Aviva Premiership

Premiership Rugby: Exeter face huge test against wounded champions Saracens

Saracens forward Maro Itoje
Saracens produced a dominant performance to brush aside Bristol last weekend

"This should be a high quality encounter between the two best teams in the Premiership but Saracens' greater motivation could make the difference. The champions are fighting against relegation and desperately need to close the gap on the teams above them."

Simon Mail previews a busy weekend of Premiership action which ends with a repeat of last season's final between Exeter and Saracens...

Bristol v Wasps
Friday, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 1

Bears have the beating of Wasps

Bristol have made an impressive start to the season, with Pat Lam's side third in the Premiership after six games. The Bears consolidated during the previous campaign, following promotion, with a top-four finish now looking a realistic proposition. Bristol's seven-game unbeaten run was ended last week after their 47-13 defeat at Saracens.

Wasps have mustered just six points from as many matches and are languishing third from bottom. Dai Young's side are in trouble and will be dragged into a relegation battle if they fail to start winning games. Wasps threw away an early 17-0 lead at home to Harlequins in their 28-22 defeat last weekend - a fifth loss from six league games.

Bristol are unbeaten at home this season and the Bears will be confident about overcoming a Wasps team struggling for confidence, in front of an expected crowd of more than 20,000. The hosts have everything in their favour and are strong favourites to claim the points. Bristol should earn the victory but Wasps' last three defeats have been by less than 12 points so the visitors can keep it relatively close.

Saints to overcome Gloucester

Northampton v Gloucester
Saturday, 14:00
Live on BT Sport 2

Northampton are making significant strides under Chris Boyd with the Saints currently second in the Premiership. Reaching last season's semi-finals was a boost and the club appear to be heading in the right direction. Northampton were beaten 22-10 at Sale last week but their home form in the league has been excellent with maximum points this season.

Gloucester suffered a wobble recently, with the Cherry and Whites losing three successive Premiership games, before defeating Worcester 36-3 at Kingsholm. Danny Cipriani's influence on the team is crucial with the playmaker providing a creative spark. Gloucester still have the ability to finish in the top four although their consistency over the winter will need to improve.

Northampton appear to have the edge with their superb recent form at Franklin's Gardens the potential difference maker. Gloucester have only won one of their last ten away matches across all competitions and could struggle to stop the Saints. Northampton look worth backing to cover a six-point handicap to maintain the pressure on leaders Exeter.

danny care harlequins.jpg

Quins to claim spoils at Twickenham

Harlequins v Leicester
Saturday, 16:30
Live on BT Sport 2

Harlequins host Leicester in this December's 'Big Game' at Twickenham. A bumper crowd is expected for Quins' match with Paul Gustard's side boosted by an impressive comeback at Wasps. Trailing by 17 points, Harlequins clinched a bonus-point 28-22 victory for back-to-back victories in the Premiership. It leaves the side just two points off third-placed Bristol.

Leicester are in a perilous position with the Tigers only off the bottom of the Premiership due to Saracens' points penalty. With the champions expected to claim enough wins to stay up, Leicester are in serious danger of going down. An improved performance last week was not enough with the side failing to hold onto a 22-14 half-time advantage as they lost 31-22 at home to Exeter.

Harlequins are building momentum after their victory at Wasps and look well-placed to increase the pressure on struggling Leicester. Quins boast an impressive record in the 'Big Game' with six wins and just three defeats from 11 appearances. Harlequins defeated Leicester 23-19 in their last meeting in May and another narrow win looks the best bet.

Wounded champions to overcome Chiefs

Exeter v Saracens
Sunday, 15:00
Live on BT Sport 1

The game of the weekend is at Sandy Park in a repeat of last season's Premiership final. Saracens are involved in a very different battle this year though with their 35-point penalty leaving them bottom of the table. The champions would be first, without the deduction, but instead find themselves 17 points adrift. Saracens scored seven tries in their 47-13 win over Bristol last week.

Exeter have climbed to the top of the league and the Chiefs are the team to beat with their opponents out of the title picture. Rob Baxter's side have won their last six games in all competitions and are looking a threat both domestically and in Europe. Exeter fought back to defeat Leicester 31-22 at Welford Road last weekend.

This should be a high quality encounter between the two best teams in the Premiership but Saracens' greater motivation could make the difference. The champions are fighting against relegation and desperately need to close the gap on the teams above them. Saracens have won the last two meetings, including a thrilling Premiership final, with the visitors fancied to cover a one-point handicap.

Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

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