Simon Mail previews the first Premiership matches of the new year including the derby between Gloucester and Bath at Kingsholm...
"Gloucester have lost just one of the last four Premiership clashes against rivals Bath and are backed to claim the derby honours at Kingsholm."
Sale v Harlequins
Live on BT Sport 1
Sharks should edge contest
Sale harbour hopes of finishing in the top four this season and Steve Diamond's side are one point off fourth spot heading into the final round before European competition resumes. The Sharks were beaten 16-14 at Bath last week which was their fourth defeat in the Premiership campaign. Sale must manage this weekend without World Cup-winning scrum-half Faf de Klerk, with the South African ruled out due to a knee injury.
Harlequins head into this weekend's match level on points with their opponents after a 30-30 draw against Leicester at Twickenham last week. Paul Gustard was left frustrated after his side failed to win against the Tigers despite leading by 14 points. Quins have struggled for consistency this season but will also be looking to challenge for the Premiership semi-finals.
Sale merit favouritism and the hosts should be able to win a tight contest against Harlequins. Their record at the AJ Bell Stadium is strong and Sale are backed to claim the points. The last eight Premiership clashes between the teams have all been won by the home side. This looks a significant advantage and the Sharks can maintain this recent trend by winning narrowly.
Cherry and Whites to land derby honours
Gloucester v Bath
Live on BT Sport 2
The West Country derby takes centre stage this weekend with Gloucester vying to claim bragging rights against rivals Bath. The Cherry and Whites are on course to finish in the top four again this season, with the side currently third in the Premiership. Gloucester were beaten 33-26 in a thriller at Northampton last week despite a hat-trick from teenage wing Louis Rees-Zammit.
Bath are also in a promising position in fifth place with the side winning their last two league matches. Stuart Hooper's side romped to a 38-10 win at London Irish before edging past Sale in their final game of 2019. Their away form remains an area of weakness though with the team managing just one league victory away from the Rec this season.
Gloucester have lost just one of the last four Premiership clashes against rivals Bath and are backed to claim the derby honours at Kingsholm. This looks set to be another fiercely contested match but Gloucester's record in front of their own fans can make the difference. With only one home league defeat since December 2018, Gloucester are fancied to hold off Bath with a victory by up to 12 points.
Saints to maintain strong start
Wasps v Northampton
Live on BT Sport 2
Wasps have made a poor start to the Premiership season and Dai Young faces a challenge lifting his depleted team away from the bottom of the division. Currently tenth, Wasps picked up a much-needed victory last week at Bristol. Nizaam Carr's last-minute try secured a 26-21 victory at the Bears to move them 23 points clear of bottom club Saracens.
There are no such problems at Franklin's Gardens with Northampton second in the Premiership after a strong start to the campaign. The Saints have won five of their seven league matches, leaving them only one point behind leaders Exeter. It has continued the impressive progress made under Chris Boyd since taking charge at the start of last season. Northampton held off a Gloucester fightback to win 33-26 last weekend.
Although Wasps claimed a vital win last week, Northampton will surely be a tougher proposition and the visitors merit support to continue their title challenge. Harlequins and London Irish have already won at the Ricoh Arena in the Premiership this season and this match will hold no fears for Northampton. The Saints are the stronger team and can cover a two-point handicap to keep the pressure on Exeter.
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P/L 2019-20 season