Simon Mail previews the latest round of Premiership action featuring champions Exeter at home to Bath and Wasps' clash with Leicester...
"Exeter are in relentless form currently after reeling off eight successive wins in all competitions. This type of form took them to their first title in May and it is difficult to bet against them at present."
Northampton v Newcastle
Live on BT Sport 1
Two sides in need of a win face each other this weekend with Northampton hosting Newcastle. The Saints have slumped to four consecutive defeats in the Premiership which has left them seventh in the table. Jim Mallinder's side's low point came in the recent 30-15 defeat at struggling Worcester. Northampton also lost 18-15 last weekend at Sale and the pressure is on the hosts to halt their poor run of form.
Newcastle got off to a fine start to this season after winning four of their first five games. But reality has returned for the Falcons after losing their last four Premiership matches. This is certainly not a crisis, with expectations significantly lower at Newcastle and their start under Dean Richards has already given them a healthy buffer over the bottom sides.
The Saints need to stop the rot and will be boosted by the return to the side of England internationals Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes. Newcastle have actually won the last three meetings against Northampton but the hosts are expected to rally after their slump in form. Northampton are unlikely to run away with this game, with both sides low on confidence, so a narrow home win could be the most likely outcome.
Exeter v Bath
Live on BT Sport 2
Exeter are in excellent shape in their bid to defend their Premiership title after a superb start to the season. The Chiefs opened up a five point lead at the top of the league following a gritty 20-18 win at Saracens last weekend. Rob Baxter's side have won seven of their nine Premiership matches this season and will take some stopping. With a promising start in the Champions Cup, Exeter are on course to progress in Europe as well and look well equipped to challenge in both competitions.
Bath have also been in impressive form themselves after climbing up to third after winning four of their last five games in the Premiership. Todd Blackadder raved about his side's first-half performance after securing a bonus-point inside 20 minutes of their 38-14 win over Harlequins last weekend. Bath have only lost once in their last nine matches in all competitions.
The visitors also have a strong record at Sandy Park having won four times there in the Premiership. But Exeter are in relentless form currently after reeling off eight successive wins in all competitions. This type of form took them to their first title in May and it is difficult to bet against them at present. Bath will be difficult opponents but the Chiefs are expected to extend their winning run with a victory by no more than 12 points offering value.
Back Exeter to win by 1-12 points @ 17/10 (Sportsbook)
Wasps v Leicester
Live on BT Sport 2
Wasps appear to be heading in the right direction again after winning five of their last six games in all competitions. Dai Young's side were wobbling after a five-match losing run from the end of September but their recent form has been encouraging for last season's Premiership finalists. Wasps are sixth in the table and need to keep the pressure on the teams above them in the race for a top-four spot.
Leicester are one of those sides with the Tigers fourth after six wins from their first nine league games. Matt O'Connor's side slipped up last weekend after a shock 31-27 defeat at home to Worcester. This halted their excellent six-match winning run in the competition which pushed them towards the top of the table. The Tigers had hoped to have centre Manu Tuilagi back after three months out injured but he is not quite ready to return to the squad.
Wasps have enjoyed the upper hand recently with wins in the last four clashes against Leicester. The hosts also have momentum on their side and look well-placed to continue their recent form. Wasps won all three matches against the Tigers by no more than 12 points last season and it could be similarly tight this weekend at the Ricoh Arena in the 100th clash between the sides.
Back Wasps to win by 1-12 points @ 17/10 (Sportsbook)
Harlequins v Saracens
Live on BT Sport 1
Harlequins come into this match stuttering in eighth place in the Premiership after mixing four wins with five defeats. Quins have lost their last two games on the road at Exeter and Bath. The side have been riddled with inconsistency again this season although their best form has come at the Stoop with only one league defeat against Leicester back in September.
Saracens are on their worst run of form for seven years after four successive defeats. But there are mitigating circumstances for the Men in Black with a host of international players absent over the last month and two of these losses coming in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Sarries lost narrowly at home to Exeter last weekend but a very strong side, featuring Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, has been selected for this game.
Sarries will be fiercely determined to end this losing run and the visitors look well equipped to do so with all their key players back this weekend. Mark McCall's side will have a point to prove and can be expected to deliver a victory. Quins have won the last two games at home to Sarries but are likely to find a third victory hard to come by. The hosts should keep the scoreline close but second-placed Saracens are fancied to show their class and claim a win by up to 12 points.
Back Saracens to win by 1-12 points @ 17/10 (Sportsbook)
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