Friday, 10 September 2010

Aviva Premiership Round 2: Previews and Predictions

Gloucester will host Leeds
So what did we learn from the opening round of the Aviva Premiership last weekend?  A few things...

Firstly, Exeter aren't quite the pushovers everyone outside of Sandy Park expected following their shock 22-10 win over Premiership stalwarts Gloucester.

And then there was an opening day defeat for the champions, Leicester Tigers, who fell to a 27-19 loss at the hands of Midlands rivals Northampton, losing key man Toby Flood to injury in the process.

I also learnt that Leeds are still in danger of being a 40 minute team as I watched them fall to a 32-16 home defeat by Bath after being only 10-9 down at half-time.

But it's a marathon not a sprint and no-one is running away with anything just yet.

Here are my previews and predictions for round two:

Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs

Even with Tigers fly-half Toby Flood ruled out with knee ligament damage, Leicester at Welford Road is a much tougher challenge for the newly promoted Chiefs than Gloucester at home.
Exeter became only the second team to win their debut Premiership game after Leeds achieved the feat in 2001 but it is unlikely they will claim the scalp of the reigning champions.  The Chiefs have not beaten Leicester since a 6-0 victory way back in 1966 6-0 and the Tigers have only lost one of their last 34 games in all competitions at Welford Road.
However, the Tigers stumbled to a 27-19 loss at Franklins Gardens on Sunday and will be looking to bounce back against the Premiership new boys to avoid slipping to two successive defeats at the start of the season for the first time in 24 seasons.
Exeter fly-half Gareth Steenson, who kicked 17 points in last Saturday's win over Gloucester, will be key if the Chiefs are to take any league points from fortress Welford Road.

My prediction: It would be less of a fairytale and more of a miracle for Exeter to take anything from this game.  Leicester by 18.

Saracens v Sale Sharks
The opening round saw a reversal of fortunes for last year's (almost) all conquering Saracens and relegation battlers Sale.  Sarries find themselves in the unusual position of propping up the Premiership table following their second-half whipping by London Irish on the way to a 33-16 defeat.  Sale, on the other hand, recorded a comprehensive 35-18 win over Newcastle to end their four game losing run in the Premiership.
However, the Sharks need to remember not to try to run before they can walk.  Last season they only managed one win on the road, 24-17 at Leeds last November, and have only won once in 14 previous visits to Vicarage Road.
In contrast, Sarries have won their last three games against Sale and notched up a 58-15 win over Newcastle in their most recent home game.

My prediction: A pretty close game as Sale look to build on last week's win and Saracens aim to get their season started.  Saracens by 6.

Gloucester v Leeds Carnegie

Gloucester and Leeds are both searching for their first win of the campaign after losing out to Exeter and Bath respectively in the opening round.
The cherry and whites have won their last six games against Leeds, whilst the Yorkshiremen's only previous victory at Kingsholm was 33-15 on 9 April 2005.  If Carnegie win on their travels it will consign Gloucester to back-to-back losses at the start of a season for the first time since 2000/01.  However, it will be a big ask, as Gloucester are unbeaten at Kingsholm in any competition since Cardiff Blues won there in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on 8 November.
A sorry stat for Leeds is that they have not won any games in rounds one or two of the Premiership since 2002/03, something coaching duo Neil Back and Andy Key will be keen to fix as they celebrate signing one year extension deals at the club.

My prediction:  Gloucester were ripped apart by Exeter last weekend and will need to shore up their defence if they are to win.  Leeds will take the battle to them up front, but I expect the class of wing James Simpson-Daniel will give the home side the edge in the try-scoring stakes.  Gloucester by 10.

Bath Rugby v London Irish

Bath are chasing their 100th victory at the Rec in their first home game of the season when they host early Premiership leaders Londoon Irish on Saturday.
The men in blue, black and white have won 12 of their last 13 regular season Premiership matches, beating Leeds 32-16 at Headingley last weekend.
Irish defeated Premiership runners-up Saracens at Twickenham on Saturday after a sensational second-half performance.
Despite only losing once in their last five visits to the Rec, the Exiles' away form was poor last season and is an area they need to build on to mount a realistic title bid this term.

My prediction: Last weekend Bath matched Leeds in the forwards battle before their backs outclassed them after the break.  Similarly, Irish's back three turned on the afterburners to scorch Sarries into submission in the second-half.  The belief at Bath is such at the moment that I can't see them losing at home.  Bath by 7.

Harlquins v Northampton Saints

The Saints are looking to end a six season hoodoo against Quins after failing to beat them at the Stoop since September 2004.
Northampton look to have picked up where they left of last season, beating reigning Premiership champions, Leicester Tigers, 27-19 at Franklins Gardens on Sunday.  However Jim Mallinder's men have not won back to back games at the start of a season since the 2004/05 season and they need to decide on the man to fill the number 10 shirt.  Myler, Geraghty or even Joe Ford?  Whoever gets the nod needs to start nailing all their kicks and start turning in consistent performances.
Quins boss Conor O'Shea is adamant this season heralds a new start for the west London club.  With the tiresome Bloodgate saga now behind them, the Quins will be looking to record their sixth consecutive win at home and go one better than the 29-29 draw with Wasps in last Saturday's London Double Header.

My prediction:  A tricky one.  The last four games between the clubs has been won by the home side on the day.  Saints still have some work to do and Quins need to tighten up their defence.  Harlequins to win by 6.

Newcastle Falcons v London Wasps

Newcastle's record against Wasps is hardly glittering.  The northern club's only victory in their last nine meetings was a 12-6 pack-led win at a bitterly cold day at Adams Park last January. 
Saturday's game might be up at Kingston Park, but the pitch will still be firm and Wasps will be able to play their more expansive brand of rugby.
Wasps drew with Quins in a 58-point thriller at Twickenham whilst the Falcons were busy licking their wounds after Sale sent them packing in a comprehensive defeat in the opening Premiership game last Friday.
The Londoners have a strong record at Kingston Park, winning on their last five visits and I think Saturday will see them adding their sixth.

My prediction: Wasps to win by 16.

But what do you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment