Saturday 20 May Exeter Chiefs v Saracens (2.45pm);
After Saracens’ victory over Clermont to retain the European Rugby Champions Cup their quest to win the “double double” and retain the Aviva Premiership trophy, a feat not achieved since the great Leicester side of 2001-02, takes them to the South West this weekend.
Saracens have achieved their prime objective. There is just a chance of a small dip in their determination and focus after the effort in Edinburgh. If that happens, Exeter, with their ability to keep the ball and test Saracens patience in defence could be the side to prevent the double-double. Home advantage helps too. A fortnight ago Saracens picked a weakened team for the last league game of the season at Wasps with play off positions up for grabs and accepted the consequences of losing. The gamble worked in Europe, which has clearly been their priority in a crowded schedule all season
It is strange that the showpiece ERCC final did not end the Northern Hemisphere season and it puts Saracens in an awkward spot with six of the team only three weeks away from the first game of the British Lions Tour of New Zealand. Preparation time for this trip to Exeter is limited and they have to get motivated again in between the massive games for any rugby players’ career that European finals and Lions tours represent.
Exeter recorded an eighth successive bonus-point win a fortnight ago against Gloucester and having finished level with Wasps on 84 points, they have had an extra week to rest and allow key men to regain fitness before meeting the side who beat them 28-20 in the Aviva final at Twickenham last year
Exeter have since improved markedly, outscoring Saracens by 20 tries over 22 games, and Rob Baxter, the Chiefs’ director of rugby, believes they are stronger mentally than 12 months ago, better prepared because they’ve been there before and they were the only side this season not to lose at Saracens drawing 13-13 in January. They have a considerable home advantage in the south-west with a passionate crowd and won't lose anything in the battles up front as they are a rugged team.
It’s not surprising to see Saracens favourites in our green listed markets, best priced 1-2. Exeter as long as 7/4 and 5 point handicap underdogs is interesting for this situational spot though.
I give Exeter a real shot and think 7/4 is too long
Exeter Chiefs to beat Saracens 7/4 Bet365
Saturday 20 May Wasps v Leicester (5.30pm)
Until last week there had been suggestions that table-topping Wasps might be weakening slightly but, despite the under-strength XV fielded by Saracens a five try win to secure top of the league table confirmed that Wasps retained form and they are the most prolific attacking team in the semi-finals. They are big favourites to return to Twickenham for the first time in nine years.
This season they have already beaten Leicester home and away in the league and their 35-15 victory against Saracens further underlined their attacking potency in fast, dry conditions. Their attack is good enough to score tries against any team.
The next trick will be to show the composure in big knockout games, something they didn’t manage last month when they had a below par performance against Leinster in the ERCC Quarter final
As for Leicester, they have made the play-offs despite the squad having been required to operate under three head coaches in a disjointed season with a number of below par performances from a squad in transition.
Wasps are 1/4 outright here (Leicester 100/30) and 9 point handicap favourites. Whilst nine points might seem a lot for a local derby in a knockout game such is Wasps superiority and points scoring potential that I see them covering,-9 at 10/11 is generally available (Ladbrokes & Will Hill).