Just four out of six correct picks in Round 3, with Bath and Newcastle both winning away from home unexpectedly – and the other four were very predictable.
I was at the Gloucester v Bristol match, and came away feeling sure of two things – that Bristol will stay up, and that Danny Cipriani is the best fly-half in the country. Hopefully more on that later.
For now, here are my predictions for Round 4 of the Gallagher Premiership.
Newcastle v Exeter
The Falcons beat the Chiefs at Kingston Park back in January on their way to a top four finish, but Exeter have won the other 8 of the last 9 matches between these teams – including by 31 points in the semi-final in May. The way the Chiefs have started the season, you can’t pick against them at the moment. Exeter by 13
Bath v Northampton
A win away at Harlequins will have done wonders for Bath’s confidence, after a shaky start to the season, whilst the Saints will be encouraged by their performance against Saracens. Even without the injured Jamie Roberts, Bath’s lineup looks stronger to me, and I expect a home win. Bath by 9
Bristol v Harlequins
This should be a great gauge of Bristol’s quality, back at Ashton Gate after two encouraging first-half performances away from home, and with their opening weekend win in the bag. A victory over the travel-shy and frustratingly inconsistent Harlequins could spur them on to a mid-table finish, but a defeat and people might start wondering whether that win over Bath was as anomalous as London Irish’s Round 1 win last season. I think they’ll win it. Bristol by 2
Sale v Wasps
Sale have historically been tough to beat in Salford, but I feel like the sense of fortress faded somewhat last year. This is a game that Wasps, or any team with top six aspirations, ought to win. Wasps by 7
Leicester v Worcester
Three losing bonus points are keeping the Warriors in touch, despite being the only team yet to register a victory. The fixtures have been relatively kind though, with two home games and a trip to Sale, but away at Welford Road will be a step up. The Tigers are finding some try-scoring form, and something tells me this could be a big score. Leicester by 23
Saracens v Gloucester
Danny Cipriani has been in outstanding form this season, despite whatever Eddie says, and with the news that he has been dropped from the squad, I can imagine him relishing the prospect of a difficult away match where there’s not a great deal to lose, and an opportunity for him to orchestrate an upset. But as with Exeter, you can’t pick against Saracens at the moment, particularly at home. Saracens by 13
Follow Hutch on Twitter: @Hutch_James
Guest predictions by Andy Daniel, TRB alumnus and creator of https://www.scrum5rugby.com/
Newcastle Falcons v Exeter Chiefs
Newcastle finally got their season up and running last weekend with a win against Worcester and sometimes you just need to scrape a victory to really kick start your season. It’s like getting that horrible little monkey off your back.
It was the big names of Sinoti Sinoti, Sonatane Takulua and Toby Flood that dug them out of their slump but this week they are going to need to some serious help from their supporting cast.
Exeter are absolutely flying and don’t look like stopping anytime soon. They didn’t have it all their own way last week against Sale for the first 40 minutes but they showed their class in the second half to pull away.
They are still susceptible defensively and Newcastle will hope to use their fast pitch to capitalise on that but I think the pitch will actually favour the Chiefs just as much with the expansive style of rugby that they have been playing this season.
Chiefs by 16
Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints
Bath have a full house of win, lose and draw so far this season but for 79 minutes last week they were very impressive in their win over Harlequins. They tired at the end and almost let Quins snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat in that final minute of the 80 but the performance was ten times better than anything else they have produced to date this season.
Jamie Roberts being ruled out for 4-6 weeks is a body blow as he played well against his old club but Max Clarke will be itching to take any opportunity in midfield.
Saints more than held their own against Saracens last week but they also struggled to stay the full course.
That said, they are improving game by game and their combinations are coming together well. Dan Biggar has been a very positive addition so far and he will be relishing the opportunity to come up against his Welsh rival Rhys Priestland at some point during the game.
Saints haven’t travelled well so far and this may be the deciding factor here.
Bath by 12
Bristol Bears v Harlequins
Bristol will be glad to be back at home after successive defeats on the road. They shouldn’t be disheartened too much by those losses because in both matches they were more than competitive for large portions of the game.
Their expansive, daring rugby is good to watch if sometimes a little unadvisable at times but on the big pitch at Ashton Gate they use the space very effectively.
Harlequins have been poor in their last two matches and the score line last weekend flattered them in the end. But for a late flurry they could have been beaten by 20 points or more.
This will be a close game and I fear that it may not be the highest scoring of affairs but home advantage for The Bears and a great atmosphere at The Gate will see them over the winning line.
Bears by 5
Sale Sharks v Wasps
This is one of the trickier games to call this weekend as Sale have been hideously bad in two of their matches this season yet have managed to grab a win at home.
They can look very dangerous in attack and have scored some nice tries out wide but when teams play expansively against them they look extremely vulnerable.
Wasps do play expansive rugby but they have also conceded a lot of points this season as well. 42 and 35 in their last two matches respectively.
Sale are certainly a stronger proposition at home than away but I think Wasps will have too much class and experience for them.
Wasps by 9
Leicester Tigers v Worcester Warriors
Leicester are another team that are setting a pattern of looking strong at home but travelling with some sickness.
Their only home game to date saw them rack up 49 points against Newcastle and if we are brutally honest about Worcester then it is clear they are a much weaker side than the Falcons.
Leicester will be without the suspended Will Spencer for this one after his much reviewed red card in Tigers’ brave defeat to Wasps.
Worcester find themselves rooted to the foot of the table but that picture doesn’t tell the whole story.
They have lost by an aggregate of just 10 points so far this year and have a losing bonus point in each match.
They are defensively much better than last year and fighting hard but at some point, that resolve will be broken at some point and I fear it may be at Welford Road.
Tigers by 19
Saracens v Gloucester Rugby
Both teams are unbeaten going into this fixture at Allianz Park and both come off impressive wins last time out.
Saracens struggled to settle in the first half against Saints last weekend but once in their stride they took full control as they always do.
As per our Gallagher Premiership Preview article, Alex Lewington is proving to be a shrewd signing and David Strettle looks as though he never left for his French break in Clermont a few years ago either. He is straight back into the Sarries shirt and scoring tries for fun.
Gloucester have also been in fantastic form this season and but for a 40 minute crumbling at Bath two weeks ago then they would have been 3 from 3 themselves.
Danny Cipriani has his back line ticking but Jake Polledri has been setting tongues wagging after his performance against Bristol last weekend.
He was by far and away my player of the round with 13 tackles and 20 carries for 87 metres. His upper body strength and ability to break a tackle is a potent weapon in his armoury.
The Italian International’s head to head with the Saracens back row that will include Nick Isiekwe and Michael Rhodes will go a long way to determining where this game is won and lost.
Saracens by 13