Three months since a victorious day for Harlequins in the Twickenham sunshine and the boys of the Aviva Premiership are back for a new season of crunching tackles and crisp passing.
Sadly Sporting Index aren’t offering a market on the number of hours that Danny Care will spend in police custody, so let’s turn our attention instead to the outright index.
This market (based on the standings at the end of the regular season) awards 60 points to the winner, 40 points to the runner up, down to 5 points for eighth. Finish in the bottom four and you get nada.
Looking at the market the most striking thing is that Quins, last year’s league winners and play-off champions, are only fourth in the betting at 24-27. Northampton (25-28) and Saracens (32-25) are both pitched higher, with Leicester installed as pre-season favourites at 39-42.
Quins benefitted last term from a flying start, making hay whilst a number of their competitors’ stars were busy throwing dwarves in New Zealand. With no World Cup distractions this time out it’ll be a fair scrap from the get-go and it seems unlikely that the men from The Stoop will be able to again build a commanding lead by Christmas.
Nevertheless, I expect Harlequins to mount a spirited defense of their title; continuing last season’s momentum through a relatively friendly opening programme (Wasps, London Welsh, and Sale) will be key, as will be the performances of talismanic full back Mike Brown and the newly-contracted, supposedly-chastened Care. Even with the potential distraction of a Heineken Cup run, there’s certainly enough in the locker to recommend a buy at 27.
Casting my eyes to the middle of the pack, I like the look of Sale at 13-16. The Sharks managed a creditable sixth last season; had they not shipped more points (538) than any other side they surely would have finished higher. A squad strengthened by the arrival of mercurial glamour-boy Danny Cipriani and scarecrow haired Scot Richie Gray (a seriously good second row in my opinion) should be looking to challenge for a Heineken spot.
Exeter might struggle with the added burden of European rugby, but I’m not sure there’s a great deal of room for a sell at 15. Worcester, with the decent halfback combination of Paul Hodgson and Andy Goode, are the pick of the outsiders and might be worth a nibble at a measly 1-3. London Welsh, I fear, are accurately priced at 0-0.5.
In other news, the season starts for the mighty Shooters Hill 2nd XV tomorrow with a trip over the river to play May and Baker; the squad’s looking a little thin (well fat, but you know what I mean) at the moment so if anyone out there wants to dust off the boots, I’m sure you’d be welcome!