The second round of Aviva Premiership games take places this weekend and while it may only be Round Two, Saracens have laid down an early marker in the 2012/13 Premiership season.
You can’t ignore defending champions Harlequins’ impressive comeback in their 42-40 win over London Wasps, nor can you discount Leicester Tigers’ (38-13) wake-up call for newcomers London Welsh.
However, the star-studded Saracens side – the 2010/11 champions – looked impressive in their (40-3) dismantling of London Irish. Only Exeter Chiefs, with a 43-6 win over Sale Sharks, could match their margin in the opening week.
And what is even more impressive is the incredible strength in depth – with South Africa’s former World Cup-winning captain John Smit not even on the bench for the game at Twickenham.
Smit admitted that depth will be invaluable this season.
“We couldn’t have asked for much more from the first game of the new season and it is always nice to work so hard in the pre-season and have it amount in a win,” Smit said.
“Chris Ashton coming in and scoring two tries on his debut was great but I think all the guys were most pleased about his swan dive going wrong – he has been getting a bit of stick for that.
“But in all seriousness we are very fortunate to have him and just looking around at all the talent we are able to call on is fantastic for the club.
“When you think that we had Charlie Hodgson at flyhalf, a guy who has scored over 2,000 Premiership points, and then we have Owen Farrell waiting in the wings.
“It is brilliant to have such strength in depth and it puts us in good stead as the season gets longer and the games mount up.”
But despite having the likes of compatriot Schalk Brits and Jamie George in his way for the No.2 shirt, Smit is more than happy to bide his time, knowing that Saracens’ rotation policy means he could be chucked into the action at any time.
“Everyone in the squad knows that at some stage we will be called on and that keeps the competition in training at a high,” Smit added.
“Because of this everyone really pushes each other in training and it is not so much competition for places but for trophies at this club so everyone is pulling in the same direction.”
We look at all the Round Two action!
Friday, September 7
Harlequins v London Welsh
(Twickenham Stoop-Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)
Harlequins staged the biggest comeback in Premiership history in overhauling Wasps 27 point advantage to win 42-40 at Twickenham on Saturday.
The Premiership champions have now won their last four matches in the competition. Quins have won five of their last six games at the Twickenham Stoop.
London Welsh began life in the Premiership with a 13-38 reversal at the hands of Leicester Tigers.
The Exiles have actually won their last four away games and have not lost on the road since a trip to Cornish Pirates on 29 January.
The two clubs met twice in the RFU’s National One league in season 2005/06, with Harlequins taking both encounters 47-23 and 28-17, with both games curiously being played at the Stoop, after London Welsh chose to move their “home” game there!
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Karl Dickson, 8 Tom Guest, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Olly Kohn, 3 James Johnston, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Darryl Marfo, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Nick Easter, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Matt Hopper.
London Welsh: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Phil Mackenzie, 13 Sonny Parker, 12 Hudson Tonga’uiha, 11 Joe Ajuwa, 10 Gordon Ross, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Mike Denbee, 6 Daniel Browne, 5 Matt Corker, 4 Jonathan Mills (captain), 3 Paulica Ion, 2 Neil Briggs, 1 Frank Montanella.
Replacements: 16 Dan George, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Arthur Joly, 19 Kirill Kulemin, 20 Alfie To’oala, 21 Nick Runciman, 22 Seb Jewell, 23 Nick Scott.
Referee: Luke Pearce (5th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle, Kevin Stewart.
Saturday, September 8
Bath v London Wasps
(Recreation Ground-Kick-off: 14.15; 13.45 GMT)
Bath Rugby won a 24-23 thriller at Worcester on Saturday with Olly Barkley kicking the winning penalty in the last minute, in a game where the lead changed hands four times in the last 13 minutes!
London Wasps scored five tries but still lost to Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday, and have now slipped to four straight Premiership defeats. Wasps’ only away win in the Premiership since round one last season came at Worcester in late October.
Both encounters last season went with home field advantage, whilst the Londoners have actually won on three of their last five visits to The Rec.
Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Tom Biggs, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Matt Banahan, 11 Kyle Eastmond, 10 Olly Barkley, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Ben Skirving, 7 Carl Fearns, 6 Simon Taylor, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Stuart Hooper (captain), 3 David Wilson, 2 Lee Mears, 1 Nathan Catt.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Paul James, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Josh Ovens, 21 Mark McMillan, 22 Ollie Devoto, 23 Jack Cuthbert.
London Wasps: 15 Hugo Southwell (captain), 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Chris Bell, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Nick Robinson, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jonathan Poff, 6 James Haskell, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Marco Wentzel, 3 Fabio Staibano, 2 Tom Lindsay, 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements: 16 T Rhys Thomas, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Zak Taulafo, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Ashley Johnson, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Chris Mayor.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant Referees: Stuart Terheege, Paul Burton
TMO: Geoff Warren
Leicester Tigers v Worcester Warriors
(Welford Road-Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers won their opening game of a Premiership season for the first time since 2008 in overcoming new boys London Welsh at the Kassam Stadium on Sunday. The Tigers have won their last dozen games at Welford Road in all competitions.
Worcester Warriors lost by the narrowest of margins at home to Bath on Saturday, and have now slipped to five successive Premiership defeats. The Warriors’ solo victory on their travels in the Premiership since 2009 came at London Wasps on New Year’s Day 2012.
Leicester have won their last six games against Worcester, whilst the Warriors are yet to taste victory at Welford Road.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Geordan Murphy (captain), 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Graham Kitchener, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Boris Stankovich.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Logovi’i Mulipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Rob Andrew, 20 Jordan Crane, 21 Pat Phibbs, 22 George Ford, 23 Matt Smith.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 David Lemi, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Shaun Perry, 8 Semisi Taulava, 7 Sam Betty, 6 Chris Jones, 5 Dean Schofield (captain), 4 James Percival, 3 John Andress, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Ollie Hayes, 17 Ceri Jones, 18 James Currie, 19 Craig Gillies, 20 Matt Kvesic, 21 Jonny Arr, 22 Joe Carlisle, 23 Ben Howard.
Referee: Andrew Small
Assistant Referees: Gareth Copsey, Matthew Carley
London Irish v Gloucester
(Madejski Stadium-Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
London Irish were humbled by Saracens at Twickenham on Saturday but their most recent encounter at Madejski Stadium was in the final game of last season where they took on and easily accounted for today’s visitors, Gloucester.
Gloucester tripped up at home to Northampton in round one of the new Premiership season, and have now slipped to seven straight defeats in the competition – their worst run since season 1998/99.
The last eleven Premiership fixtures between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Gloucester have not been victorious at Madejski Stadium since 10 November 2006.
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Tomás O’Leary, 8 Jon Fisher, 7 Ofisa Treviranus, 6 Declan Danaher (captain), 5 Bryn Evans, 4 George Skivington, 3 Leo Halavatau, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Max Lahiff.
Replacements: 16 Brian Blaney, 17 Halani Aulika, 18 John Ryan, 19 Kieran Low, 20 Alex Gray, 21 Anthony Watson, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Jack Moates.
Gloucester: 15 Jonny May, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 James Simpson-Daniel, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Andy Hazell, 6 Tom Savage, 5 Jim Hamilton (captain), 4 Will James, 3 Shaun Knight, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Rupert Harden, 19 Sione Kalamafoni, 20 Akapusi Qera, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Mike Tindall, 23 Martyn Thomas.
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Nigel Carrick, Paul Dix
Sale Sharks v Saracens
(Salford City Stadium-Kick-off: 16.30; 15.30 GMT)
The Salford City Stadium becomes the 32nd new venue to host a Premiership encounter. Sale Sharks suffered a heavy defeat at Exeter on Saturday but have not lost their opening two matches of a Premiership campaign since season 2003/04.
Saracens had an impressive 40-3 victory over London Irish at Twickenham in round one of Premiership, and have not begun a season with a pair of victories since 2009/10.
The Sharks’ only victory over Saracens in their last eight encounters in all competitions was 28-22 at Edgeley Park on 2 January 2011.
Sale Sharks: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Will Addison, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Richie Vernon, 7 David Seymour (captain), 6 James Gaskell, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Joe Ward, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Nick Macleod, 23 Corné Uys.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Jared Saunders, 18 Carlos Nieto, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 James Short.
Referee: David Pearson
Assistant Referees: Martin Fox, Robin Goodliffe
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Sunday, September 9
Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs
(Franklin’s Gardens-Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Northampton Saints prevailed against Gloucester at Kingsholm on Saturday. The Saints have won five of their last six matches at Franklin’s Gardens in all competitions.
Exeter Chiefs kicked off the new Premiership campaign with a comprehensive victory over Sale at Sandy Park.
The Chiefs lost their most recent Premiership away game at Saracens, a loss which ended a run of four successive wins on the road in the competition.
Exeter’s solitary victory over Northampton in any competition remains their 30-9 win at Sandy Park in the Premiership on 6 March 2011. The Chiefs have lost on all three previous visits to Franklin’s Gardens.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Dom Waldouck, 11 Vasily Artemyev, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 GJ Van Velze, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Christian Day, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Soane Tonga’uiha.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Mark Sorenson, 20 Rhys Oakley, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Luther Burrell.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Josh Tatupu, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Phil Dollman, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Ignacio Mieres, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Tom Hayes (captain), 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Chris Whitehead, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Simon Alcott, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Chris Budgen, 19 James Hanks, 20 James Phillips, 21 Kevin Barrett, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Sireli Naqelevuki.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Peter Huckle, Andrew Watson
TMO: David Grashoff
Some tough ones to call this weekend, after much consideration we expect the following teams to win: Harlequins, Wasps, Leicester, Gloucester, Saracens, Northampton