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.
Since that first round, last minute defeat to Bath, the Warriors are unbeaten at home - winning their last 3. They average a score of 22-14 there, which is an improvement on a rate of 14-11 at the same time last season. London Welsh have surprised many (especially those of us who lumped on them to finish bottom, ahem) and have already collected 19 points which puts them 13 points better off than Sale. They average a tally of 17-28 in away games and since the heavy defeats in the opening rounds they've only been outscored once after the break. The main handicap is +12 points and Worcester have won 11/82 home games by that margin and only 3 of the last 27 games there, so I'm happy to take the visitors with points. I'm expecting a sin bin - as both teams have received 7 cards this season - and a look at potential try scorers reveals the visitors have conceded 11 tries to wingers. David Lemi has scored 4 in 9 games but the 2.5 anytime price is a bit short while Worcester have conceded 6/18 tries to centres so the 6.5 for Seb Jewell and 7.0 for Sonny Parker appeals.
There is plenty to suggest this will be a low scoring, battle of attrition. Bath's previous 5 games have seen less than 40 total points and Sarries games have averaged 35 points so far. It's a meeting of the league's top and third best defence with the visitors allowing just 146 points and hosts 185. They are both amongst the lowest for tries conceded and fewest tries scored. Both teams are above the league average for kicks from hand (Bath 280 and Saracens 261) and tackles made (Bath 1108, Saracens 949). Bath won 4/5 games at home by 24-17 and only conceded 20 points once. Away from Vicarage Road (which is often this season), Saracens have won 5/8 matches by 19-12. There have been 7 cards given out in the last 4 meetings at Bath and both sides have seen an average of 1.3 cards per match this season. I'd be looking at least 1 to be shown and think those gruelling contests against Munster may have taken their toll on the Sarries, which is why I'm backing a Bath win at 2.1.
There isn't too much to split these teams on points scored and conceded. Gloucester have accumulated 255 and allowed 208, while for the Chiefs it's 257 and 203. They are top and third for defenders beaten (153 Exeter and 133 Gloucester) but how they go about collecting points does vary, in that Exeter have scored 9 more tries and the hosts 14 more penalties. Exeter top the league for missed kicks too. Gloucester have won 4/5 matches at home by 24-16 and Exeter have lost 4/5 away games by 19-25. I was already planning on backing the home win by 1-12 points (covered in 5/6 league wins so far) and that's been reinforced by the fact that Gloucester defend particularly well in a period that the visitors are most dangerous. The Chiefs have scored 17/28 tries in the 2nd half and 12/28 in last 20 minutes, however Gloucester only conceded once in that period. It's also worth noting that 4/5 Chiefs away games and all 5 Gloucester home games have seen 1st half highest scoring (13 of last 16 too). On the try hunt, Akapusi Qera has 4 tries this season and 2 in 3 games against the Chiefs, while Freddie Burns and Matt Jess have both scored twice in this fixture recently.
With London Irish already conceding 291 points and being passed over for the Lions tour, it may have got worse for Shaun Edwards this week, when he received the dreaded vote of confidence ('100% backing') from Brian Smith. The Exiles have won twice this season and just once against Leicester in 9 attempts. At home, they've won 3 of the last 6 matches against the Tigers and 6/18 there overall by an average of 20-27. The big problems have been missed tackles (139) and a habit of conceding late tries, with 13/25 allowed in the last quarter of games. Leicester have their issues earlier in matches, having outscored an opponent 1st half just once in their last 7 league games and conceded first points in last 6 games. They have also let in 6/13 tries in the opening quarter. This is a fixture that strays from the norm, with 5/10 games seeing more than 50 total points and 5/10 going under 38 points. Keep an eye on the 20 minutes after half-time, as both teams are their most prolific then, with Tigers scoring 8/18 tries and London Irish 6/14. With 4 tries in 5 appearances, you wouldn't bet against Adam Thompstone scoring against his former side, and I will take the visitors with a 1-12 margin. A more unlikely scenario (but backed up by the statistics) would either be for the hosts to score first points or lead at half-time / lose at full-time.
Saints pulled off a famous win at fortress Ravenhill and return to the comforts of home, where they have won 4/5 games by 23-18 this season and 13/16 by 27-16. They've beaten Quins in 11/17 games there by 21-17, but the visitors have the advantage in recent contests - winning 4/5 games by 18-19 and 7/11 by 19-11. It's tended to be a low-scoring fixture, with 7/9 games going under 40 total points and there's a big contrast with how these two have approached games. The Saints are 11th for carries with 780 for 3183 metres so far, while Harlequins are top with 1112 runs for 4183 metres. The hosts have lost 12/14 matches against their current (and last season's) top 4 rivals and I think that Harlequins will just edge this one, which is available at 2.38. There have been 8 cards shown in the last 4 league games between these teams at Franklin's Gardens and 6 in last 4 Premiership games overall. Quins' opponents have conceded over 20 penalties in the last 4 matches andWayne Barnes has been put in charge - he has shown 11 cards in 6 Quins games and 5 cards in 4 Saints games. 'Barnesy' has also dished out 11 cards in his 5 league matches this season (at least 2 a game) and 27 in his last 16 games (only 2/16 games without a card). With the prospect of a Dickson brothers scrap again, I will be on 2 or more cards in this contest.
After Sale's 33-18 defeat in Montpellier, then head coach Bryan Redpath said, "We wanted to make sure that the players didn't embarrass themselves", and stated the Aviva Premiership was the main focus. Fast forward a few weeks and after the 62-0 hammering at the hands of Toulon, current Director of Rugby, John Mitchell lamented that, "characters have been revealed and I don't have a lot of choice in some positions", he has followed that up with by mentioning that he doesn't have a 'magic wand' and that the time for excuses is over. Quite. He has dropped fly-half Danny Cipriani, but interestingly reports today suggest that Mitchell himself may not be here longer than February. They are up against a Wasps side that won 4/4 games (and 6/7) at home by 24-13. For their part, Sale have lost 10 of their last 11 games and conceded 20 points in all bar one of those. On the road, they've won just 1/11 games by 15-29 and 4 of the last 30 by 17-30. The Sharks have won 7/19 games at Wasps by 23-29 and tasted victory last season when the hosts were struggling - but overall in the head to head, it's just 2 wins in 8 attempts by 20-26. I'm backing the hosts by 1-12 margin here, they have ball-carrying options across the field, with wing Christian Wade and number eight Billy Vunipola both beating over 25 defenders already, while scrum-half Joe Simpson has 3 tries in 2 games against Sale - so keep an eye on his anytime try-scorer price.