Last season proved to be difficult for Gloucester as they only managed seven wins in their 22 fixtures. The loss of a number of experienced campaigners such as Greig Laidlaw and the talismanic Jonny May will not help. Pre-season started with a 50-14 thumping at the hands of Leinster, but wins against Hartpury and more impressively Pro12 Champions the Scarlets will have buoyed the Kingsholm faithful’s hopes for the season ahead.
Gloucester V Exeter
Exeter in contrast had a fairy-tale season reaching their second successive Aviva Premiership final and this time, finishing the season as champions. Exeter’s pre-season form has been indifferent with victories over the Cornish Pirates and Dragons, followed by a narrow defeat to Cardiff Blues. Exeter won’t be effected by too many Lions absentees so will be looking to start the season strongly. I think they will prove to be too strong for Gloucester, despite the Cherry and White’s home advantage.
Tip: Exeter will want to hit the ground running and I expect them to prove to be too strong for Gloucester. Get them at 4/7 with PaddyPower.
Newcastle V Worcester
Newcastle look as though they could be a renewed force this season. They finished with ten wins from their 22 fixtures last season but it is their pre-season recruitment which will excite fans. Toby Flood, Maxine Mermoz and DTH Van Der Merwe are just some of the big names to join the North East Club. Other than Edinburgh they’ve only played Championship opposition in pre-season and have managed three wins in their five outings. Don’t pay too much heed to these results.
Worcester will be bracing themselves for another difficult season after battling relegation with Bristol during 2016/17. They’ve brought in some experience campaigners including Dave Denton and Peter Stringer, but I expect they will struggle again this year. They’ve beaten Hartpury in pre-season but suffered defeats to Birmingham Moseley and Munster. They won’t roll over for anyone, but I think Newcastle will have too much.
Tip: Home team Newcastle should be too strong for Worcester. I expect them to run away with it. Back them with a -7 handicap at 10-11 with Skybet.
Saturday 2nd September
Saracens V Northampton
Saracens will be looking to start the season strongly after being knocked out in the play-off semi-finals to eventual champions Exeter. They have won in their previous five visits to Twickenham so they will fancy their chances. The reigning champions may start slowly as they await the return of their Lions.
Northampton ended last season well with wins over Connacht and Stade Francais securing qualification to the European Champions Cup. They’ve carried that form into pre-season recording 4 wins in 4 matches, scoring 50 points against Ulster and 70 against the Dragons. Fans will be optimistic despite the loss of big names such as Louis Picamoles.
Tip: Given the absence of Saracens’ Lions and Northampton’s strong pre-season form I believe that Northampton will run Saracens close. SkyBet are offering Northampton with a +11 handicap at 10-11 which looks like excellent value.
Wasps V Sale Sharks
Wasps topped the Aviva Premiership table at the end of the regular season before missing out narrowly in the final to Exeter Chiefs. The outgoing Kurtley Beale will be a loss with his ability to break up games, but Wasps will still be hoping to challenge again this season. They are currently on a 19 game unbeaten home run in the Premiership. Wasps have recorded confident pre-season wins over Connacht and Ulster.
Sale Sharks were not at the races, finishing in 10th place last season. They only managed one away win which came against relegated Bristol. The signing of James O’Connor will spark the imagination of Sale fans, as will pre-season wins over Castres and Edinburgh. But they will find it tough in their opener.
Tip: Wasps are 1-6 favourites to come out as winners so it’s hard to find value in this the outright markets. Instead look to the first try scorer market (odds currently unavailable) and back Christian Wade to score the first try, he ended last season as the competition’s top scorer.
London Irish V Harlequins
London Irish take on Harlequins in the second match of the Twickenham double header having lost their last seven matches at Twickenham. They’ve already lost narrowly at home to Harlequins in pre-season and the newly promoted Irish will be anticipating a tough season. They’ve recruited some experience campaigners including the likes of Luke Mclean, Filo Paulo, Gordon Reid and Napolioni Nalaga but anything other than a relegation dog fight is unlikely.
Unlike London Irish, Harlequins love playing at Twickenham. They have only suffered defeat once in their past ten visits. They begin this season without their talisman Nick Evans who has retired from the game, despite this Harlequins will be hoping to improve on their 6th placed finish last season. 11 wins and 11 defeats will be seen as a disappointing return.
Tip: Harlequins have the beating of London Irish as they’ve already shown in pre-season with a 31-29 away win. I expect them to run out comfortable winners given their impressive Twickenham record. Back them with a -9 handicap at 10-11 with SkyBet.
Sunday 3rd September
Leicester V Bath
It was a disappointed campaign for Leicester Tigers last season, but they still managed to reach the play-off semi-finals such is their resolve. They’ve recorded three wins in their three pre-season fixtures including an impressive 40-14 win over Ospreys. Freddie Burns and JP Pieterson are two of the big name players to have left Welford Road, but George Ford and Jonny May are able replacements. I expect Leicester to go well this time out.
Like Leicester, Bath have managed three wins in their three pre-season fixtures, including a win over the Ospreys. They possess one of the most exciting back lines in the league and have added Freddie Burns from Leicester to marshal their attack. Sam Underhill is another intelligent signing. Bath have only lost once in their opening fixture of the season since 2006, but it’s going to be close.
Tip: The match betting margins are going to be tight. Instead look to the try-scorer markets. Jonny May grabbed two tries in Leicester’s pre-season win over the Ospreys, back him to carry that form into the regular season with an anytime try scorer bet,