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

Will Scarlets, Exeter and Clermont Auvergne relinquish their crowns? Getty Images

It is now or never for many teams in the Aviva Premiership, PRO14 and French Top 14 as the season's end draws ever closer. With Champions Cup and league playoff places up for grabs, expect some bruising encounters.

But which teams are set for a big weekend, which players will shine and who might have a shocker?

Player to watch

Premiership (Martyn Thomas): Toby Flood (Newcastle). The former England fly-half has hit some form in recent weeks. A fortnight ago, Flood kicked 20 points as Northampton were narrowly beaten in front of a bumper crowd at St James' Park. Last weekend he was named man of the match as the Falcons booked their place in the semifinals of the Challenge Cup. Newcastle travel to Worcester this weekend looking to consolidate their place in the top four and Flood will again be key.

PRO14 (Cillian O Conchuir): Barry Daly (Leinster). Daly is the PRO14's joint-top try-scorer this season -- alongside the Cheetahs' Makazole Mapimpi -- with 10 tries. He has put in some good performances, and if he can make a statement in the coming weeks, and should injuries arrive at the end of the season, he has an outside shot of making Ireland's squad for their tour of Australia this summer. With Leinster facing Zebre, expect him to add to his try-count.

Top 14 (James Harrington): Waisea Vuidravuwalu (Stade Francais). The Fijian centre's muscular and very effective breaks have been a rare welcome highlight in another difficult season for the Parisian bluebloods. He has run more than 1.6km with ball in hand and crossed the tryline 15 times in 19 outings this season. Stade, who are just three points from automatic relegation and two from a survival play-off, need another big Waisea outing against Clermont this weekend.

Game of the weekend

Prem: Bath vs. Leicester, Saturday, 2 p.m.

It should not take much to sell "The Clash" between Bath and Leicester at Twickenham. One of the oldest fixtures on the English calendar gets another airing on Saturday, as the Tigers put their top four ambitions on the line against a Bath side that is all-but out of the running. The 'hosts' reaching the playoffs is not yet a mathematical impossibility, but they realistically need a big win this weekend to put pressure on those above them in the hunt for a Champions Cup place. They might be mid-table, but there's still plenty to play for.

PRO14: Scarlets vs. Glasgow Saturday 4.15 p.m

A huge few weeks for Scarlets begins at home against Glasgow. They sit just three points off Conference B leaders Leinster, with three games to go and two points ahead of third placed Edinburgh. A slip up could see them face Munster away in the PRO14 quarterfinals, and with Edinburgh to come next weekend, and Leinster in the Champions Cup semifinals the following weekend, they will hope to lay down a marker of things to come against Glasgow.

Top 14: Castres vs. Toulouse Saturday, 1.45pm

Plenty of choice this week -- it could easily have been Racing 92 vs Toulon, Montpellier vs La Rochelle, or even upset selection Agen vs Oyonnax. But the Occitanie derby at Stade Pierre Fabre shades it. Earlier this season, Castres won at Toulouse for the first time in a generation, and the meeting here between the two sides towards the end of the last campaign -- ended in a 52-7 win for Christophe Urios's men. But Toulouse are a different animal to the one that repeatedly shot itself in the foot to limp home 12th in the 2016/17 campaign. Castres need a win to maintain their play-off challenge, but Toulouse also have play-off redemption, not to mention a bye to the semi-finals in their sights.

Potential upset

Prem: Sale vs. Wasps, Friday, 7.45 p.m.

Seventh-placed Sale head into the weekend's fixture in form, having won their last two games and been unlucky to lose the third by a point at Bath, and still in the hunt, just, for an end-of-season playoff place. The Sharks must continue their winning streak against Wasps if they are to close the gap on those ahead of them, but with Gloucester away at Exeter and Leicester up against Bath there is a good chance that a win on Friday night could catapult Sale up the league.

PRO14: Southern Kings vs. Munster Saturday 7.35 p.m.

The Kings have been by far the worst team this year, and with Munster looking ahead to PRO14 and Champions Cup playoffs, it has to be a good weekend to play Munster. The Kings narrowly lost out to Treviso last time out after picking up their first win of the competition the previous matchday against Treviso. If there was a bad time to play Kings, this is as close as it gets. They have conceded double the number of tries they have scored, and nothing points in their favour, but they could just provide the shock of all shocks.

TOP 14: Agen vs. Oyonnax Sunday 7.45pm

The top-six manoeuvrings are fascinating, but look to the bottom of the Top 14 for some real drama as Stade Armandie hosts a battle for survival between last season's two promoted sides. For the longest time, Oyonnax's only four-pointer of the domestic campaign was a tense, low-scoring victory over Agen at home. But they have picked up four wins in their past five outings and dragged themselves to within touching distance of safety -- and, despite their perilous position, are playing smart, free-flowing rugby -- thanks in no small part to the efforts of Irish attack coach Mike Prendergast.

Big weekend for...

Prem: Saracens. Brad Barritt suggested as much in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium on Sunday night, but the deposed European champions must put their quarterfinal defeat to one side and focus on retaining their domestic crown. Mark McCall's men have lost two of their last three Premiership games and now only have a two-point cushion in the race for a home semifinal. It all means victory at Northampton on Saturday is imperative, but despite Saints' indifferent form this season that is not a foregone conclusion.

PRO14: Who knew that the conference system would make the PRO14 interesting? But going into the final few games, there is so much to play for. In Conference B Ulster -- with a game in hand -- face the indignity of missing out on the Champions Cup playoff if they lose to Edinburgh and Treviso beat Dragons. Edinburgh, two points behind Scarlets, could get into second place with a win, which would see them take on Cheetahs at home rather than Munster away in the quarterfinals. Cheetahs meanwhile, third in Conference A -- five points ahead of Saturday's opponents Cardiff -- could fall out of the playoff places if the Blues manage a bonus-point win, without allowing their hosts a losing or try-bonus point.

Top 14: La Rochelle. A week after defeat at Scarlets ended the Rochelais' first-ever Champions Cup run at the quarterfinal stage, last season's Top 14 surprise package head to fortress Altrad to face Vern Cotter's league leaders Montpellier, who have picked up a mind-blowing 53 points out of a possible 55 at home this season. The visitors have stuttered since the turn of the year, dropping from a healthy second place the week before the Six Nations kicked off to as low as eighth, before climbing back to fifth and into the play-off zone. But their grip on that ticket to the post-season -- and the guaranteed Champions Cup place that comes with it -- is tenuous. Defeat at Montpellier could see them fall out of the top six with matches against playoff rivals Castres and Toulouse and a final-day outing against survival dog-fighters Stade Francais to come.