6 Storylines to Follow in Aviva Premiership This Weekend
Priorities return to the domestic game for England's elite this weekend, where the Aviva Premiership schedule again takes precedence after a fortnight of European action.
Saracens face a tough test of their league-leading mettle on Saturday while Worcester will look to reestablish their case for top-flight survival.
Those aren't the only storylines to watch out for this Premiership weekend, however, with some of the schedule's finer viewing points discussed ahead.
1. Basement Brigade Entertain in Derby Drama
Big things may have been expected by Gloucester this season, but the Cherry and Whites have failed to impress and currently sit third from the bottom of the standings.
One of those sides currently faring even worse is Dean Ryan's Worcester Warriors, still yet to win a game this season with no swift end to the torture in sight.
That being said, Gloucester have been weak at Kingsholm this term, and coach Nigel Davies was recently quoted by the Gloucester Citizen as calling this local derby "the biggest game of the season," saying:
It’s the biggest game of the season. Every game now is a cup final. Lots of people have said how big this is for Worcester and how it’s their local derby but it’s a bigger game for us - it’s absolutely huge.
We have a very frustrated group of players, coaches and staff here because we felt we had been making progress and moving forward. Last Sunday we didn’t show that so it’s up to us to put things right.
The pair are currently 11 points apart, but a win for Worcester would be a massive boost to the club's hopes of remaining in the Premiership for another season while a fourth consecutive home defeat for Gloucester's league season would severely damage morale.
2. Harlequins' Heineken Cup Hopes Face Extreme Test
The race between Bath and Harlequins, Nos. 3 and 4 in the Premiership standings, respectively, is incredibly tight.
Each team is firmly in the hunt to play Heineken Cup rugby next season and are almost statistically identical by the numbers, each having scored 17 tries this season, conceding 128 points apiece and with just two points separating them in the table.
As such, this Saturday's encounter at the Rec promises to either give Mike Ford's side a much-needed cushion in their European pursuit or potentially push Conor O'Shea's men out of the top four.
Quins have lost just one of their five fixtures away from home this season but are coming up against an attacking machine in fluid motion this weekend and risk falling off the pace.
3. Tigers Seeking Saracens Blood
This season's Leicester Tigers are a far cry from the outfit that romped its way to Premiership glory last season, but even then, Saracens proved too powerful for the reigning English champions.
The pair drew 9-9 when meeting at Wembley in September 2012 before an encounter of extremely more entertaining conditions followed in February of this year, Mark McCall's men triumphing 32-27 at Welford Road.
Now, with the Tigers struggling to gain a foothold in the top four, Richard Cockerill will aim to defy the odds with what would be a fairly surprising win at Allianz Park.
Each side are coming off the back of memorable successes in the Heineken Cup, but it's Saracens' efficient and powerful nature in attack that will draw the eye on Saturday, Leicester being next in the Londoners' sights.
4. George North Has to Repay Saints Good Will
George North's move to Northampton has gone seamlessly, the youngster not only providing the goods on the pitch, but having also appeared to have struck an immediate bond with the club he now calls home.
That sentiment was expressed in kind by the Premiership side at the end of the November internationals, Saints allowing their winger to appear for Wales on Nov. 30, despite the fact that rules state only players representing England are allowed to go on international duty at this time.
As a result, BBC Sport reported on Dec. 18 that the club would be fined £60,000 for the incident.
Not that the Welshman wouldn't have done so already, especially considering how impressive he was in the historic win over Leinster last weekend, but North now has even more reason to perform at London Wasps this Saturday.
Whether it's in his favoured position out wide or at outside centre, the 21-year-old will get his first chance since finding out about the punishment to release some of that aggression, and it's unfortunately Dai Young's side who are next on the chopping block.
5. Chiefs Face Losing Sandy Park Honour
Exeter Chiefs risk losing three games in a row at Sandy Park for the first time in their history this weekend, the Newcastle Falcons looking to heap further misery on Rob Baxter's men.
The Chiefs' season has been satisfactory thus far, but back-to-back losses against Toulon have made their Heineken Cup future all the more uncertain, with multiple campaigns taking their toll on the squad.
Saturday's northeast visitors sit in ninth and are 10 points worse-off than their hosts this weekend but can do a great justice to their Premiership status by winning a third away-fixture of the season this weekend.
Both clubs in dire need of the points at a very difficult stage of the 2013-14 term, Chiefs undoubtedly have more on the line at Sandy Park and will look to end a run of five consecutive defeats in all competitions against very beatable opposition.
6. Exiles and Sharks Meet in Make-or-Break Matchup
Three places apart and separated by just eight points, Sale Sharks and London Irish have very different aspirations heading into the Christmas period.
For Sale, a win in Salford City this Friday evening would maintain any hopes the No. 8 team have of competing for a spot in Europe while second-to-last London Irish are merely hoping to stave off the thought of relegation.
Brian Smith's side are currently four Premiership games without a win, and while things have looked more fruitful in Europe, the time is now to add some security to the domestic campaign.
Meanwhile, Danny Cipriani has helped his Manchester-based outfit onto big things this season, and the Sharks were unfortunate to take only a bonus point away from their last league outing against Saracens.
Although far away in terms of league position, a win this weekend would mean an awful lot to either club in what promises to be a gripping fixture following last season's 33-33 draw.