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English Premiership weekend preview: Saracens have momentum for Gloucester trip

The first round of Gallagher Premiership action of 2023 could prove to be a glimpse into the future as all four teams currently sat in the play-off places square off.

League leaders Saracens face a tricky trip to Kingsholm to take on fourth-placed Gloucester on Friday night, while third-placed Harlequins entertain Sale on Sunday afternoon.

But with only ten points separating Quins and bottom-of-the-table Bristol, the dynamic of the table can shift quickly with plenty of teams, including reigning champions Leicester, snapping at the heels of the current top four.

Exeter and Northampton are also firmly in the playoff mix and they clash in the standout game from Saturday’s slate with both looking for a bit of consistency after up and down seasons.

Injury-hit Gloucester face tough examination

WhatGloucester v Saracens
WhereKingsholm, Gloucester
When19.45, Friday 6th January, 2023
How to watchBT Sport 1
OddsGloucester 13/8, Saracens 8/15, Draw 20/1

Saracens ended 2022 on a very strong note as they put Exeter to the sword at home, but now head to one of their least favourite venues in Kingsholm for a clash with a very capable Gloucester side.

Exeter were the unfortunate victims of a Sarries backlash - a first defeat of the season to London Irish having put a dampener on Saracens’ Christmas - and the 35-3 demolition of the Chiefs was the perfect response.

Skipper Owen Farrell produced a masterful performance in tricky conditions, while the Saracens’ pack bullied the Chiefs. However, pushing Gloucester’s forwards around the artificial grass at Kingsholm may not be as easy with the Cherry and Whites’ strength being their powerful pack. 

Gloucester's options up front and amongst the backs have been hit by injuries and suspensions to key players though with Santiago Socino, Adam Hasting and Louis Rees-Zammit currently missing, and they may struggle to cope against a Saracens team with great strength in depth.

Sarries don’t have a great record at Gloucester, winning just one of their last five visits, but look to have the bit between their teeth again after a slip up against London Irish.

Toothless Tigers head to Newcastle

WhatNewcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers
WhereKingston Park, Newcastle
When14:00, Saturday 7th January 2023
How to watchBT Sport 2
OddsNewcastle 13/10, Leicester 4/6, Draw 20/1

Leicester’s stuttering title defence suffered another setback last time out with a 40-5 hammering by Sale and it’s no given they’ll bounce back at Newcastle. 

Interim Tiger head coach Richard Wigglesworth has a big job on his hands, not only replacing Steve Borthwick, but also rediscovering that winning habit from last season with the Tigers now having lost five times in the Premiership.

Leicester haven’t won an away game in the league since mid-October and Newcastle are proving a tough nut to crack at Kingston Park, winning their last two home games against Sale and Exeter.

The Falcons added to their growing ranks of Argentina internationals this week when landing forward Pedro Rubiolo and they can certainly push an injury-hit Leicester team close with Newcastle +3 10/11 on the handicap.

Inconsistent duo could put on a show at Sandy Park

WhatExeter Chiefs vs Northampton Saints
WhereSandy Park, Exeter
When16:30, Saturday 7th January, 2023
How to watchBT Sport 2
OddsExeter 4/11, Northampton 11/5, Draw 22/1

Inconsistency has dogged both these teams this season and predicting a winner of Saturday’s clash at Sandy Park is no easy task. 

Exeter had been on a five-match winning streak in all competitions before getting destroyed by Saracens, while Northampton had lost three on the spin before they turned in an excellent performance in a 46-17 win over Harlequins.

Following up that result won’t be easy though with Saints' main issue this season being performances on the road, losing all five of their away league games.

The forecast wet and windy conditions for the clash may not favour Northampton’s style of rugby either and a positive response from Exeter on home soil is expected.

The Chiefs have won four out of five home league games this season, but Northampton don’t have a bad record in Devon, winning on two of their last three visits. 

It all adds up to muddy the waters of what could be a far closer game than the seven-point handicap suggests.

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Bears emerging from early hibernation

WhatLondon Irish v Bristol Bears
WhereGtech Community Stadium, London
When15:00, Sunday 8th January, 2023
How to watchPRTV
OddsLondon Irish 8/15, Bristol 13/8, Draw 20/1

London Irish will have been disappointed not to have built on their stunning win over Saracens before Christmas when losing a tight contest to Gloucester and will need to pick themselves back up quickly for the visit of a revitalised Bristol. 

The Exiles tend to save their best performances for the Gtech Community Stadium but haven’t beaten Bristol, who are 10/11 with a +4 handicap, on home soil in the last three attempts. 

The Bears are riding high after three straight wins in all competitions, including a win at Harlequins in their last league game, and look ready to climb off the bottom of the standings.

Sharks smell blood

WhatHarlequins v Sale Sharks
WhereTwickenham Stoop, London
When15:00, Sunday 8th January, 2023
How to watchBT Sport 1
OddsHarlequins 5/6, Sale 21/20, Draw 18/1

Having put the defending champions to the sword last time out, the next test for a Sale side seeking to prove they are serious title contenders comes against a Harlequins team that rolled them over in the reverse fixture. 

Marcus Smith inspired Quins to a 29-13 win at the AJ Bell Stadium last October, but the England fly-half will miss this game - one of several key absentees for the hosts.

Harlequins’ injury and suspension issues contributed to a miserable festive period as they lost to Bristol and Northampton and they face a tough task avoiding a third straight defeat against the in-form Sharks. 

Sale’s away record - they haven’t won on the road in any competition since the start of last October - is a concern, but Alex Sanderson’s men could prove too strong for an undermanned Quins if they play to their full potential.

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