunity to pull further away from the chasing pack. They have only played Worcester once before in the league, and they recorded a comfortable 38-11 win at Sixways in November. They are likely to complete a league double on Monday.
Prediction: Leicester to win by 16 points
Monday 27th December 3pm
London Irish v Northampton Saints
Fresh from their successful exploits in the Heineken Cup, and comfortable passage through to the last eight of the Powergen Cup, can Northampton now improve their performances in the Zurich Premiership and prevent a tenth consecutive defeat?
London Irish beat Worcester for the second time this season on Saturday to move into the quarter finals of the Powergen Cup for a record eight seasons in succession. This followed their second round defeat in the European Challenge Cup the previous week against Pau. They are the only Zurich Premiership side not be involved in a European competition at this stage of the season. At the half way stage in the Zurich Premiership they have won six matches and occupy sixth position in the league. They have won four of their six matches at the Madejski.
Northampton won the East Midlands derby against National One Bedford 41-8 at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday. The previous fortnight they had shared the spoils with last season's beaten Heineken Cup finalists Toulouse, and still have a chance to progress in the top competition. However, their performances in the Zurich Premiership have been well documented and they are bottom of the league having won two of their 11 matches and lost nine on the bounce. Since they last played a league game, Alan Solomons has departed, and they have a new management team of Budge Pountney and Paul Grayson, and Steve Thompson has replaced Corne Krige as captain. They will be looking to start the second half of the season with a clean sheet, with a view to not only securing Premiership survival, but possibly finishing in the top six.
|London Irish vs Northampton Match Score
|London Irish vs Northampton First Score
Northampton have the upper hand in this fixture and have won 10 of the 17 league matches played since 1996. However, London Irish have won three of the last four and beat them by one point last month to gain their third win at Franklin's Gardens on the run. They may just complete a league double on Monday.
Prediction: London Irish to win by 5 points
Monday 27th December 3pm
London Wasps v Gloucester
Another big game at the Causeway Stadium on Sunday sees a confrontation that neither team can really afford to lose. Second placed Wasps, needing to keep in touch with leaders Leicester, host fifth placed Gloucester, with only three points separating the sides.
Still reeling from their two defeats against Leicester in the Heineken Cup, London Wasps just got back to winning ways on Sunday in the Powergen Cup with a 43-33 victory in extra time against National One leaders Bristol Shoguns, in front of 9500 at the Memorial Stadium. Last time out in the Zurich Premiership they went down surprisingly at Worcester. They have now dropped eight points behind Leicester and cannot afford to lose any more ground on the leaders. Only Sale, in September, have managed an away win at the Causeway Stadium this season.
Gloucester had the most difficult of draws but won at Leicester in the Powergen Cup on Saturday. Their reward is a home tie against London Wasps in the last eight. They are also still going strong in the Heineken Cup and have a good chance of reaching the quarter finals. They have dropped to fifth place in the Zurich Premiership and won three of their six away matches in the league this season.
Both teams were under strength when Wasps pulled off a 27-17 win at Kingsholm last month to inflict only the second home defeat on Gloucester in 35 matches. Wasps have won 13 of the 19 times they have met in the league going back to 1995 and they have not been beaten at home by Gloucester in the last nine. They should make it 10 on the run on Monday.
Prediction: London Wasps to win by 10 points
Monday 27th December 3pm
Sale Sharks v Bath
Another massive game takes place at Edgeley Park, as third plays fourth, level on points, and with Sale losing the recent game at the Rec, they will be out to show Bath what a different side they are when they are at full strength.
Sale coasted through to the last eight of the Powergen Cup on Sunday with a home win against National One side Plymouth Albion and they will now face Bath at home. The week before, they also reached the last eight of the European Challenge Cup after beating mid table French side Narbonne home and away. Back in the league, they suffered more than any other team during the Autumn internationals, losing all three games and they are now 10 points behind leaders Leicester. They have lost two home games this season, to London Irish and Harlequins.
Bath beat Harlequins more easily than expected in Saturday's Powergen Cup tie at the Rec. After their two games against Treviso in the Heineken Cup they only have an outside chance of progressing to the quarter finals of that competition. They are going well in the Zurich Premiership, unbeaten in the last four matches and level on points with Sale. Of their six away matches this season they have only been beaten once, at bottom club Northampton on the opening day of the season.
This is a really important game to both sides. Bath beat Sale 27-13 last month but the visitors were very much under strength that day. Bath have a good record against Sale and they have won six of the last eight league meetings including a double last season. However, now Sale have all their internationals back, and Bath are struggling with injuries, the home side should come out on top on Monday.
Prediction: Sale to win by 7 points