AS THE summer draws to its conclusion, the start of the Aviva Premiership is almost upon us following on from an unforgettable British and Irish Lions Tour.
Last term Leicester Tigers once again saved their best rugby until last to secure their first title in three years.
Richard Cockerill’s side are 15/8 favourites to repeat the trick with Coral, but they have not enjoyed the best preparations.
Cockerill received a nine match ban for his behaviour during the Premiership final against Northampton and they lost out on signing winger George North. Toby Flood misses the opening stages with concussion, while Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi are still feeling the effects of the British and Irish Lions tour.
Then there are the international commitments in autumn and Six Nations that will see a selection of players called up to Stuart Lancaster’s England squads, and for those reasons I am keen to look elsewhere.
Northampton won the signature of North and have brought in a number of key personnel. Kahn Fotuali’i, North and Alex Corbisiero make the Saints a warm order to reach successive finals.
Sporting Index have priced up the Saints at 30 on the outright season index (60 points=winner, 40 points=runner-up, third=30 points, fourth=25 points etc) and I’d be a buyer at that price considering they have finished inside the top four in each of the previous four campaigns.
As has been the tradition since 2004 the season kicks off with an action-packed London Double Header at Twickenham.
Saracens return to west London for the first time since the heart-breaking Heineken Cup semi-final defeat to Toulon. Last year’s table toppers lost just four games in the regular season, although it will be remembered for near misses that cost them silverware.
London Irish had a torrid 2012/13 campaign and have not been helped by Tom Homer’s injury. The three previous Double Headers between the two sides have been edged by Saracens by two wins to one.
Director of rugby Mark McCall won’t stray far from his power rugby tactics, backed with the boot of Owen Farrell and Charlie Hodgson. Billy Vunipola looks a tasty addition who will only improve an already strong pack. Saracens will be hurting after last season’s disappointments and they will be desperate to lay down an early marker.
Punters should back Saracens against Irish with the -13 handicap at 10/11 with Coral.
Harlequins have thrived in the Double Header format, losing only once in their last six contests. They also boast an impressive record at HQ. An 11-19 defeat in 2011 to Wasps remains their only blemish from seven visits. That is Wasps’ only victory in their past five trips.
Seven of the last eight encounters between the clubs have gone the way of 4/11 shots Quins. The 2/1 underdogs endured a terrible finish to last season that culminated in seven winless matches and I don’t see that run ending here. I’d take the 10/11 with Coral for Quins with the -6 handicap.
Buy Northampton Saints on Premiership outright index at 30 with Sporting Index
Saracens with -13 handicap against London Irish at 10/11 with Coral
Harlequins with -6 handicap against Wasps at 10/11 with Coral