Premiership Rugby has not covered itself in glory off the field this week but the product on the pitch is still gripping fans.
The situation at Worcester is dire and is a reminder of how fragile professional sport can be. But with this week’s fixtures, there’s no way I cannot discuss a pair of mouthwatering West Country derbies.
Tonight Exeter Chiefs travel to Bristol after both sides lost in the north last weekend. I like the look of Exeter at the moment, they’ve recovered from their struggles in dealing with minute rule changes last year and are looking aggressive once more.
They’re finding ways to win – we saw that against Leicester and Harlequins – and they’re dangerous.
I like their style. It’s a case of just getting it done but it works – and I think they’ll win tonight.
Bristol are in form, too, however and they look full of confidence. They may have lost last week to Newcastle but they’re in a much better position than they were last year – despite not much changing.
They’re having their resurgence for sure and I think Ellis Genge is a big part of that. I know it was touted but I was surprised to see Max Malins confirmed as a Bear for next year. I am not sure he’s an England starter but he’s huge business for the club and a major statement of intent. He will cost a chunk, so who leaves to make room will be interesting.
A few miles down the road Bath host Gloucester tomorrow in the second Premiership West Country derby of the weekend. This one has a bit more history and is one of the best fixtures in the calendar but it’s feeling a little one-sided at the moment.
Gloucester look formidable. They have a hungry group of players and staff who will be looking to send out a statement against their old foes. The Cherry and Whites haven’t had it easy, given the opening four rounds saw them have a bye and a cancelled match – but they’ll be looking to fire out of the blocks against Bath.
The home side have improved dramatically since last season under Johann van Graan but are yet to complete an 80-minute performance without faltering
They went close against Bristol and London Irish but need that win – urgently.
Van Graan has come from Munster, where coaches are able to save players and rotate squads. You can’t do that and get away with it in the Premiership so you’re judged every week on results. Those results will come, but not this weekend.
Elsewhere in the league I think Sale will beat the champions Leicester while Northampton should topple Wasps in the other Saturday game.
On Sunday, given the way they played against the Tigers last week, I can only see a Saracens win away at Newcastle.
I am currently in Weihai for our China sevens camp as we prepare to go to Bangkok for the Asian Series.
I am not saying we will be able to challenge the likes of Hong Kong and Japan but I am hoping we can give a good account of ourselves.
We have a talented squad of 24 people – there’s one lad who really stands out. I initially thought he was 24 or 25 but he has just turned 17. He’s massive.
I am hoping that a good showing in Thailand next week will help our programme in the long term as well as the standing of the game in China.