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English Premiership Weekend Preview: Returning stars to light up the league

After the thrills and spills of the autumn series, a plethora of international stars are back in Premiership action this weekend.

It all kicks off with action from The Recreation Ground on Friday evening, as Bath hope to continue their progress up the table when they welcome title contenders Harlequins to the West Country.

Quins ready for Bath time

What: Bath v Harlequins
Where: The Recreation Ground, Bath
When: 19:45, Friday 2nd December 2022
How to watch: BT Sport
Odds: Bath 6/5, Harlequins 8/11

After what was a tough autumn for England, many of their internationals will be glad to be back with their clubs ready for more domestic rugby.

Quins fly-half Marcus Smith might well feel that way, with Harlequins’ brand of rugby suiting the creative playmaker in the No.10 jersey.

Harlequins will be looking to build on a 21-12 win over Gloucester last time out as they make the trip down to Bath.

Having had a disastrous start to the season, Bath made the most of the autumn series and were able to pick up important wins over Newcastle Falcons and Leicester Tigers.

Bath might well find themselves back up against it when Quins head to The Rec, with the visitors priced at 8/11 to pick up their sixth win of the season.

All eyes on battle at the bottom

What: London Irish v Newcastle Falcons
Where: Gtech Community Stadium, London
When: 15:00, Saturday 3rd December 2022
How to watch: PRTV
Odds: London Irish 2/5, Newcastle Falcons 2/1

While there will be no relegation this season from the Premiership, no side will want to finish bottom of the standings come the end of the regular campaign.

London Irish are in the unenviable position at the bottom of the table going into this week’s game, but they have a chance to gain ground on fellow strugglers Newcastle.

While the Exiles have won just one of their first eight games of the season, the Falcons have managed to battle out three victories.

These victories include a thrilling 24-21 win on home soil against the Exeter Chiefs, with the Falcons again benefiting from international players being away on autumn series duty.

Saturday’s showdown at the Gtech Community Stadium could well be a cagey affair, with Newcastle at 1/1 to win with a +6 handicap.

Saints show hits the road

What: Gloucester v Northampton Saints
Where: Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester
When: 17:30, Saturday 3rd December 2022
How to watch: BT Sport
Odds: Gloucester 8/15, Northampton 6/4

Having had a week off last week, Northampton Saints should be feeling fresh for their trip to Gloucester this weekend.

The Saints, with a side packed with exciting youngsters still on the fringes of their national sides, have also benefited from the recent internationals.

Wins over Bristol and Exeter have helped Saints climb up to fourth place in the Premiership table as they push for playoff rugby once again this season.

It’s never dull when Northampton take to the field, as they are the second-highest points scorers in the league, while no team has conceded more than them.

Another high-scoring encounter can be expected at Kingsholm, with Northampton at 1/1 with a +4 handicap.

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Time running out for Bears

What: Bristol Bears v Leicester Tigers
Where: Ashton Gate, Bristol
When: 20:00, Saturday 3rd December 2022
How to watch: BT Sport
Odds: Bristol 6/5, Leicester 4/6

Much was expected of Bristol at the start of the season, but the Bears find themselves down in 10th place in the table with just two wins from their first eight games.

Losing a host of international stars has hurt their cause over the last month and the same will apply when the Six Nations rolls around over February and March.

If Bristol are to have any hope of reaching the play-offs they need to make their move quickly, but it won’t be easy against Leicester this weekend.

The Bears will also have to do without England prop Kyle Sinckler after he was ruled out for up to four weeks with a leg injury suffered in last weekend’s defeat at the hands of South Africa.

Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam will be able to call upon England front-rower Ellis Genge as he faces his former club in Leicester, while the Bears will be boosted by the return of Semi Radradra from injury.

"Ellis has come back so we're just giving him a few days to freshen up as well," Lam told BBC Radio Bristol.

"The more of our world-class players that we have back playing, the better we become as a team naturally. That certainly helps us."

This encounter at Ashton Gate might well be the game of the weekend, with big names returning from England duty.

Leicester have struggled in the absence of key players, with the Tigers suffering a 19-18 defeat to Bath before just edging past rock-bottom Irish 33-31 last time out in the Premiership.

England internationals Freddie Steward, Guy Porter and Joe Heyes will return, while head coach Steve Borthwick will have a decision to make at scrum-half.

Much like Eddie Jones for the national side, Borthwick will have to manage two strong scrum-halves in the form of Jack van Poortvliet and Ben Youngs.

Van Poortvliet got the lion’s share of minutes for England last month, but the more experienced Youngs performed well when called upon.

Leicester find themselves in fifth place going into the weekend’s games and could find themselves back in the top four come Sunday morning.

With their returning stars, Leicester are worth considering at 4/6 for the win at Ashton Gate.

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