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Gallagher Premiership

PREVIEW: Sale v Sarries headlines Premiership weekend as Marcus Smith returns for Quins

The pick of the weekend’s Gallagher Premiership proceedings sees second-placed Sale Sharks host runaway leaders Saracens, while Marcus Smith returns for Harlequins against Exeter Chiefs.

Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

The pick of the weekend’s Gallagher Premiership proceedings sees second-placed Sale Sharks host runaway leaders Saracens, while Marcus Smith returns for Harlequins against Exeter Chiefs.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Friday 3 March

Bristol Bears 5/10 | Draw 20/1 | Northampton Saints 7/4

Handicap
Bears (-4.5) 17/20 | Saints (+4.5) 17/20

Bears (ninth) have been fantastic of late, nearly knocking Saracens over at the StoneX (20-19) towards the end of January before going on a three-match winning run. Their string of success is much needed as they continue to hunt down the top eight finish that would seal them a place in next season’s Champions Cup.

Saints are third and eyeing an overhaul of second-placed Sale, with the Sharks currently eight-points ahead. The visitors are fresh off a good 41-34 result over Gloucester at Franklin’s Gardens and will fancy their chances here.

Both teams have something to play for, but it’s Northampton who should bag a slender victory at Ashton Gate.

Get on Saints at 7/4.

Saturday 4 March

Leicester Tigers 1/8 | Draw 28/1 | Bath 52/10

Handicap
Tigers (-13.5) 17/20 | Bath (+13.5) 17/20

The inconsistency of the defending champs means they’re at serious risk of missing out on the semi-finals this season. They may be sixth and just two-points shy of the top four, but their record this campaign (seven wins, seven losses and a draw), coupled with the competitiveness of the league means things are far from certain. They come off two wins though and should be too much for the basement-dwellers at Welford Road.

Despite bagging just four wins all season, things are certainly on the up for Bath, with all indications pointing to something of a resurgence next season. Unfortunately for them though, they must still negotiate this one. Winless all year, there isn’t much to suggest they’ll be able to topple Tigers at home.

Hosts on the minus.

Harlequins 61/100 | Draw 20/1 | Exeter Chiefs 14/10

Handicap
Quins (-3.5) 17/20| Chiefs (+3.5) 17/20

Harlequins come into this one off the back of five-straight league losses that has seen them drop way down to eighth after initially looking likely to challenge for second spot. Currently five-points off fourth, they need to arrest this startling run of poor results as soon as possible, with Marcus Smith’s sudden availability set to give them a big boost in this regard at The Stoop.

Chiefs are fifth after some strong performances in recent months, having last week dispatched of second-placed Sale 24-22 at Sandy Park. They seem to be peaking at just the right time and could break into the top four this weekend if results go their way.

The return of Smith at pivot has made this one of the round’s most intriguing matchups, with the 24-year-old sure to be out to prove a point to the England selectors.

Chiefs on the plus.

Sunday 5 March

Newcastle Falcons 74/100 | Draw 20/1 London Irish 14/10

Handicap
Falcons (-2.5) 17/20 | Irish (+2.5) 17/20

Falcons’ dreadful run on the road continued at the StoneX last week, going down to Sarries for a sixth away loss in succession. Sitting 10th and with their Champions Cup qualification hopes again looking unlikely, primary focus for them should be to avoid finishing the season last. As things stand, they’re just two-points off bottom-placed Bath heading into this one.

Irish are seventh with just three-points separating them from the top four. They were thwarted by Tigers at the Gtech a week ago but should be up for this one.

Irish at 14/10.

Sale Sharks 5/10 | Draw 20/1 | Saracens 7/4

Handicap
Sale (+4.5) 17/20| Saracens (-4.5) 17/20

The showdown of the weekend pits first against second in Manchester. Sale (51-points) have no realistic chance of usurping leaders Saracens (62-points) with six rounds left, but that will matter little if they can seal a home semi. Having copped three straight Premiership defeats heading into this one, there is little momentum to speak of, but they still have the personnel to match Saracens.

The visitors put a loss at Leicester behind them thanks to a 29-23 defeat of Newcastle last week. While they’re unlikely to loosen their grip on top spot, Mark McCall’s men will want to lay down a marker here with the season nearing its climax.

Saracens’ vast experience will see them claim a vital psychological edge here and condemn Sale to yet another defeat.

Saracens at 7/4 are great odds.

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