Ahead of the action in the English Premiership, we take a look at the best bets from two of the big games taking place this weekend.
Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks
Exeter and Sale will look to boost their play-off prospects when they go head-to-head at Sandy Park on Saturday. The Chiefs currently reside at the summit while their opponents this weekend go into the contest in fourth position, so it is a big game for both.
Rob Baxter’s men, who have reached the past four Premiership finals, are unsurprisingly favourites for this encounter, with Bet365 and Bet Victor having them down at 1/4, but do not discount Steve Diamond’s Sharks.
For so long, the Greater Manchester outfit were fiscally inferior to the majority of the league and duly punched above their weight, but times have changed at Sale. Under new owners, they have invested heavily on the playing staff, spending up to the salary cap for the first time in over a decade, and are expecting a top-four finish.
That means the pressure is on this season and they got off to an inauspicious start, but their previous domestic performance – a dominant 48-10 triumph over Harlequins – showed their qualities and they will be a dangerous proposition for the West Countrymen.
As a result, 10/3 at BoyleSports are tempting odds for a side that targeted this encounter after resting individuals in their recent Champions Cup excursion.
Diamond’s charges will also look to benefit from the Six Nations period where they don’t lose too many to international duty, but Exeter are also in a strong position, despite the upcoming internationals and will fancy themselves to garner their seventh Premiership victory of the campaign.
It will be a contest between two huge packs and it should be a tight game with the Chiefs 15/8 (Betfair) to secure a win by 1-12 points.
Bristol Bears v Gloucester
Two more play-off challengers face-off in this West Country derby as fifth place Bristol take on Gloucester, who currently reside in third position.
The Bears enjoyed an excellent start to the campaign, which included impressive victories over Bath and Premiership favourites Exeter, but their performances have gradually declined.
In fact, Pat Lam’s men have not won in the league since that superb triumph over the Chiefs – a run of four matches – and defeats to strugglers Wasps and Leicester Tigers were poor.
They will be looking for a response against a Cherry and Whites outfit that are without England representatives Ollie Thorley and Willi Heinz. Johan Ackermann’s charges have started to improve, however, and have found more of their attacking rhythm.
Although Danny Cipriani is currently injured, Owen Williams is a talented player and stepped in nicely against Montpellier, despite only returning recently after a significant period out.
The teams are currently going in different directions but home comforts give Lam’s charges a slight advantage according to the bookmakers, with Bristol 4/7 at Sky Bet to claim a victory.
Meanwhile, the visitors are slight outsiders at 5/4 with the same company to secure their fifth victory of the Premiership season.
Both sides like to play expansively, though, and it should therefore be an exciting encounter, but the Cherry and Whites tend to be stronger in the second half as opponents tire. As a result, it is evens (Betfair and Paddy Power) for the final 40 minutes to contain more tries.