Leicester Tigers v Bath Rugby | Sunday 29 November | Welford Road | 16:55
The Leicester Tigers will host a resurgent Bath side this weekend in round five of the Aviva Premiership. Even though it's extremely early in the season, neither side will be too keen to occupy positions outside of the top four come the close of the round. So expect to see quite a hard fought affair at Welford Road this Sunday.
To Win (80 Mins)
Leicester (-5.5) 9/10
Bath (+5.5) 9/10
Leicester's unbeaten run in the Aviva Premiership was brought to a halt by the Exter Chiefs in round 4 of the tournament. The 6-19 loss has seen the Tigers drop to fourth spot on the log, two places above this weekend's opponents. They'll want to move back into the top two as soon as possible, and with home ground advantage this weekend, they could well achieve this.
Welford Road has become somewhat of a fortress for the Tigers. They have won their last nine matches with at the ground - their last defeat at home came in early 2014. While these stats will be music to Leicester fans ears, you may want to turn away now if you're part of the Tigers supporters club. Out of the last seven encounters between the sides, Leicester have only managed to beat Bath once. That's a pretty damning stat, but it must be remembered that those Bath teams were of a different vintage to this current crop.
Leicester have a squad that is more than capable of defeating Bath this weekend. They have a solid scrum which is anchored by Argentine prop Marcos Ayerza. The burly Puma is likely to line up alongside British and Irish Lions representative Dan Cole and hooker Tom Youngs in an impressive looking front row.
Nuggety half back, Ben Youngs, will be a constant threat to Bath's fringe defence around the ruck. It will be interesting to see who partners Youngs in the half back pairing. Veteran utility back Seremaia Bai has put some impressive displays when he's been given a go in the Flyhalf berth but he doesn't offer the dynamism that Welsh youngster Owen Williams does.
Marquee signing, Jean de Villiers, is yet to join the squad while lock Dominic Day has undergone surgery to remove his appendix and is likely to be sidelined for three to four weeks.
While Bath are by no means a bad side, they have had some massive injury blows this season which have hampered their campaign. They currently occupy sixth spot, having won two of the four games they've played thus far. Those four fixtures have seen Bath score 101 points at an average of 25.25 points per game. That's quite the record, and if it wasn't for their leaky defence- they've conceded 85 points at an average of 21.25 points per game- they would definitely occupy a spot near the top end of the league table.
Bath will be hoping that prop, Nick Auterac, continues his impressive form. The youngster put in an immaculate display against Irish international, Mike Ross, when Bath played Leinster last Saturday.
Bath's strength doesn't really lie in their forward pack though, so let's shift our focus to an area where Bath maybe be able to get a foothold in the game, their backline. After a somewhat subdued start to the season, centre Kyle Eastmond is starting to show those flashes of brilliance that lead pundits to tout him as a future England stalwart. Eastmond impressed against Leicester last weekend with his crisp distribution (not something regularly associated with an outside centre) and his powerful running. He will have to put in a similar performance this week as he's coming up against a solid Leicester centre pairing.
While both, Auterac and Eastmond will play crucial roles this weekend, the man who could swing the game in Bath's favour is George Ford. The England pivot has come back from the World Cup with a point to prove. His place kicking has vastly improved over the last few months, which was evident when he coolly stepped up and slotted the match-winning penalty against Leinster last Saturday.
Verdict: Bath 7/4
Bath looked like a vastly improved unit last weekend, and I have a feeling that they are on a bit of an upward curve. Back the away side for a win at the staggeringly good price of 7/4.
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