The first piece of silverware draws closer, it’s also the least prestigious and all the semifinalists are in the hunt for other honours. So here are my predictions.
First here is a link to my review of the final round of group matches to remind yourself a little on how we got here.
How did your 4th round predictions go?
4 from 8, so not great but this competition can be a bit of a lottery.
To a certain degree this tournament is an unwelcome distraction for these teams at this part of the season. All four teams are still in the battle for the Aviva Premiership with Saints obviously having a cushion at the top. Also Saracens and Saints are still in the European Rugby Champions Cup whilst Chiefs are in the European Rugby Challenge Cup. So there is still a lot of rugby to come.
On the flip side the A league finished back in January so it’s been 2 months since there has been a fixture for the fringe players or those coming back from injury. Due to these two factors of a lot of rugby to come and no game time for fringe players I expect all the sides to field second string teams. This makes any predictions very difficult, you can’t be sure what sides will be fielded because there is a cup a stake, so one side might not rest as many players as I’m expecting.
Saracens v Northampton Saints
Saracens have had a bit of a mixed run of results recently with the loss to Sale in there. But they did manage to hand Wasps their first home defeat of the season last weekend. That was with Goode playing out of position at flyhallf. I don’t know what the fitness situation is with Hodgson but if he is not back then Saracens could be down to their 4th choice fly half. Even if Goode is released by England and does play he won’t have been training with the side all week.
Saints have had a couple of players returning from injury recently. If they are available they might get some game time and even if not it means that their understudies have had game and are up to speed. So with that in mind I’m predicting an away win.
Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs
Exeter will return to Welford Road in 2 weeks time for a repeat of this fixture but in the Aviva Premiership. So there are physiological points to be earned here as well as a final place. Exeter are the reigning champions and last year had a major hangover from winning the competition. They will have learnt a lot of lessons from that and if they do progress will need to make sure they don’t have a similar drop off this season. I won’t be surprised to see something like 14 changes to the Chiefs starting line up for this game. As Chiefs have that senior trophy from last year and have much bigger fish to fry this season with the hardest run in of the top teams.
With Tigers being the only team not to have qualified for the European knockout rounds they do have a rest week coming up. However I think they will still rest most if not all of their first choice players. Due to injuries earlier in the season the second string players will have had more commutative game time together and that married with home advantage should be enough to see Tigers into the final.