ESPN's rugby predictions: Games of the week, potential upsets & more

Following their trip to Philadelphia both Saracens and Newcastle can look forward to Aviva Premiership matches amid more familiar surroundings this weekend. Leinster and Zebre are still soaking up the South African sunshine, however, while in France there is an early-season meeting of two heavyweights.

Ahead of a busy few days our experts predict which teams are set for a big weekend, which players will shine and where your attention should be trained across all three leagues.

Player to watch

Premiership (Martyn Thomas): Sam Simmonds. The forward has cemented his place in the Exeter back row following an impressive end to last season, playing every minute of the champions' three games and scoring four tries. Simmonds bagged a brace in last Friday's 41-10 defeat of Worcester, and will be a key member of the Chiefs pack as they come up against beaten Premiership finalists Wasps on Sunday.

PRO14 (Cillian O Conchuir): Johnny McNicholl. The Kiwi has been outstanding for Scarlets, scoring four tries in the opening three games, and leads the charts in metres gained and clean breaks. Needed to step up when Liam Williams departed for Saracens, and it's so far so good for McNicholl. Champions Scarlets face Edinburgh this weekend and will hope their winger can add to his try tally.

Top 14 (James Harrington): Jules Plisson. The France fly-half has been courted by a number of Top 14 clubs -- notably Racing 92, La Rochelle and Bordeaux -- keen to tempt him from Stade Francais when his contract is up at the end of the season. But it was reported this week that he has agreed to stay at Stade Jean-Bouin for another three years. That's as much a statement of intent from the club as it is an act of loyalty from Plisson.

Game of the weekend

Prem: Exeter vs. Wasps, Sunday, 3 p.m.

Top versus second and a repeat of May's Premiership final, last season's corresponding fixture produced a 10-try 35-35 draw. This should be every bit as close. Exeter started the season with a stutter as they fluffed their lines on opening night at Gloucester, but back-to-back wins have seen them climb above their visitors on Sunday. Wasps will be keen for revenge, and head to Sandy Park stung by a rare home defeat last weekend.

PRO14: Cheetahs vs. Leinster, Friday, 7 p.m.

Both sides love to play attacking, running rugby, which looks set to make this a belter in Bloemfontein. The South Africans got their first win of the season against Zebre last week and will fancy their chances with home comforts against Leinster. It should be Leo Cullen's side's biggest test of the season so far, after casting aside the respective challenges of the Dragons, Cardiff and the Kings.

Top 14: Clermont vs. Racing, Saturday, 1.45 p.m.

The first and last matches on the Top 14 fixture list this weekend are the most tempting -- on paper, at least. But the opener shades it from the Sunday afternoon finisher -- Stade Francais vs. Toulon -- on the sheer brightness of the galaxy of stars likely to shine on the pitch no matter what the weather at Stade Marcel Michelin.

Potential upset

Prem: Bath vs. Newcastle, Saturday, 3 p.m.

Pretty slim pickings on the upset front this weekend, but Newcastle will travel to the Rec with optimism on Saturday. Bath had started the season in fine form before last week's defeat to Northampton. Todd Blackadder's side simply weren't at the races at Franklin's Gardens and he will hope that result was nothing more than a blip. Worryingly, though, Bath are one of just two clubs yet to register a bonus point this season -- the other being basement side Worcester.

PRO14: Treviso vs. Ospreys, Friday, 7.35 p.m.

After masterminding Treviso's upset of Edinburgh last week, Marius Goosen and Kieran Crowley turn their attention to a home game against Ospreys. Following back-to-back defeats to Munster and Glasgow, Ospreys will look at this as a chance to get back on track but Treviso defeated the Welsh region in this fixture last season and will fancy their chances of doing so again on Friday.

Top 14: Bordeaux vs. Montpellier, Saturday, 5 p.m.

It's the turn of Jacques Brunel's Bordeaux to try to stop the Montpellier juggernaut -- something no previous opponent has managed to do this season. The one factor in their favour: they are at home, where they have two wins from two. Vern Cotter's side have only travelled once in this campaign. They won, but if they are going to be toppled, it will happen away from the confines of fortress Altrad.

Big weekend for...

Prem: Harlequins. It is now more than five years since Harlequins lifted the Premiership title for the only time in their history, while they have not finished in the top four since the 2013-14 season. Never a club short of talent, consistency has often alluded the Londoners and for that reason this weekend's visit of Leicester presents a challenge. Gloucester and Wasps have been beaten in successive weeks but the momentum gained needs to capitalised upon against the Tigers.

PRO14: Southern Kings. After three straight defeats, the Kings have their best chance of a win this weekend against Zebre. With increased scrutiny on the South African sides and the Cheetahs having chalked up a win against the Italians last week, the pressure will be on the Kings to get a 'W' in Port Elizabeth. The pitiful attendance of a few thousand against Leinster will hopefully also be beaten this weekend.

Top 14: Brive. There have been worse starts to a Top 14 campaign. It took Mont-de-Marsan eight matches to register their first point -- a defensive bonus point -- in the 2012-13 season, but there's no denying Brive will be in deep trouble if they do not turn their season around fast. And after last week's horror show at Clermont, they are at least back home at Stade Amedee Domenech. Which would be a comfort, but for the fact their opponents are born-again Toulouse.