As one great British sport settles into its new season, another prepares for bruising battles ahead as Rugby Union’s Premiership makes a more-than-welcome return to stadiums and screens.
The usual suspects dominate the outright betting markets, but the re-emergence of a couple of egg-chasing powerhouses threatens to shake up proceedings.
Here are our three best ante-post bets for the new campaign.
Northampton to win the Grand Final @ 11/4
Saracens’ seven days from hell last May, when Mark McCall’s men were trounced by Toulon in the last ever Heineken Cup final before being nobbled by Northampton in the English equivalent, will surely prey on the minds of the 7/4 favourites for some time.
Premiership Grand Final victories often come in bunches, with Wasps winning the first three between 2003-05 and Leicester cobbling together three in four years from 2007-10.
McCall’s side couldn’t manage to lift a title they seemed destined for last term, and cannot be taken on trust to bounce back at such tiny odds.
On the other hand, Northampton have now appeared in successive finals and possess arguably the best player in the northern hemisphere, in Welsh winger George North, with a supporting cast featuring Alex Corbisiero, Luther Burrell, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and captain Dylan Hartley.
There are fewer better coaches out there than Jim Mallinder, and the Yorkshireman should be backed to keep the good times rolling at Franklin’s Gardens for a little longer.
Harlequins to qualify for the play-offs @ 5/4
Over the past half-decade, the top four places have been dominated by Saints, Sarries and Leicester, with each now appearing in five successive play-offs.
Quins have made the last three, winning the Grand Final in 2011/12, but both Bath and Gloucester are expected to push director of rugby Conor O’Shea’s side hard this season.
The former only missed out last term on wins achieved, having finished level on points with Harlequins, and have ex-Rugby League superstar Sam Burgess to come in at number eight, while Gloucester’s capture of Welsh pair Richard Hibbard and James Hook is a big boost.
Nevertheless, Quins retains the services of 2014 Six Nations Player of the Tournament Mike Brown and England captain Chris Robshaw, plus their established international ally Danny Care, whilst bringing in exciting youngster Marland Yarde.
O’Shea is a top coach who won’t want a near-flawless record sullied by Premiership upstarts, so back the south Londoners to hang onto what they have.
Newcastle to finish bottom @ 15/8
Last season’s second-bottom finishers have dispensed with their often waterlogged natural playing surface in favour of 3G this year, which rates a real risk to the Falcons’ survival.
Newcastle were awful in the Premiership last season, winning just three games, but two of those came on the road.
Dean Richards’ side may find themselves majorly undercooked away from home this season, owing to the marked changes in conditions under foot.
Promoted London Welsh are 11/10 favourites to go down, but they clearly don’t see it that way, having brought in brilliant World Cup-winning ex-All Black Piri Weepu at scrum-half and former England fly-half Olly Barkley.
At the odds, Richards’ men must be the value call to come last.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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