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Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Upbeat Sale fancied to push Harlequins close at the Stoop

Cardiff and Ulster can give up starts in derby home games

Byron McGuigan grabbed a hat-trick for Sale against Gloucester in September
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Harlequins v Sale
BT Sport 2, 7.45pm Friday
Cardiff v Dragons
BBC2 Wales, 7.35pm Friday
Ulster v Connacht
BBC2 NI & TG4, 7.35pm Friday

Sale have been hammered in both their Premiership away games this campaign but they look worth a wager to get a losing bonus point at least from their televised trip to Harlequins.

The Sharks have proved a nuisance on their last three league trips to Quins, losing 29-26 in January and 16-14 in November 2015 and winning 16-12 in November 2014.

And they bounced back from a 41-13 loss at Saracens a fortnight ago with a 57-10 home success over Gloucester last Friday.

Amazingly, the Cherry & Whites bossed the Salford possession and territory stats last week, but the sizeable Sale victory shows just how dangerous the Sharks can be on the counter-attack and feeding off turnover ball.

Head coach Steve Diamond will surely set them up to play that way at the Stoop against hosts who prefer to play a fast-paced game with the ball in hand.

Harlequins lost to London Irish when the Exiles employed such tactics and while Quins beat Gloucester comfortably at home last month and won at Wasps, a tough schedule has since seen them edged out 31-28 at the Stoop by Leicester and held off 30-22 in Northampton.

Quins' forward ranks are refreshed by the return of Joe Marler, James Horwill and Chris Robshaw but the suspension of England and Lions prop Kyle Sinckler could still have a big effect on their scrums and ball-carrying in the loose.

And as well as matching Quins in the speedster department, on their day Sale can mix it with the best in terms of pack drives and rolling mauls close to the line.

Cardiff's 39-16 loss at Munster on Saturday was a fourth defeat in five Pro14 outings but the Blues should still be backed to give up nine points to the Dragons at the Arms Park. 

Cardiff were in the game at Thomond Park for an hour and the weekend before they had ground out a 17-15 win at Connacht. They were also leading Conference A leaders Glasgow for much of their Arms Park clash three weeks ago before a surge from the Warriors.

The Dragons have enjoyed home wins over the Kings and Connacht in the last three weeks but they were walloped 52-25 at Ulster in between. They also lost their first away game of the campaign 35-18 at Edinburgh.    

Cardiff won last season's meeting at the Arms Park 27-16 and beat the Dragons 28-8 at the Arms Park in April 2016.

Ulster will be angry at losing in Parma to Zebre last Saturday and look worth a bet to give up ten points to Connacht at the Kingspan.

Ulster have won all three of their Belfast games in this campaign, two comfortably against the Cheetahs and Dragons and one 27-20 after an arm-wrestle with May's final Pro12 champions Scarlets.

Connacht conceded the try bonus in the first half at Scarlets last Friday and lost their other away outing this term 21-8 at Rodney Parade to the Dragons.   

No outcome would surprise in Bloemfontein with both the Cheetahs and Glasgow in good form (BBC Alba, 7.35pm Friday). The unbeaten visitors get a three-point start from Hills.

Sale +7.5
2pts 4-5 Betfred
Cardiff -9
1pt 10-11 Betfair, Paddy Power
Ulster -10
1pt 10-11 Betfair, Paddy Power

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The suspension of England and Lions prop Kyle Sinckler could still have a big effect on Quins' scrums
E.W. Terms
Sky bet