Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Northampton Saints v Exter Chiefs | Friday 1 January | Franklin Gardens | 17:00
After a dismal performance against the Aviva Premiership's cellar dwellers last time out, the Northampton Saints now have the unenviable task of taking on the in-form Chiefs. With Saracens only two points ahead of Exeter, at the top of the Aviva Premiership log, you know the Chiefs are going to come into this one with all guns blazing.
So, can Northampton get their stuttering campaign back on track or will the Chiefs further close the gap between themselves and Saries?
To Win (80 mins)
Northampton's performance last weekend was so poor that one is left to wonder what is going on up in Saints territory. They have a talented squad, a brilliant coaching regime, but yet they continue to struggle to string 80 minutes together. Last week's game, fully illustrates their inability to keep their intensity levels up for a full match.
Having endured a poor start to the game which saw them head into the break trailing by 15-8 - Northampton came out of the tunnel for the second stanza looking like a revitalised unit. George North moved the Saints within two points of Irish with his 45th-minute try. Irish struck back, though, with a Chris Noakes penalty, before Saints nine Kahn Fotuali put Northampton into the lead with a try on the 62nd minute. Steven Myler stepped up and cooly slotted the conversion to give his side a five-point lead heading into the final 15 minutes of the match.
At this point you'd have expected Saints to keep it simple and look to play the territory game. Instead, they tried to open things up and ended up coughing up a lot of possession in their own 22. They were eventually punished for not clearing their lines when a scrum on their own five-metre line resulted in Irish being awarded a penalty try. Whether this was in a bid to attempt to get a fourth try bonus point or if it was just panic getting the better of them we'll never know. One thing that is for sure though, it cost them a valuable victory.
The result also means Northampton haven't registered a win in their past three matches. A very worrying stat for a team that was aiming to make a mark at home as well as in Europe.
After a tense opening fifty minutes, Exeter came to life against Sale - running in two additional tries and adding some gloss to the scoreboard. The 33 -17 bonus point victory means that the Chiefs are in with a chance of going into the New Year at the summit of the Aviva Premiership table.
With Saries only two points clear of them on the log, you can rest assured that the Chiefs will go into this game looking for the full five-point haul. Key to their chances of achieving back to back bonus point wins will be eigthman, Thomas Waldrom. I know it seems like every preview I write about Exeter contains a segment in which I wax lyrical about the former Canterbury man, but with his incredible try scoring record, I just can't help it. The big man got his name onto the try scorers sheet once again last week and I would certainly not bet against him repeating the trick at Franklin Gardens.
Waldrom and his fellow forwards have also show this season that they are one of the most fierce exponents of the driving maul. With the Northampton pack looking rather light weight, I expect the Chiefs to kick for the corner from almost every penalty that the Saints concede inside their own territory.
Verdict: Exeter 24/10
I honestly can't see Northampton containing this well drilled Chiefs side. Back the away team to come away with the a big win.
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