Aviva Premiership Round 2 pairs together last season’s best four teams in a compelling set of fixtures.
How will champions Saracens fare at Sandy Park and will Leicester Tigers’ pack prove too strong for Wasps? Here are the top five battles to watch from these two crucial Premiership matches. They’re going to be close…
Leicester Tigers v Wasps (Saturday)
1. Freddie Burns v Danny Cipriani
Two sometime England internationals and a couple of the Premiership’s playmakers and go head-to-head at fly-half. There’s little to choose between their kicking and distribution but if it’s an open game, Cipriani’s extra pace would give him a slight edge over the more flat-footed Burns.
Verdict: Minor advantage Cipriani and Wasps.
2. Peter Betham v Eliot Daly
A pair of fine outside centres with an eye for a break face off at Welford Road. Neither has had time to develop a strong relationship with their centre partners (Matt Smith at Leicester and Jimmy Gopperth at Wasps), so this battle promises to be dominated by individual flair. It’s too tight to call.
3. JP Pietersen v Christian Wade
Two speedsters line up on the same side of the field (Pietersen wearing 11 and Wade 14), but will either be able to eke out an advantage? Pietersen’s strength is running great support lines, whereas Wade excels in open space. Wade has more speed, but Pietersen is a more accomplished defender. As at outside centre, there is nothing to separate Leicester and Wasps here.
Exeter Chiefs v Saracens (Sunday)
4. Luke Cowan-Dickie v Jamie George
A battle of England hookers that are both striving to be Dylan Hartley’s understudy with the national team, this is arguably the most intriguing contest of the weekend. Both fine players at the set piece and in the loose, their performances will be critical to the game’s outcome. Given how much of Exeter’s game plan hinges on their exceptional driving maul from a line-out, the key tactical battle in the forwards will be how the Chiefs’ hooker deals with the poaching threat of George Kruis and, particularly, Maro Itoje. Exeter must get good ball to drive from if they are to beat Saracens.
Verdict: Minor advantage George and Saracens
5. Will Chudley v Richard Wigglesworth
This confrontation is a reminder that there are many different ways to play at scrum-half. Behind a dominant pack, Chudley provides the spark for the Chiefs. Wigglesworth, also playing with the luxury of a strong set of forwards, approaches the game very differently. If Chudley turns the ignition key for Exeter, Wigglesworth keeps Saracens in the same gear throughout his time on the field. Chudley is one for a break around the fringes (should any Saracen be caught off guard), whereas Wigglesworth will put his team in the right areas of the field. He is still the best game manager from scrum-half in England.
Verdict: Minor advantage Wigglesworth and Saracens
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena
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