Big spenders Bath can pip Tigers and Sarries

SPORT TRADER CITY AM’S RUGBY EXPERT DAVID WILD TAKES A LOOK AT EACH TEAM’S CHANCES AS THE DOMESTIC RUGBY UNION SEASON GETS UNDERWAY

STARTS TODAY – 7.45PM

Since Geordan Murphy lifted the trophy and Leicester Tigers were crowned Premiership Champions for the second successive time back in May, it’s been all change in club rugby. We’ve had high-profile transfers that Man City would be proud of and even a new title sponsor.

Last season started slowly and a number of teams took a while to find their feet, but if 2010/11 starts as last term ended, we’re in for a treat. The momentum seems to be with Saracens and Bath, who both finished strongly to reach the playoffs, but will either have enough to tame the Tigers? With title odds supplied by Paddy Power, we look at each of the 12 teams’ chances.

BATH 4/1

Bath have perhaps made the biggest signings over the summer, tempting Lewis Moody and Sam Vesty from Leicester. The new owners are clearly ambitious, have plenty of money and, with Ian McGeechan as performance director, have a super opportunity to win the Premiership for the first time in 15 years.

EXETER CHIEFS 500/1

The Premiership’s new-boys are the clear outsiders this season and in terms of spending power are a long way behind their rivals. Certainties to finish rock-bottom.

GLOUCESTER 16/1

Finished seventh last year and will struggle to better that. Mike Tindall is an inspirational captain but Bryan Redpath’s side won’t have quite enough to reach the playoffs this year.

HARLEQUINS 33/1

The big losers of last year, dropping from second in the table two years ago to eighth last season. The ‘Bloodgate’ scandal is still casting a dark shadow over the club and they are set for another struggle.

LEEDS CARNEGIE 100/1

Neil Back and Andy Key did an amazing job of keeping Leeds up last year. They have the cushion of Exeter behind them now and can set their sights on finishing above Newcastle, Sale and perhaps even Quins.

LEICESTER TIGERS 7/4

Justified favourites, but with the respective departure and retirement of Moody and Harry Ellis - two pillars of the recent title-winning sides - there’s better value in backing Bath or Sarries.

LONDON IRISH 14/1

The Exiles disappointed last season and have lost a number of key players including versatile back Peter Hewat. They will need their promising youngsters to quickly gel around the experienced heads to stand any chance of reaching the playoffs.

LONDON WASPS 12/1

Having said goodbye to Danny Cipriani and Paul Sackey, it looks like the London side could take a while to find their feet. Andy Powell is a good signing, but the only tip I can suggest for Wasps is that they beat their 5pt handicap against Harlequins in the double header at Twickenham tomorrow.

NEWCASTLE FALCONS 100/1

The Falcons can only be considered also-rans. The departure of prop and captain Carl Hayman is an even bigger blow than losing Jonny Wilkinson the previous year, and I think they will finish lower than last season’s ninth.

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 7/2

The success story of last season - won more matches than any other side, finished second by two points, but lost in the playoff semi-final. I don’t think they’ll improve on that, but I can certainly see terrifying code-convert Chris Ashton topping the try-scorer charts as he did last year.

SALE SHARKS 66/1

With so many star names, Sale should be able to better last year’s poor season. Dwayne Peel, Andrew Sheridan and Mark Cueto won’t be troubling the playoff hopefuls but look good for a buy at 10 in Sporting Index’s Sale/Newcastle match bet (10pts for finishing higher, 2pts per each league point won by).

SARACENS 11/2

Brendan Venter has bolstered his already strong squad with English speed merchant David Strettle and Scotland flanker Kelly Brown. A strong chance of going one better and lifting the trophy this year but I think they will be edged out by Bath.

POINTERS...
Bath to win Premiership final at 4/1 with Paddy Power
Buy Sale/Newcastle at 10 with Sporting Index
Chris Ashton top try-scorer at 5/1 with Paddy Power


ENGLAND VS ENGLAND

SUNDAY – 4.00PM SKY SPORTS 1

IT’S been a summer to forget for Fabio Capello, his England squad and every fan up and down the country. The performances at the World Cup were hugely disappointing but the time has come to move on and attention now focuses on the 2012 European Championships.

England failed to qualify for the last Euros, but they have been handed a decent group this time and progress to the finals should be a formality. Bulgaria, Switzerland, Wales and Montenegro aren’t the toughest of opponents, but Capello will be desperate for his side to win well tonight before their potentially difficult trip to Basle on Tuesday.

The Three Lions have won their last 10 games at Wembley, although it’s fair to say they have faced a few mediocre sides during that period. However, they have scored 35 goals in those contests and only conceded seven, so their dominance on home soil shouldn’t be underestimated.

Bulgaria were a force to be reckoned with in the mid-nineties, going all the way to the semi-finals of USA ’94. They have only managed to qualify for one major tournament since the Millennium, though, and have lost three and drawn the other of their four friendlies so far this year.

These two sides have met eight times in the past and the Eastern Europeans are yet to win a game. However, it has been 11 years since they last faced each other and both of the last two games were draws during qualifying for Euro 2000. Stanimir Stoilov’s side would be overjoyed to take a point from this game and the draw is a best-priced 4/1 with William Hill.

England should really be winning all five of their home games in this group, but we’ve seen recently that they have been relatively slow starters. It was only a friendly, but against Hungary a couple of weeks ago the side looked nervous and the crowd started to get agitated when it was still goalless after half an hour. They were also trailing to Japan and Egypt at the interval prior to the World Cup and have generally seemed to need some time before hitting full stride.

I’m confident England will win this game, but I wouldn’t want to back them at 3/10 with Paddy Power. Instead, I’ll have a few shillings on the draw HT/ England FT market at 7/2 on Betdaq. A total goals spread bet is difficult as Sporting Index look to have pitched it about right at 3-3.2. I can see Bulgaria scoring, though, as England’s defence has been rather shaky of late. The time of their first goal can be sold at 63 and although I’m not putting it up as a main tip, I wouldn’t put anyone off a small bet at that price.

POINTER...
Draw HT / England FT at 7/2 on Betdaq