Gallagher Premiership: What to look out for this weekend
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 08/11/19 3:51pm
In the aftermath of rugby's zenith, the Rugby World Cup, domestic duties continue in earnest as attentions turn back to the Premiership this weekend. Here's what to keep an eye out for across the country...
Friday night rugby
Your weekend fix of rugby starts on Friday evening as Sale Sharks host Wasps at the AJ Bell in a 7:45pm kick off.
Sale, once their Springbok World Cup contingent return, will have some 10 South African players within their playing ranks, and start with seven against Wasps on Friday.
If anyone is sure to be in fine fettle, it's Sale's South Africans, fresh from their homeland achieving the ultimate and being crowned world champions.
🦈🇿🇦 | The @Springboks have done it! Congratulations to @fafdeklerk, Lood De Jager and South Africa - your 2019 @rugbyworldcup winners.— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) November 2, 2019
Commiserations to @TomCurry98, @Mark_wils610 and @EnglandRugby. It's been an incredible journey!#ENGvRSA #RWCFinal pic.twitter.com/60vYo6Acnv
Watch out for centre Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, halfbacks Rob du Preez and Embrose Papier, hooker Akker van der Merwe, tighthead Coenie Oosthuizen and back-rows Jono Ross (leading tackler in the league so far) and Daniel du Preez. Flanker Jean-Luc Du Preez is also among the replacements.
There's sure to be a party atmosphere on the pitch at the AJ Bell.
A Sharks win will bring them up to second in the league table, while a Wasps away victory would see them leapfrog Sale and jump to third or fourth, depending on points difference.
All eyes on Sarries...
There's no two ways about it, the most eagerly anticipated game of rugby anywhere this weekend is defending champions Saracens' trip to play Gloucester at Kingsholm.
It's been a torrid week for Sarries. Tuesday brought confirmation that the club had been handed a 35-point deduction and £5.36m fine by Premiership Rugby after being found guilty of breaching salary cap rules.
Then on Wednesday, Saracens failed to turn up to the season's Champions Cup launch in Cardiff, with European Rugby threatening further fines.
The club are appealing their punishments, suspending them for the time-being, but the response from Premiership clubs has been both firm and adamant. Indeed, there have been calls for titles to be stripped, an immediate relegation to the Championship and the boycotting of fixtures.
Their England contingent (eight) won't be involved this weekend, but the eyes of the rugby world will be glancing on how the double-reigning Premiership champions respond to such negative press. Players and head coach Mark McCall are sure to face some heavy questions regardless of the result too.
Can Gloucester make a poor week an even worse one for Saracens? Kick off on Saturday is at 3pm.
Elsewhere on Saturday, bottom plays top as Bath welcome leaders Northampton to the Rec. Keep an eye out for Saints wings Tom Collins and Taqele Naiyaravoro, as well as centre Rory Hutchinson and fly-half James Grayson (the league's leading point scorer so far) - all of whom have been in flying form so far this season.
The third Premiership clash on Saturday sees Quins host Worcester, with both still seeking to find their best form.
And then on Sunday, to round off your weekend rugby fix, there are two more premiership encounters to keep up with.
At 2.30pm, London Irish entertain Leicester Tigers in an early season relegation clash - if it's not to early to term it that! Sitting 10th and 11th in the table respectively, the quicker either can pull away from the bottom, the better.
For Irish, All Blacks World Cup winner Waisake Naholo makes his debut on the wing, while Leicester welcome new signing Jordan Taufua into their back-row.
Argentina second row Tomas Lavanini is also on the bench for the Tigers.
At 3pm, Exeter face Bristol in a south west derby, and included in the Chiefs starting XV, just one week on from the Rugby World Cup final and five days after the England squad arrived back, is Henry Slade - a selection almost unimaginable.
Luke Cowan-Dickie is also on the bench for the Chiefs despite his World Cup participation. The Chiefs could go level with Northampton at the top of the table if the Saints slip up on Saturday.
High flying Bristol will be looking to keep the pressure on leaders Saints, with outstanding full-back Charles Piutau leading the way so far in terms of metres made with 279m from three games.