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Play-off contenders

Miles previews Saturday's clash between Wasps and Northampton

Miles Harrison Posted 22nd March 2013 view comments

The Aviva Premiership is back this weekend as London Wasps and Northampton resume the battle for the play-offs.

Currently in sixth place, Wasps have an eye firmly on a top-four finish but Saints, who are fourth in the table, have no intention of letting that slip.

Returning from international duty are James Haskell, Joe Launchbury and Andrea Masi, who have all been named on the Wasps bench. However, there is a welcome return for Tom Palmer who starts after being sidelined for three months with injury.

Foden: looking to catch the eye on Saturday

Foden: looking to catch the eye on Saturday

Northampton have thrown Dylan Harley and Courtney Lawes straight back into the action, however Jim Mallinder has erred on the side of caution with England stalwart Tom Wood who is on the bench.

If the game is as close as Miles Harrison predicts, Woods could just give Saints the edge coming on as an impact player.

Both sides have had two weeks off but will have to hit the ground running again to finish in the play-offs, won't they?

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MILES REPLIES: Yes, they've had a break but that rest comes to a crashing end this weekend - this match is a big one alright, for both sides. Wasps will have been gnashing their teeth during this spell, having lost last time out at the start of the month at Worcester. But, the way they played in that match and in the previous game against Irish indicated that they did need a break. However, their home form is good - they've won all seven Premiership matches played at Adam's Park this season and they should derive great confidence from that. Northampton probably didn't really want the break as they were starting to fly again, their big win over London Irish in Round 17 the perfect example of their improved form. But, down at Franklin's, they have just about everybody fit and raring to go for one final push for that elusive domestic league trophy. Crucially, the Saints have the fourth spot at the moment and it is in their hands. But, they know it might not be come Saturday night and that's what makes this one so compelling.

With Chris Ashton out of sorts at the moment, how big is this game for the likes of Christian Wade to really put a marker down for England?

MILES REPLIES: It is big for Christian Wade but he is not the only Wasps winger trying to catch the eye this weekend. Tom Varndell is, I'm sure, desperate to be noticed once more. He is the nation's leading try-scorer again in the Premiership and you feel now is the time to state his case again, given Chris Ashton's form and the fact that Mike Brown, not normally a winger of course, was caught out a couple of times last Saturday in Cardiff. Brown has made a great fist of it on the wing for England but perhaps there was the evidence that, at the highest level, you do have to have men in their right positions. There are other wings on the scene though as well - Jonny May at Gloucester springs to mind and, if England are looking for a bit of size, the likes of young Marland Yarde and Jack Nowell seem to have great futures in front of them. But their presence on days like the one we just witnessed in Cardiff is some way off. The competition is set to hot up over the next few years, so it's important that the likes of Wade and Varndell keep their form going. And, nobody is in better try-scoring form at the moment in the Premiership than Northampton's Jamie Elliott, with five tries in the last two games. So it should be a fantastic battle on the wings.

Likewise, is this a chance for Ben Foden to impress Warren Gatland?

MILES REPLIES: And Stuart Lancaster too! Foden is not out of the international picture at all. He hasn't been at his best this season but he's a class act and has been for some time. If England are looking for that strike runner from full-back then Foden could be that man again. But, Mike Brown certainly wouldn't let England down there and let's not ditch Alex Goode just because England lost in Cardiff. With the right blend around him, Goode can be a class act too, we know that. The Saracens man is a very clever footballer and that counts for an awful lot.

Both sides like to run the ball, Miles, so we should be in for a cracking game. How do you see this one going?

MILES REPLIES: I see it going just as you indicate, in a very entertaining manner. I can't see Wasps tightening up just because there is a lot at stake. They like to play and it's the way that has served them so well this season. Northampton have also started to hit their straps of late and find their attacking ways again. So, I have high hopes for this one being very watchable. It should be very close and in those situations regular readers of this column will know that I tend to go with the home side and, given Wasps' home form this season, that would seem the sensible way to go again. But, there's something telling me not to be so sure. Maybe, it is Northampton's excellent recent record against Wasps but, it's not just that, the Saints have the bit between their teeth again and have a great chance to put big daylight between themselves and a major top four challenger. Conclusion - tight, very tight - and an exciting draw! And, if I get that prediction right, then I will regret not going to the bookies!

Comments (2)

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Bob Fletcher says...

Have just watched a thoroughly entertaining afternoon's rugby, as Sarries beat Bath. Full marks also for the extra coverage of all the other critical scores around the league. And, as a fully paid up grumpy old man, can I say how nice it was to see the studio experts smartly turned in suits and ties

Posted 17:05 4th May 2013

Ian Brooks says...

Varndell's try looks lucky. He seems to have touched down beyond the rugby dead ball line but before the line marking the end if the football pitch. Nevertheless all credit for the standard of play.

Posted 16:05 23rd March 2013

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