The LV= Cup resumes after a two month break this weekend and the battle for a place in the last four steps up a gear with only two matches remaining. It is always hard to gauge the importance of the competition to each team but the chance to play away from the pressure of the league and Europe means younger players will often get the chance to impress in the side.
Sale Sharks v Llanelli Scarlets
The televised clash comes tomorrow afternoon in Salford as struggling Sale Sharks host the Scarlets. Both teams have a reasonable chance of winning their pool after picking up a win from their opening two games.
It has been a season to forget for the Sharks so far with the side rooted to the bottom of the Premiership table. But there are a few signs that Sale are picking up form and could yet avoid relegation. Their last domestic match at the Salford City Stadium saw them defeat Worcester Warriors 33-27 with Danny Cipriani scoring 18 points.
The Sharks also won their previous game in this competition after they edged to a 25-23 win over Premiership title challengers Saracens. In their opening LV= Cup game, Sale picked up a losing bonus-point in their 34-28 defeat at London Irish. Sale have named a strong team featuring Cipriani and they are taking the LV= Cup seriously.
The Scarlets will hardly be brimming with confidence after a dismal Heineken Cup campaign which saw them lose all six fixtures as they propped up their pool. Their form in the Rabodirect Pro12 has at least been better where eight wins have taken them to fifth in the table.
The Welsh outfit have lost seven of their last eight games in all competitions so will be desperate to put some improved form together. In this tournament, the Scarlets started with a 34-28 defeat at Worcester before responding with a 22-16 win over the Cardiff Blues.
But Sale should have the edge with home advantage, along with a more experienced team than the Blues, as they look for some momentum to take into the Premiership.
Back Sale to win at 1.330/100 or better.
Saracens v Cardiff Blues
Saracens will host their first match at their new stadium, Allianz Park, on Sunday when they face the Cardiff Blues. While it is not being billed as their grand opener, which will follow against Exeter next month, the Men in Black will still be keen to get off to a winning start in north London.
Mark McCall's side are again the model of consistency having strung six consecutive wins together and their record in 'home' games this season, albeit at a variety of grounds, has been perfect. While it would be fair to say this competition is at the bottom of their priorities, Saracens can boast arguably the strongest squad in England and have selected international players such as Alex Goode and Mouritz Botha for the match.
Cardiff Blues failed to qualify from their Heineken Cup pool and have been inconsistent in the league but they did manage a home win over Sale in their final European game last weekend. A notable win in Munster at the start of January caught the eye but they have failed to produce this level of performance on a regular basis.
The advantage again has to go to Sarries with their enviable record in home games. Although no-one knows how they will take to the new 4G pitch at Copthall, in front of a restricted 3,500 capacity for this test event, you would still have to favour them to come out on top.
Back Saracens to win at 1.251/4 or better.
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