It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to give his calls. Today, the Aviva Premiership gets assessed.
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The plan would have been for London Irish to swagger into this match, heads held high, reaping the rewards of Brian Smith's attacking and Shaun Edwards' defensive work and able to show old faces Toby Booth and Neil Hatley that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. After conceding 40 points a game, they instead enter the match rock-bottom and pointless.
Recent Bath away matches have been very low scoring, with 7/9 games going 35 points or under and they also average the same amount over the last three seasons. With London Irish leaking points it may seem dangerous to opt for a low-scoring game, indeed three of their last four home games have seen over 70 points. However 9/12 London Irish vs Bath games have gone under 40 points, with last year's seeing just 25 points. The critical point for taking UNDER total points may be that both teams have managed just four tries this season.
Bath have won 27/37 matches between the sides by an average score of 27-20 and an impressive 14/18 games away to Irish. New Racing recruit Olly Barkley has 124 points in 11 games against the Exiles and I expect his boot to keep the scoreboard ticking over for the away win at 1.73. The winning margin of 1-5 points has arrived in 9 of those 14 Bath wins so I'll be having a small bite at 5.5 of that and a bigger play on the 1-12 margin at 2.7.
If matches ended after 79 minutes then the Warriors would be a happier bunch right now and not 'devastated' (in their words) by the late penalty goals against Bath and Gloucester. It doesn't get any easier with a trip to Saints, who have won 37 of their last 46 home games. In contrast, Worcester have just six wins from their last 45 away trips and no wins in their last seven Premiership games. That explains just the 1.11 available for the home win and whopping 10.0 for an away upset. Northampton have won 7/9 games between the sides and the last three at home. Bar that end-of-season blow-out last year, it's been a tight fixture, averaging just 31 points a game so I'm looking at UNDER total points when the line is up.
The handicap is a chunky +15 points which Worcester would have covered in 10/12 games against this opposition and 51/79 overall away games. They were given a similarly high handicap against Leicester away and covered that. There have been 8 cards in the last 6 meetings and both sides have already been given four this season. Tim Wigglesworth gave out eight cards in the four Saints games he had last year and he's 1.5 to continue the trend.
My main view on this game is that it should be a high-scoring 'shoot-out'. There were 49 and 50 points (including twelve tries) scored in their two matches last season and both teams have pace in abundance. Already, wingers Christian Wade and Tom Varndell have carried for over 300 metres each and scored seven tries, whilst Jonny May, James Simpson-Daniel and company won't need many invitations to run against a team that has already missed 51 tackles so far. Gloucester outside centre Henry Trinder's comments about the backline playing without fear also suggests an open game and to back OVER the total points line.
I'm less confident on calling the result, as getting Gloucester scores wrong has become a costly habit since their slump in the middle of last season. They have one win in their last nine league games and have lost 6/9 at home, which isn't what you expect from a team with a 73% home win rate overall. The head-to-head may offer more of a clue - Wasps won 25/34 from 1987-2006, but since then the Cherry and Whites have won 7/12 matches and more importantly 8/11 at home. They should also be able to call upon Billy Twelvetrees, who scored 29 points, twice (including three tries) against Wasps last season. The 1.57 for a home win isn't great value though while the +6 handicap would have been covered in 16/23 Wasps away games to Gloucester and by the away team in 7/10 games at Kingsholm.
The Tigers played their part in rugby's equivalent of a dull 0-0 at Wembley last week, but I'm expecting livelier game in this rematch of last year's final. There were sixteen tries in the three meetings in 2011/12 and an average of 58 points per game. Leicester have won 17/23 of these clashes at Welford Road by an average score of 26-16 - before last year they had won fifteen in a row at home to Quins. Despite that long streak of losses, no Premiership side has more league away wins at Welford Road, than the current champions with six.
There are some interesting potential match-ups across the field - Toby Flood may have missed four penalty shots this season but he does have a decent scoring record against the London side, with 76 points in seven matches. Nick Evans has 100 points in eight games versus the Tigers and (like Anthony Allen) has managed four assists already. Ben Foden's injury means that Mike Brown's performances will come under greater scrutiny and in these early stages of the season - he has excelled with 43 carries for 356 metres, beating twelve defenders and offloading eleven times. He is surely the front-runner for November.
I have to get involved with the +7 handicap for the visitors, who are a side that improved from scraping a couple of road wins a season to picking up an impressive nine last year. They are scoring an average of 40 points this year, managed 30 against the Tigers last season and would have covered +7 points on 11/23 trips to Welford Road and in 7/10 last meetings overall. Harlequins have also led at half-time in 5/6 games against this opposition, which means the +4 half-time handicap and also Quins half-time / Leicester Tigers full-time at 7.0 are worth a look. Finally there have been eleven cards in the last eight games between these two so if you can find close to 1.83 for a sin-bin on the day of the game, then take it.
The masters of the last-minute try were on the receiving end themselves last week when London Welsh scored at the death to collect their first win in the top flight. After consecutive away defeats, the Chiefs return to Sandy Park, where they have won 14/23 league games. The nine losses have been by seven points or less except a 21-point defeat to Saracens. Oddly, they have scored an average of 22 points away to Sarries but just 12 at home.
The visitors have conceded a measly 28 points this season, and with their away games over the past two seasons averaging 39 total points and the Chiefs home games seeing 33, there is every chance this will be low scoring. There shouldn't be too many shocks with how the teams play - Exeter games involve plenty of carries, which increases the risk of a high number of turnovers (22 last week), while Saracens have already made 82 kicks from hand and made 335 tackles this term. Sarries operate a rotational system with their fly-halves and a look at previous games shows that with Owen Farrell starting at 10, they average 17 points and with Charlie Hodgson it's 26. The latter also has two tries in three games against Exeter but is benched for this match. I like the look of Saracens to win by 1-12 points at 2.5, which would have been covered in 8/13 of their previous away games.