Saturday’s match sees Leicester Tigers, who finished as league runners-up, host Harlequins at their Welford Road ground. It has been a bit of an up and down season for the Tigers, but a late run of good results has seen them climb the table and they will be favourites to win this clash against a Harlequins side who seemed to suffer a dip in form at just the wrong moment and who needed a last weekend win over Northampton Saints to secure third spot in the table.
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The Tigers will want to give a good home send-off to captain Geordan Murphy, who confirmed this week that he will retire at the end of the season to join their coaching staff. It will also be a goodbye to head coach Matt O’Connor, who is leaving to take over the reins at Leinster in Ireland at the end of the month.
Leicester have few injury worries, but Harlequins look likely to be without their captain, Chris Robshaw. He also sat out the Northampton match, so it is not as if they cannot cope without him, but the Tigers are a tough proposition on their own patch and it is beyond doubt that Quins’ chances would be enhanced if they had their dynamic openside available.
The best price you will get on Leicester to win this is 4/11 (Bet365), so unless you are going to take a punt on Harlequins at 11/5 (888.com) the value lies in other places. Tigers tend to be a slow start/fast finish kind of side, so look to back them to be level or even behind at half time before winning at the final whistle.
On Sunday, Saracens have the honor of hosting Northampton. Mark McCall’s team are unbeaten at home this season, so this will be a massive ask for the Saints, who have spluttered their way through the season and who have secured this spot largely by being marginally more consistent than everyone else that by being noticeably more of a threat on the pitch.
Sarries will be hoping that England center Brad Barritt is fit to play for them. He’s been spending time in a hyperbaric chamber in the hope of curing an ankle problem in time and there is no doubt that they could use his experience and his presence would mean that they could switch Owen Farrell back to fly half instead of veteran Charlie Hodgson.
The Saints were, obviously, disappointed not to snatch third spot, but they will fancy their chances of an upset at the Allianz Arena. They have a wealth of international experience in their ranks, players such as Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes with points to prove after being overlooked for the Lions tour, and in Jim Mallinder a coach who knows how to tune a team for a big occasion.
Like Leicester, Saracens are hot favourites at 4/11 (888.com) or even shorter, but for this match the odds on Northampton at 12/5 (Betfair) look good enought to put a small amount on. On this occasion I might look to also put some money into the ‘first score’ market, with my sports picks going on a Saracens penalty at odds of around 3/1.
Overall, Leicester are the slightly surprising favourites at 7/5 with Stan James, with Saracens second best at 6/4 (Sportingbet). Those are definitely prices to take, as the betting odds will only be shorter after Saturday, and if you bet on that Northampton upset then why not back them to go all the way at 12/1, too?