Simon Mail previews the first Premiership fixtures of the new year including Wasps' home clash against Saracens...
"Visitors Saracens are marginal favourites but hosts Wasps look worth backing to extend their winning run to seven Premiership games. Wasps have been playing some exceptional attacking rugby and defeated Sarries 35-15 in the last clash in Coventry back in May."
Worcester v Bath
Live on BT Sport 1
Worcester's encouraging recent form has helped build a ten-point gap ahead of London Irish at the bottom of the Premiership. The Warriors have won three of their last five league games including a crucial victory over Irish which could go a long way to helping them avoid relegation. Worcester came away with a bonus-point, after scoring four tries, in their 46-31 defeat at Saracens last weekend.
Bath have slipped down to sixth in the table after three successive Premiership defeats. Todd Blackadder's side were involved in a dramatic match at home to Wasps last week but a late rally could not prevent a 31-26 defeat. Bath have been excellent in the Champions Cup, having beaten former winners Toulon, but their inconsistency domestically threatens to cost them a top-four finish this season.
The visitors are slight favourites to win this contest but their suspect current form suggests there are better alternative bets. Josh Adams has been in exceptional form for Worcester after scoring eight tries in his last six league matches. The Welsh winger is the top tryscorer in the Premiership which is some feat in a struggling side. Adams looks generously priced to continue his scoring streak with another try this weekend.
Northampton v Gloucester
Live on BT Sport 3
It has been a disastrous season for Northampton so far and there is no sign of their pain easing after the 50-21 hammering by Harlequins at Twickenham last week. Every time you keep thinking the worst is over, but Northampton's crisis has gone from one low to another with the side losing seven Premiership matches in a row. Their awful run stands at 12 defeats in the last 13 matches in all competitions and the Saints are only three points clear of second bottom Worcester.
There have been no such problems for Gloucester and the Cherry and Whites are in the hunt for a top-four finish after a promising first half of the campaign. Sitting fourth in the Premiership, with eight wins from 12 games, Gloucester have been one of the most improved teams of the season under Johan Ackermann. Without playing near their best, the side managed to grind out a 20-16 home win over Sale in their final game of 2017.
Northampton's losing run is going to end at some point but there is no interest at backing them at just [2.26] to win this weekend. The Saints have no confidence and it will require inspiration from new coaching consultant Alan Gaffney to spark an immediate response. Gloucester defeated Northampton at Kingsholm earlier this season and the visitors look worth backing to cover a two-point handicap against a team in crisis.
Wasps v Saracens
Live on BT Sport 1
The game of the weekend comes at the Ricoh Arena when third-placed Wasps host a Saracens side one point and place above them. Wasps have been in relentless form in recent weeks after winning their last six Premiership matches. Only La Rochelle have beaten them in their last eight matches and Dai Young's side have been prolific with 23 tries scored in their last five games.
Saracens suffered a rare slump in the winter after losing seven matches in a row but Mark McCall's side have rebounded strongly heading into the new year. The Men in Black ended their barren run with a victory at Leicester and ended the calendar year with a bonus-point win over Worcester. Their task will be to try to close the gap on Exeter at the top with the champions building a ten-point lead.
Visitors Saracens are marginal favourites but hosts Wasps look worth backing to extend their winning run to seven Premiership games. Wasps have been playing some exceptional attacking rugby and defeated Sarries 35-15 in the last clash in Coventry back in May. Saracens conceded four tries against the Warriors last week and Wasps have the backline to punish them in a high-scoring contest.
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2017/18 Rugby P/L