After a pretty dismal weekend of European competition for the English rugby clubs in both the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup, the familiarity of the domestic scene beckons once again for all those clubs looking to lick their wounds. Here’s the BetPreviews Aviva Premiership Rugby Preview for round 20, with Bath, Wasps and Exeter all running out of chances to secure their places in the playoffs.
Sale vs Gloucester
Sale have found some form in recent weeks with two good performances on the spin, however they won’t find it easy to stretch their unbeaten run out to a third game in succession against the Cherry and Whites, who stumbled against Biarritz last weekend but otherwise were in good form throughout the month of March.
We don’t normally like siding with Gloucester away from home as they tend to much better in front of their own supporters, but in a tight race for four points we’d be surprised if they didn’t get the result they needed her. A handicap of two looks a little on the short side in that context.
Harlequins vs Bath
Harlequins have won just two of their last five fixtures in all competitions played at the Twickenham Stoop and anyone who watched their dismal performance against Munster last weekend would wonder where the flair and flamboyance has gone from the Premiership champions. Bath aren’t exactly blazing a trail through all contenders either, with just one victory – 40-25 over London Welsh in the Premiership on 30th March – in their last four contests in all competitions. Bath’s solitary away victory in the Premiership this season was 24-23 at Worcester all the way back in round one so frankly it’s difficult to put our faith in either club here.
Games between these sides have tended to go with home advantage, however the large handicap of between eight and ten points makes it difficult to confidently side with the Quins. Our narrow preference is for a small wager on the visitors with the ten point start, as is afforded them by Stan James.
Exeter vs London Irish
Both these sides have shown a decent bit of form in recent weeks and both are in a much healthier position than they were a month ago. Exeter are in with a shout of qualifying for Europe at the very least and after producing a similar run to nick sixth last year, they’ll have plenty of faith in their own ability to make that final push over the line.
London Irish have essentially done enough to banish the grim spectre of relegation, though they’ll be a little disappointed that they let victory slip in their 33-33 draw with Sale. The Exiles have won just one game away from home all year and we don’t think they’ll set that record straight here (or in the final round against Leicester for that matter) but the handicap of seven is sufficiently large to dissuade us from a bet on the home side either.
London Welsh vs Northampton
London Welsh head coach Lyn Jones has been forced to make four changes for Sunday’s battle with the Northampton Saints at the their home of the Kassam Stadium and we’d doubt that they have the ability to pick up a win here with so much enforced upheaval.
An injury to Gonzalo Tiesi has forced a backline reshuffle, with Tom Arscott filling the full-back berth and Seb Jewell moving to inside centre. Sonny Parker wears the number 13 jersey. Injury also sees Phil MacKenzie miss out, with his place on the wing taken by Nick Scott.
Regardless of Harlequins’ poor form at the moment, the Saints will desperately want to avoid needing a result from their trip to the Twickenham Stoop on the final day. They need a bonus point win here and they should get it.
Saracens vs Worcester
This game is all about Sarries’ motivation levels. We know they’re good enough to win this by as much as they like and they certainly showed their ability against Ulster last week, however they’ve a home semi final all but assured and while they should get five points here, four is more than enough. No bet.
Leicester vs Wasps
After successive away trips to successive away trips to Exeter Chiefs, Northampton Saints and Toulon, Leicester will be delighted to get back to their Welford Road home. They certainly will expect to slip back into the winning groove against the misfiring Wasps, who have lost their last five matches in all competitions since overcoming Gloucester 33-29 at Adams Park on 17th February.
Fatigue could be an issue at this time of year however and after that level of travelling, we’re slow to trust the Tigers to cover a spread in the mid teens, even allowing for their high scoring form in recent weeks.
Sale vs Gloucester: Gloucester -2pts @ 10/11, 1pt stake
Harlequins vs Bath: Bath +10pts @ 10/11, 1pt stake
London Welsh vs Northampton, Northampton -9pts @ 10/11, 1pt stake