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.
Remember you can contact Russ with all your comments and questions on Twitter - @rpetty80.
Sale were denied an injury-time try and possibly a draw in round 7, when Paul Hodgson smashed into Will Addison, capping off a fine Warriors defensive effort that saw them make 147 tackles. From the 2009/10 season onwards, Sale have lost 52/77 games. More recently, it's 14 defeats from the last 17 games and 10/11 this season by an average of 13-27. Since Round Five, Worcester have settled into a pattern of winning at home and losing away, with the first half being highest scoring in the last six games (2.2 for that to occur tonight). They've also only won once in their last 27 away games. Looking at those stats, you wouldn't be too comfortable trusting either side so the draw has to be considered at 21.0. The bookies, perhaps looking at the Warriors' poor away form, have installed Sale as 1.57 favourites. That's a price to be avoided but with this coming under the clichéd 'must-win' category, perhaps taking Sale by 1-12 points at 2.38 will suit. The Sharks have won 4/7 games at home to Worcester and bar a 57-3 hammering in 2004/5, it's been a low scoring fixture with six games going under 38 total points and the last three under 28, with average scores of 15-14 to the hosts. That would suggest keeping an eye on under 2.5 tries at 2.1, under 34.5 points and perhaps taking a punt on the drop goal at 2.38.
The Exiles have conceded 15/29 tries in the final 20 minutes of games, a trend they continued last week, leaking 17 points after the 67th minute against Leicester. The one that may vex the most however, was that decisive Casson score in Round Seven, that came via an assist from the TMO, Graham Hughes. Quins have won 14/17 games in all competitions and 8/11 in the league by an average of 27-21. It's a contrast to London Irish who have won just 5/17 matches this season and 2/11 in league by 19-29. Since they last played Quins away (Round 14 last season), they've lost 16 of 20 Premiership games by 21-27. Their away record doesn't make for pleasant reading either, with one win in the last 13 attempts and three in 23. London Irish won 9/13 games away against Quins between 1998/9 and 2008/9, however it's the table toppers that have edged the recent meetings, winning 4/5 games by 25-22. It's tended to be a high-scoring fixture with 6/9 games going over 50 total points, while interestingly 5/10 clashes have seen a draw at half-time. Its 21.0 for the teams to be tied at the break and Quins to win. The 11-point handicap will no doubt prove popular, given the teams' league positions but I'm leaning towards Quins 1-12 instead at 2.7.
The Chiefs have won 5/5 games at home by 32-16 and eight of the last 10 matches there by 26-14. The two-point loss at Gloucester last week snapped a seven-game winning run in all competitions that stretched back to the end of October, when they were beaten by Bath. Exeter have in fact lost all five Premiership meetings with Bath and there is pattern to the results - with the games at the Rec seeing scores of 23-15,23-19 and 26-18 losses and at Sandy Park it's been 9-12 twice. The visitors have won 1/5 away games this season by an average score of 15-20 and 4/16 games over a longer period by 13-19. There is quite a difference in how these teams perform in matches - Exeter have made 1155 carries for 4419m as opposed to 839 carries for 3101m from Bath. It's 84 offloads to 49, 74 clean breaks to 33 and 203 kicks from hand to 314. After being comprehensively beaten 0-22 at home, you'd expect a reaction from Bath but I think that their winning record against the Chiefs is coming to an end on Saturday. Bath have conceded 9/12 tries in the second half while Exeter have scored 18/29 tries after the break, so the scores may come late but regardless, I'm taking the hosts -5.
Wasps have won all five games at home by an average of 24-14 but lost the six away games by 23-31. There have been no victories on the road since Round Seven last season, at Worcester which is a 13-game stretch and they have both been outscored second half by an average of eight points and conceded over 20 points, in 12 of those 13 matches. Looking further back, it's 21 defeats from 23 away trips by an average score of 16-26. Dai Young said the wingers were the difference in the earlier meeting this season , when Wade and Varndell both bagged a brace. The speedsters have scored 14 tries between them, which is the same number that London Welsh have managed collectively. Wade may be missing for this game, but his replacement Daly is no sloth himself. The Exiles have won 3/6 games at home by an average of 20-23 and only been outscored in the second half in 4/11 matches. The hosts were a massive 34.0 to be relegated a few days ago and that has been reduced to 26.0, but it's still a big price. I'm backing Wasps to pick up a rare away win by 1-5 points due to that speed on the flanks and with games against Quins and Leicester next, London Welsh may yet get dragged into the scrap at the bottom.
Down to 13 men, Gloucester survived a Tigers onslaught in October to pick up a win that showcased both the talents of Freddie Burns and great team unity. Leicester have won 4/5 games at home this season by an average of 21-16 and 12/13 matches by 28-14. Perhaps surprisingly, they've not won three league games in a row, since the end of last season. Gloucester have picked up two wins and a draw from five away games, by an average of 27-26 and there were very similar scores in their defeats at Saracens and Quins - of 28-23 and 28-25. The last meeting was particularly physical with the Cherry and Whites conceding 20 penalties and neither side finding much joy in the lineout, with both under 75 per cent. Skipper Jim Hamilton was missing in that game, but returns to face the team he played for between 2003-8 and adds more abrasiveness to what was already a tough fixture. Leicester have won 17/21 games against Gloucester at Welford Road by 25-15 and the last 3 matches there by an average of 31-8. I would expect the margin to be far smaller this time, and am looking at the Tigers by 1-10
A meeting of two sides heading in different directions? Saracens have won 8/11 games by an average of 21-13 and while the Saints have won 7/11 by 20-19 , they've also lost four of the last six matches. Sarries have won 13/16 games against Northampton by an average of 23-20 and 13/16 matches at home by 25-18. They've also won the last seven in a row in this fixture by 25-15. Combined with that poor head to head record, Northampton also have less than impressive stats against their recent top four rivals, losing 13/15 games to Quins, Leicester and Saracens. Will cover it in the 2013 preview, but I have Northampton finishing outside the top four this season. There is plenty of 'history' in this fixture with Tonga'uiha's aborted move, Ashton's signing, the five intense matches in the 2009/10 season, complaints over the Saracens' victory song (to be fair they do have form for offensive music) etc, but strangely there have been no cards in the last three games. The -7 points handicap for the hosts is about fair, given they have won by at least that margin in three of the last four games against this opposition.