After such a hard fought win against one of the best teams in Europe it is hard to force ourselves to turn back to the Premiership, especially when we have already secured our place in the Champions Cup next year (probably) and likely managed to reach the play-offs for the first time in what seems like an age. But putting aside the excitement is exactly what we need to do in order to concentrate on the next game. There is no new silverware gracing the trophy cabinet just yet, and if we take our foot off the gas then there won’t be.
The next game is against Worcester Warriors, and it would be very easy to write it off as being an easy win. Worcester are sitting right at the bottom of the table, and whilst they are likely safe from relegation it would be extremely easy to assume it will be an easy win. That would be a big mistake.
We are without a doubt the form team in the Northern Hemisphere right now. We have dispatched Saracens, Toulon, Leinster, Saints, Quins, and now, by the skin of our teeth, Chiefs. Complacency would be an easy trap to fall in to, a trap we need to avoid. Firstly, we don’t have the comfort of playing at home, and whilst our away record has been better this year than for an long long time the games against Newcastle, and especially Gloucester should serve as a warning that it can still be a significant factor.
On top of that there is the fact that Worcester are actually a very dangerous team who have beaten Saints, Falcons, Sale sharks, Quins, Gloucester and Irish. They have pushed others very close, and have some top level players who provide a very real threat. And that is why we shouldn’t be looking to put out a weaker team than we need to. Every point is valuable, even at the top of the table, and we need to keep momentum going into the next few games.
Even if we reach the finals of both competitions there are only 7 games left in the season, and so resting players is not strictly necessary, unless of course there are knocks or minor injuries. The depth of quality we have mean we are able to provide a little rotation, and the fact that many of our best players have had time off recently , either away with the International squads, or due to injuries, mean that we can, and should be putting out a pretty impressive squad to face Worcester Warriors.
In the front row I’d likely start McIntyre, who has proved his worth time and again pushing Mullan for the starting berth. Festuccia as hooker, and Cooper-Wooley on the other side. At the start of the season it would have seemed outrageous to be sad that we couldn’t start Gaskell or Myall, but due to injury that is the case so I’d have Launchbury and Davies in the starting line up. The back row is a little more flexible, with real dilemmas as to who should be starting. I suspect that Haskell could do with another week before subjecting his healing wounds to the impact of another game, so I’d have Young in his place. Hughes has been immense all season, but I’d like to see Jones get the starting berth if he is back to fitness in order to try and get a bit of match time in in case we need him later in the season. On the other side it would be tempting to start Smith again, but if anyone needs a brief respite it is him, and so I would start Reider, who has shown enough form and ability to make it into the starting line up of most teams.
I’d start Simpson at scrum half, before his injury he was without a doubt the form 9 in the Premiership, and whilst Robson has shown himself to be his equal I’d like to see him given a little rest. At Fly Half Gopperth has proved his weight in gold, with his coolness under pressure winning the game for us last week, but Jackson has never really done anything wrong, and provided his own moments of magic earlier in the season. Perhaps his kicking isn’t quite as good, but it is certainly good enough.
The centres are where things prove to be a little tricky. The Piutau brothers have been astonishingly good working together at 12 and 13, but then so were Ben Jacobs and Elliot Daly earlier in the season. Its a hard call to make, but if Jacobs is fit I’d start him at 12, and Daly at 13. Halai and Wade are clear choices for the wings, and Miller would be the best full back we’ve had for an awful long time if we didn’t also have Charles Piutau.
So my choice of team for this weekend against Worcester Warriors would be:
With a bench of
What do you think? Can we take our foot off the gas, or do we need to hit this one hard and make sure of as many points as we can get?