The two-week break for the opening rounds of the Six Nations is over and the Premiership makes its return, with the big sides shorn of a lot of their international stars.
There are three real standout fixtures coming your way this weekend with Gloucester and Harlequins squaring off in a clash that will have a massive impact on the race for the play-offs. Another fixture to keep an eye on is the Northampton vs Sale match with the Saints looking to cling onto fourth place and Sale looking to further strengthen their stranglehold on second place.
The final fixture that is likely to provide fireworks is the clash between log-leaders Saracens and the eighth-placed Leicester Tigers, who will be desperate for the win in order to put them back in the race for the semi-final berths.
Friday 17 February
Bristol 1/4 | Draw 23/1 | Newcastle 31/10 (21:45)
Bristol (-9.5) 17/20 | Newcastle (+9.5) 17/20
We kick things off at Ashton Gate where cellar-dwellers Bristol will be looking to claim only their fourth win of the season. They face off against the Newcastle Falcons, who only sit four points above their opposition, having won two more games.
Bristol were actually in decent enough touch prior to the break, having run Saracens extremely close the week prior going down by just a 20-19 scoreline in North London.
Newcastle didn’t get any domestic games prior to the break as they were scheduled to play Wasps. They did give a solid account of themselves in the Challenge Cup in their last outing as they beat Connacht 35-21.
I’m backing the Bears here based on their excellent – albeit losing – performance against Saracens. Newcastle will probably stay within a pretty generous handicap, though. I’m the Falcons (+9.5).
Gloucester 46/100 | Draw 20/1 | Harlequins 37/20 (21:45)
Gloucester (-5.5) 17/20 | Harlequins (+5.5) 17/20
We head over to the Kingsholm next where fifth-placed Gloucester take on sixth-placed Harlequins. The sides are only separated on the log by points differential and this game is essentially an eight-point swing for whichever side grabs the win here.
The hosts went into the two-week Six Nations break with a 24-17 away loss to an unpredictable Exeter side. They gave a decent account of themselves during the fixture but dropped off somewhat in the second stanza and they were unable to overturn Exeter’s lead. The Chiefs effectively kept them at arm’s length for the final 20 minutes of the contest.
Harlequins also head into this one off the back of a domestic defeat as they town apart by London Irish in a 42-24 away defeat. The performance illustrated just how porous their defence has been this term and this is an area they will need to sure up if they are to get one over a dangerous Gloucester outfit this Friday evening.
I reckon we’re in for a titanic battle here, one I can see Gloucester edging by the narrowest of margins. Once again, I’ll be on the plus here.
Saturday 18 February
Bath 62/100 | Draw 20/1 | London Irish 14/10 (17:00)
Bath (-3.5) 17/20 | London Irish (+3.5) 17/20
We head over to the Recreation Ground for our next instalment which will see 10th-placed Bath take on seventh-placed London Irish. Both sides’ objectives for the rest of the season will be completely different with Bath looking to avoid the wooden spoon while London Irish search for a semi-final berth. While their aspirations are entirely different, both sides will be equally as desperate to bag the points here.
Bath gave a very handy account of themselves in their last outing as they went down by just three points to Sale away from home. London Irish’s last Premiership outing was even more impressive as they hammered Harlequins 42-24.
Bath have registered some decent results at home this term and I can see them bagging another one here.
Northampton 21/20 | Draw | Sale 8/10 (17:00)
The penultimate game of the weekend pits fourth-placed Northampton up against the second-placed Sale Sharks. The hosts currently sit only three points clear of eighth-placed Leicester, so a win here is of vital importance to them.
Sale, on the other hand, don’t really need to claim the points from this one for fear of losing out on a home semi-final as they sit 14 points clear of third-placed Exeter so they have some wiggle room.
Northampton managed to scrape a narrow 18-19 away win over Leicester in their last Premiership fixture. And while the win was far from a pretty one, it did show that the Saints are able to grind out hard-fought victories.
Sale edged past Sale in their last Premiership fixture after being 22-3 down on the stroke of halftime against Bath. They’d go on to win the fixture with a last-minute Arron Reed score.
Tough one to call this, but I’m leaning toward the hosts here. Perhaps this is the one to avoid this weekend.
Sunday 19 February
Leicester 59/100 | Draw 20/1 | Saracens 29/20 (17:00)
Leicester (-3.5) 17/20 | Saracens (+3.5) 17/20
Round 17 ends on a high note with two of England’s traditional heavyweights Leicester and Saracens squaring off at Welford Road. The visitors currently sit pretty at the top of the log and are eight points clear of the second-placed Sale Sharks, while Leicester languish in eighth place, three points adrift of the semi-final berths.
In terms of their latest domestic showings, Leicester suffered an agonizing 18-19 home defeat to the Northampton Saints, while Saracens beat Bristol 20-19 in yet another narrow-run fixture.
Both teams had a number of players involved in the 6 Nations so it will be extremely interesting to see how this one plays out and whether those players are a bit leggy after two weekends of international action.
I have to go with the visitors here. They have been a class apart this term winning 12 of their 13 Premiership fixtures.