Simon Mail previews this weekend's televised Premiership matches including troubled champions Saracens' match at Gloucester...
Sale v Wasps Friday, 19:45 Live on BT Sport 1
Sharks to make home advantage count
Sale and Wasps finished side by side, in seventh and eighth, last season and are closely-matched again after the opening weeks of the Premiership season. The Sharks, currently sixth in the table, were narrowly beaten in their league opener at home to Gloucester. Steve Diamond's side eased to victory at London Irish but were beaten 16-10 at Bristol last week.
Wasps were a big disappointment last season and Dai Young faces a difficult challenge to guide the team back towards the top of the Premiership. Newly-promoted London Irish shocked Wasps at the Ricoh Arena in their first match before a defeat at Gloucester. Wasps got off the mark last weekend with a much-needed 30-22 victory at home to Bath.
These two teams have already faced each other this season in the Premiership Rugby Cup with Sale clinching a 24-20 win last month. The Sharks are traditionally strong at home and the Sharks are fancied to edge to another victory at the AJ Bell Stadium. It could be as tight as their recent encounter though, with Sale backed to win by up to 12 points under the lights.
Gloucester v Saracens Saturday, 15:00 Live on BT Sport 2
Saracens reeling after points punishment
Premiership champions Saracens are in turmoil after being docked 35 points and fined £5.36m for breaching salary cap rules. The club have appealed the decision, meaning the punishment is temporarily suspended, but this is a seismic blow. On the pitch, Sarries, who have had to cope without their cluster of internationals during the World Cup, lost their opener at home to Northampton. But Mark McCall's side responded with a victory at Leicester and last weekend's scrappy 16-13 win against London Irish at Allianz Park.
Gloucester finished third last season and the Cherry and Whites have made a solid start to the new campaign. A top-four finish will be the minimum target for Gloucester and Johan Ackermann's side opened with victories against Sale and Wasps. A sluggish first-half performance at Leicester proved costly last week as they lost 16-13 for their first defeat.
A trip to Gloucester is always a tough assignment and the size of Saracens' challenge is only increased after a tumultuous week off the pitch. Still missing their key internationals, Saracens are undoubtedly weakened and Gloucester should punish them. The hosts have a strong record at Kingsholm and are backed to win by up to 12 points to add to the visitors' problems.
Exeter v Bristol Sunday, 15:00 Live on BT Sport 2
Chiefs to see off Bristol
With Saracens facing an uncertain future, Exeter have assumed favouritism for the Premiership after losing in the final for the last two years. Rob Baxter's side should go close to a second domestic title and have started with two wins from three games. The Chiefs narrowly defeated Harlequins and Worcester but were beaten 13-10 at Bath.
Bristol held their own in the top flight last season, following promotion, with the Bears expected to continue their upward momentum this year. Pat Lam's side dominated Bath in their impressive 43-16 opening win before being edged out 22-17 at Harlequins. But Bristol maintained their winning start at home with a tight 16-10 success against Sale last week.
The handicap mark against Exeter is pitched at 13 points but this may not be as one-sided as many expect. Bristol are improving rapidly and will not be pushovers at Sandy Park. Exeter should come out on top but they have understandably yet to kick into top gear, with both wins coming by no more than four points. The Chiefs can see off their rivals but there is value in backing a narrow home victory.