Do or die for Worcester at London Irish
January 3, 2014
The pressure is on Brian Smith and Dean Ryan to deliver this weekend © PA Photos
We are now at the halfway mark of the 2013-14 Aviva Premiership season and it is Saracens and Northampton Saints who are setting the pace with Worcester Warriors lying winless at the foot of the table. This weekend sees all 12 teams in action with intriguing matches both at the top and the bottom of the log.
On Friday evening Northampton Saints host Harlequins at Franklin's Gardens as second plays fourth with Newcastle Falcons welcoming Sale Sharks to Kingston Park. On Saturday, Worcester Warriors travel to London Irish in a relegation battle with Gloucester also in action as the host Saracens at Kingsholm. And on Sunday, Leicester Tigers rekindle their age old rivalry with Bath at Welford Road while Exeter journey to Adams Park to play Wasps.
The top two recorded maximum points last weekend with Northampton smashing Bath and Saracens doing enough in the first-half of their match against Worcester to get four tries. They are the teams to beat at the halfway mark and with a healthy gap between the Saints in second and Bath in third, you feel for both teams a play-off spot and a home semi-final is theirs to lose.
While Harlequins are in fourth, they are playing some fantastic rugby and seem to be hitting form at just the right time. They defeated Exeter 22-6 last weekend and although some would revel in such a victory, such is Quins' ambition, they felt aggrieved at having not secured the all-important fourth try.
Player wise, Stephen Myler is pressing hard for an England spot while Dave Ward is making waves at hooker for Harlequins. At Saracens, David Strettle is the top try-scorer in the league while Alex Goode is flying under the radar and is playing well at fullback. Samu Manoa at Northampton is also a colossus.
Out of form
London Irish last won a Premiership match in October and their awful run was extended by a loss to Gloucester last weekend. And their opponents Worcester are also struggling as they are yet to record a win in the Premiership this term. Their match in Reading on Saturday already looks to be an eight-pointer and Dean Ryan has admitted this week his team are struggling due to a small squad.
"The club created the situation where we have a smaller squad than everybody else and we've been too dependent on a small group," Ryan told Worcester News. "Now we're trying to move past it and give people confidence. If you're in the squad then at some point this season you're going to have to contribute which means you've got to work at the same level as everybody else."
The outbreak of tip-tackles
Last weekend there was just one sin-binning for a tip-tackle - by the law of the land, Matt Hopper should have also seen yellow - and the round before, there were three yellows issued. Is it festive lethargy or are the laws too black and white in this area? It will be intriguing to see whether there are more 'illegal' tackles this weekend.
On any other weekend, the match at Franklin's Gardens on Friday evening where second plays fourth would be the most important game of the round but the match in Reading on Saturday is key to the season. London Irish's game against Worcester will go a long way in deciding the fates of both teams. If Worcester can get the first league win of the season, they could cut the difference between 11th and 12th to six or five points. However, if they lose, London Irish will have a lead of around 13 points.
The odds and offers for the weekend
Just one player has received a red card this season - Gloucester's Nick Wood.
There have been a total of 72 yellow cards administered this season with Gloucester, Leicester and Sale all the worst disciplined sides with eight each.
The top points scorer in the Premiership? Bath's George Ford with 130 but Billy Twelvetrees is the most accurate kicker at the sticks with a 84.62% success rate.
Newcastle Falcons have lost their last five matches in the Premiership but ended their try drought against Wasps last Friday.
Northampton Saints have dropped just four points from a possible 30.
Worcester Warriors hold an unwanted record having become just the third side in Premiership history to reach the halfway mark without recording a victory. Bedford (1999-00) and Rotherham (2003-04) were the other two.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last seven matches against Wasps in all tournaments.
On Friday night, there will be wins for Northampton and Sale while on Saturday, London Irish's game against Worcester will end in a draw with Saracens defeating Gloucester. Leicester and Wasps will be victorious on Sunday.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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