With two derbies to look forward to and confidence in Gloucester’s ability to win at Wasps, the West Country dominates today’s best rugby odds round-up.
The Rugby Tipster keeps you up-to-date with the latest on each round of matches in the Gallagher Premiership. Our in-depth knowledge of form and team selection can guide your rugby betting selections.
Friday January 1st
PREDICTION – Bears by 14
As tempting as the nine-point start given to Newcastle on the handicap is, Bristol look the team to back in Friday’s New Year’s Day offering at Ashton Gate.
The north-east side have done magnificently well to win all their games so far on their return to the top flight of English rugby and they are currently one point and one point better off than Bristol in second place in the Gallagher Premiership table.
One of the key reasons behind their success, we feel, has been the 9, 12, 13 axis of scrum-half and captain Michael Young, Toby Flood and Luther Burrell.
All three are into their 30s in respect of age and the calm assuredness they bring to an otherwise youthful Newcastle backline has been telling.
Neither Young or Burrell make the long trip to the West Country, however, while Flood, who is enjoying a renaissance at inside centre, reverts back to his usual position of 10.
The Bears will look to press hard on the former England playmaker and cut down his time and options and it will be interesting to see how this affects his decision making.
Another positive has been the strength in the carry and in the hits of No.8 Gary Graham, who is another notable absentee. Philip van der Walt has a lot to live up to.
Elsewhere, Newcastle may look to profit on the relative inexperience of RL convert, Siva Naulago, on the right wing and, as such, Ben Stevenson at 5/2 to be an anytime try-scorer might be worth a punt.
Newcastle’s defence this season has been coached by an individual well-versed in No.8 play in Nick Easter.
Easter has had a great impact so far in galvanising a squad that plays with such cohesiveness without the ball.
However, that defensive resolve will be fully tested today by a Bears side that has two of its key attacking weapons back in the starting XV: Charles Piutau and Semi Radradra and another – Luke Morahan – on the bench.
While Bristol’s front row looks suspect on paper, the loose five of Joe Joyce, Dave Attwood, Steven Luatua, Jack Heenan and Nathan Hughes will give them plenty of grunt and go-forward.
Our prediction is for the Falcons to keep it competitive in a close first half before Bristol storm to a two-score or more victory.
Saturday 2nd January
PREDICTION – WASPS BY 4
Chiefs DoR Rob Baxter and captain and fly-half Joe Simmonds were both recognised in the New Year’s Day honours, but the only letters the pair will care about this weekend are W-I-N.
This re-run of last season’s final brings together two teams who have continued the momentum from the 2019/20 campaign into this one.
Wasps won 46-5 when the Chiefs last visited the Ricoh but that was when the opposition put out a second/third string team.
A win of that magnitude is unimaginable on Saturday but with the Willis brothers packing down together in the back row and Joe Launchbury and the increasingly impressive Will Rowlands forming a powerful-second row, Wasps have the ability to match the Chiefs in the physical stakes and also stop them dominating possession to the extent they normally do.
Losing Alfie Barbeary to an ankle injury is a blow but the likes of Jeff Toomaga-Allen can still give them plenty of oomph off the bench.
Exeter’s festive victory over Gloucester came at some cost with Scottish skipper Stuart Hogg hobbling out of the action with a tight hamstring, whilst South African powerhouse Jannes Kirsten picked up a nasty facial injury.
Both miss tomorrow’s trip to the Ricoh, whilst the likes of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Harry Williams, Jonny Gray, Jonny Hill, Sam Skinner and Henry Slade are all rested following their exertions in the Autumn Nations Cup.
Wasps can edge this one if they play to their potential.
Saturday 2nd January
PREDICTION – SHARKS BY 5
After being let down so many times by Sale Sharks you’d have thought we’d have learned our lesson by now. However, we are – ever so cautiously – backing the Sharks to give interim boss Paul Deacon his first win in charge of the team at the fourth attempt.
In terms of failing to deliver on the talent at their disposal and being blighted by inconsistency, Gloucester are probably the only team to rival the Sharks.
We thought that this might be the season when the minimum of a top-six place would be achieved, but with just one win in four, it seems like another fallow year is on the cards for the Cherry & Whites faithful.
The Sharks have won on their last two visits to Kingsholm, and with Jono Ross back to lead the side for the first time in three weeks, they should be able to roll their sleeves up and grind out a win … but not without the odds scare from the likes of Jonny May and Louis Rees-Zammit along the way.
Even though the last three corresponding fixtures have only produced an average of 40 points per match, we expect the scoreboard to be given a good working over in this encounter.
Sunday 3rd January
PREDICTION – BATH BY 10
Serious questions will be asked of Bath if they cannot cover off a one-point handicap against them and record a fourth consecutive win at Welford Road.
There is some serious talent within the blue, black and whites ranks, with Rhys Priestland’s inclusion at 10 and the return of England quartet, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Will Stuart and Sam Underhill.
Bath always look a more dangerous attacking threat when Zach Mercer starts at 8 and we expect the West Country side to register a try-bonus point win.
Leicester have their England internationals back, too, but the visitors still look far stronger on paper.