With such narrow margins, the second half of this season's Gallagher Premiership should be an absolute cracker. And speaking of crackers, we've got some potential classics this weekend with the Harlequins versus Sale game and the Exeter versus Northampton fixture, the two to catch the eye.
Friday 6 January
Gloucester 7/4 | Draw 20/1 | Saracens 5/10
Gloucester (+4.5) 17/20 | Saracens (-4.5) 17/20
We kick things off at the Kingsholm Stadium where fourth-placed Gloucester will take on runaway log-leaders Saracens.
Both sides had rather turbulent festive periods, with Gloucester comprehensively beaten 28-13 by Leicester on Christmas Eve before bouncing back to scrape an ugly 8-6 win over London Irish on New Year’s Eve.
Saracens suffered only the second defeat of their domestic campaign during the same period as they went down 29-20 to London Irish. The North Londoners managed to bounce back in style, however, as they hammered old foes, the Exeter Chiefs, 35-3 in their final eighty minutes of rugby for 2022.
I reckon this one will be pretty tight run but I can see the away side coming out on top. Gloucester on the plus.
Saturday 7 January
Newcastle 13/10 | Draw 20/1 | Leicester 66/100
Newcastle (+2.5) 17/20 | Leicester (-2.5) 17/20
We head up to the Kingston Stadium for our next fixture which will see 10th-placed Newcastle play host to sixth-placed Leicester.
Like most sides in the Prem, Leicester produced a mixed bag over the festive period, registering a convincing 28-13 victory over Gloucester before being thoroughly outclassed by the Sale Sharks, who beat them 40-5 on New Year’s Eve. The Tigers will be desperate to bounce back here and close in on the top four, which they currently are two points adrift of.
The Falcons also won one and lost one during the final week of 2022. They were highly impressive during the Christmas weekend as they beat the high-flying Sale Sharks 20-14. They were brought back down to Earth seven days later as they went down 24-16 by fellow strugglers Bath.
I know they are far from the most consistent team in the comp but the Tigers have tended to bounce back after a defeat this term. I’m expecting that trend to play out again this weekend.
Exeter 32/100 | Draw 22/1 | Northampton 26/10
Exeter (-7.5) 17/20 | Northampton (+7.5) 17/20
The Exeter Chiefs will be looking to put a mixed festive week behind them when they take on the fifth-placed Northampton Saints this Saturday. The Chiefs are currently four-points behind their opponents on the Premiership standings and a win is vital for the men from Sandy Park.
This weekend’s hosts managed to win their Christmas Eve fixture but were far from convincing as they scraped a 20-15 win over Bath. They were then thoroughly outclassed by Saracens, going down by 32 points to the Londoners. The result was rather a significant one as it illustrated how far Exeter have fallen off the pacesetters this season as there is now a 23-point gap between them and the log-leaders.
Northampton only played one game during the festive season but boy did they make the most of their outing as they hammered Harlequins 46-17.
I rather fancy the Saints at 26/10 here. They’re playing some decent rugby at the minute while Exeter are struggling.
Sunday 8 January
London Irish 49/100 | Draw 20/1 | Bristol Bears 7/4
London Irish (-4.5) 17/20 | Bristol (+4.5) 17/20
The penultimate game of the weekend sees ninth-placed London Irish take on last-placed Bristol. While both sides have a mathematical chance of still making the semi-finals, they are unlikely to pull off a miracle but they will be looking to move up the table, nonetheless, in a bid to claim a berth in Europe next term.
Irish had one of the more impressive runs during the festive period as they became the first side to get one over Saracens in the Premiership this term as they beat the log-leaders by nine points on Christmas Eve. They then gave Gloucester an almighty run as they went down 8-6 due to a late penalty from their opponents.
Bristol were the other side to only have one outing during the festive period, and like Northampton, they made the most of it, registering a hard-fought 12-15 win over Harlequins at the Stoop.
Irish were really good during the last week of 2022 and were desperately unlucky not to claim two wins from two starts. I’m backing them to make it two from three, which ain’t bad.
Harlequins 84/100 | Draw 20/1 | Sale 21/20
We close things off with a clash between a Harlequins side that had a very tough Christmas and a Sale side that produced a mixed bag during the festive period.
Quins were pretty woeful during the final week of 2022 as they went down 12-15 to Bristol and then 46-17 away to Northampton. The reigning champions will need to up their game tenfold as they are now at risk of mixing out on the semifinals as they sit third with 31 points to their name but with a number of teams just two points shy of them.
Sale had a better but far from spectacular close to 2022 as they were beaten 20-14 by Newcastle in their Northern Derby. They did bounce back in style the following week as they beat the Leicester Tigers 40-5.
I reckon we should be in for a classic here with both teams not afraid to spread the ball. I can see the visitors edging a high-scoring thriller here.