Premiership Rugby: Exeter can maintain title charge with Northampton win
Simon Mail previews the final televised games of 2018 including Exeter's trip to Northampton and Harlequins v Wasps...
"Exeter were at their relentless best in beating Saracens last week and the side have won nine of their ten league matches this season."
Northampton v Exeter
Live on BT Sport 1
Chiefs should edge to points
Exeter returned to the top of the Premiership last weekend after an impressive 31-13 win against Saracens. The Chiefs ended their opponents' unbeaten start to the season with a dominant performance. Rob Baxter's side have only lost one league game and are on course for another final.
Northampton's form has been up and down this season with new boss Chris Boyd still trying to establish his best team. The Saints are eighth in the Premiership although it is ridiculously congested with only eight points separating fourth and 12th position. Northampton have won their last three games, in all competitions, including last week's 32-6 victory at Worcester.
There are signs Northampton are making progress under Boyd although this looks a tough ask for the hosts. Exeter were at their relentless best in beating Saracens last week and the side have won nine of their ten league matches this season. All three of Northampton's home defeats in the Premiership have been by no more than 11 points and it looks worth backing Exeter to grind out a narrow win at Franklin's Gardens.
Harlequins can win Twickenham tussle
Harlequins v Wasps
Live on BT Sport 2
Harlequins take their festive fixture against Wasps down the road to Twickenham and the hosts could be celebrating victory in front of a bumper crowd. Paul Gustard has guided his side to fifth place in the standings and there have been some standout performances. Quins ended Exeter's unbeaten start with a home win last month and also defeated Gloucester at Kingsholm. The side were beaten 35-24 at Leicester last week.
Wasps may be fourth in the table but their overall form has been disappointing and a run of one win in their last 12 matches underlines their problems. Dai Young's side made too many errors last weekend in their 24-14 home defeat to Bath. Wasps have only produced occasional flashes of their ability and will need to halt their recent run if they are to finish in the top four again this season.
The betting indicates this match is extremely well matched but Wasps' poor current form suggests Harlequins are the team to support. Backed by a big crowd, Quins could be inspired and if they reproduce their performance against Exeter it should be enough to secure the win. It is unlikely to be one-sided though and a win by up to 12 points looks likely.
Tigers to keep it close
Bath v Leicester
Live on BT Sport 1
Bath have been riddled with inconsistency this season but enjoyed a rare high last weekend after a deserved win at Wasps. Sixth place is a fair reflection of their level so far with Todd Blackadder's side a frustrating team to follow. Freddie Burns scored 19 points during the Wasps win and the fly-half will be bidding to make a match-winning contribution again this weekend.
Leicester's form has been even worse with the Tigers ending a run of eight consecutive defeats after last week's home win over Harlequins. It was also Geordan Murphy's first game in charge since being confirmed as the club's permanent head coach. Two tries from Jonah Holmes and a Manu Tuilagi effort helped lift the gloom at Welford Road.
Only points difference separates the teams in the table and it could be similarly tight in this clash. The hosts are favourites but their form has flattered to deceive. Instead, it could be worth siding with Leicester off a six-point handicap head start following their confidence-boosting win last week. Bath have only covered this handicap once in seven home matches this season so look hard to trust at the prices.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
P/L 2018-19 season