Simon Mail previews this weekend's televised Premiership matches including relegated Saracens' trip to Harlequins...
"Saracens' relegation from the Premiership has dominated the sports headlines over the last week with the Premiership champions facing up to the reality of Championship rugby next season."
Northampton v London Irish
Live on BT Sport 2
Saints to power to victory
Northampton are fighting on two fronts with qualification for the Champions Cup quarter-finals alongside second place in the Premiership. The Saints progressed in Europe after an impressive 36-24 victory in Lyon last weekend. Chris Boyd's side are the closest challengers to Exeter domestically, with the team winning six of their opening eight matches.
London Irish will be relieved not having to worry on staying in the Premiership with relegation off the table this season. The Exiles, who are tenth in the table, have lost their last seven games in all competitions and a trip to Franklin's Gardens is hardly the ideal place to end this run. Declan Kidney's side lost 33-14 at home to the Scarlets in the European Challenge Cup last week and have been beaten in their last three Premiership games.
Northampton are overwhelming favourites for this match and it is difficult to bet against the hosts. The Saints have won their last five home league games and should prove too strong for their struggling opponents. Northampton's last two victories have both been by between 11 and 20 points and another comfortable win is anticipated against London Irish.
Bristol to edge past Gloucester
Bristol v Gloucester
Live on BT Sport 2
After a strong start to the season, Bristol are without a win in four Premiership matches. Pat Lam's side are still in an encouraging position in fifth place with a top-four finish a possibility. Bristol drew 7-7 at Zebre last weekend with the side already through to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals. This is their first league game since losing at Leicester at the start of January.
Gloucester are third in the standings after mixing four wins and four defeats in their domestic campaign. The Cherry and Whites will expect to finish in the top four again this season although their lack of consistency has left them off the pace set by Exeter and Northampton. Gloucester were knocked out of the Champions Cup last week after losing 35-14 in Toulouse.
This is an evenly-matched derby but slight preference goes to hosts Bristol. Gloucester's away form is poor with only one victory in all competitions since April. Bristol have won their last three clashes against Gloucester and are backed to continue this recent trend. All of Gloucester's league defeats have been by no more than 12 points and another narrow loss offers potential value.
Saracens could struggle for motivation
Harlequins v Saracens
Live on BT Sport 2
Saracens' relegation from the Premiership has dominated the sports headlines over the last week with the Premiership champions facing up to the reality of Championship rugby next season. Their punishment, for breaching the salary cap, is a monumental blow for the club and their motivation levels could understandably suffer with their fate already sealed in the league. Saracens' focus will surely switch to the Champions Cup after reaching the quarter-finals following their 27-24 win over Racing 92 last week.
Harlequins have been unable to put together a sustained run of form this season but Paul Gustard will be focused on guiding his team up the table from their position of eighth over the remainder of the season. Quins' European campaign ended with a 26-19 home defeat to Clermont Auvergne last weekend and the side were held 30-30 at home to Leicester in their most recent league outing.
With the Six Nations looming next week and Saracens's relegation confirmed, Mark McCall has left out most of his internationals and selected a young team. Harlequins will be smelling blood and sensing a big opportunity to claim a rare win over Saracens. The home side can secure a timely boost against the fallen champions at the Stoop with a hard-earned win by up to 12 points.
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P/L 2019-20 season