Rugby Union: Aviva Premiership 2011/12 Round 20 Predictions

Continuing our new regular feature, our rugby columnist Jeff Ball makes his predictions for this weekend’s round of matches, including Worcester Warriors vs. Exeter Chiefs, Northampton Saints vs. Leicester Tigers and Harlequins vs. Wasps.

Continuing our new regular feature, our rugby columnist Jeff Ball makes his predictions for this weekend€™s round of matches, including Worcester Warriors vs. Exeter Chiefs, Northampton Saints vs. Leicester Tigers and Harlequins vs. Wasps. Let us know your predictions either in the comments below or on Twitter @Ballintouch

The league action starts back up after a thrilling weekend of European rugby that the English team's will want to forget, with all four sides crashing out. With battles at both ends of the tables continuing to hot up, the fight for final league places moves a step closer with only three rounds of league games remaining. FridaySale Sharks vs. Bath Rugby 19:45 (SKY) Seventh takes on eighth, with both teams desperate to get a win after a succession of loses. Salelooked threatening for the first 40 minutes in their last match against the Falcons before crumbling in the second half and not for the first time this season. Likewise Bathfans were devastated by their 6-26 loss to Saints in which they worryingly never looked likely to score a try. The winner of this game will be the one that can stop the rot for the longest, as both sides name strong sides with plenty of potential. Salewon 16-10 at the Rec in their last meeting and are likely to win by a similar small margin in front of their soon to be moved home crowd. Prediction: Sale by less than 7 SaturdayNorthampton Saints vs. Leicester Tigers 14:15 (ESPN) Saints have sold out Franklin€™s Gardens for this East Midlandderby. Saints have been in good form recently, putting both Bathand Wasps to the sword. However Leicesterhave been equally imperious, scoring over 40 points in both their last two league games. With a home play-off semi-final the aim, both sides name strong sides, with Leicesterwelcoming back Ben Youngs, amongst others. The Tigers have had the upper hand against Saints so far this season but haven€™t won at Franklin€™s Gardens for over five years. With both sides on a roll, this game could go to the wire, but the more experienced Leicesterside should edge it. Prediction: Leicester Tigers by less than 7Gloucester Rugby vs. Newcastle Falcons 15:00 Defeat for the Falcons here coupled with a Wasps win this weekend would likely mean that was it for the Falcons€™ hopes for avoiding relegation. Despite some battling and crucial home wins, they haven€™t won away in the league since February 2011, and that was against a doomed Leedsside. Gloucester€™s form has been hit by three successive defeats in the league, with narrow losses against Exeterand then Wasps been particularly hurtful. The Falcons looked vulnerable against Salein their last match when the ball went wide, and Gloucestername a side which looks ripe to exploit this. Gloucesterneed to stay in their current sixth place to guarantee Heineken Cup rugby next year and a typically vocal home following should see them clear. Prediction: Gloucester by more than 7London Irish vs. Saracens 15:00 London Irish€™s league form in 2012 has been shocking, especially recently. They remain capable of scoring points, their 32 point haul against Leicesterin their last home match testament to this, but the defence has wobbled. Saracens got taught a lesson against a powerful ASM Clermont side in last week€™s Heineken Cup Quarter Final and will want to bounce back as soon as possible. Both sides make several changes with Alex Corbisero set to become Irish€™s youngest professional era captain. Saracens away form has been good this season and is likely to continue again this Saturday. Prediction: Saracens by more than 7Worcester Warriors vs. Exeter Chiefs 15:00 Worcester's home form has meant they have been spared the stress of the relegation battle this year and will be keen to extend their run against an Exeter side that has surprised everyone this year. The Chiefs continue their quest for a play off place, currently lying one place outside the top four. Exeter have got some good momentum up in recent months, the loss in Paris last week in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter final to Stade Francais was agonising and unlucky. The effect on morale from that disappointment will have been an important consideration in this week's training, and their response to that could be the difference. Worcester name a strong side capable of matching Exeter if the game becomes an arm wrestle and the game will likely be won in the last quarter as defences tire. Prediction: Worcester by less than 7Harlequins vs. Wasps 16:30 (ESPN) Both sides lost to French sides in Europe last week, Quins being demolished by Toulon while Wasps made a pluckier effort against Biarritz before losing at the death. In the league however, Harlequins will be keen to pick up from their last league game, the win at Wembley against nearest contenders for top spot, Saracens. Wasps also won last time out in the league, snatching the win from Gloucester. Another win should see their position in the Premiership secured if the Falcons lose earlier in the day. But the Stoop hasn't been a great hunting ground for Wasps in recent years and Harlequins should prove too strong for them. Prediction: Harlequins by more than 7

Follow @BallInTouch on Twitter to keep up to date with all the latest rugby news and columns. Jeff Ball is a Geordie with a Newcastle Falcons season ticket, a rugby coaching badge, a bias for Newcastle United on Playstation games and was terrified by Jurassic Park as a child. For more of his personal musings following him on Twitter @JeffreyBall If you have any comments about this story please post a comment.