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Nic Ladds 8th May 2009 - 15:59

Everything to play for - Guinness Premiership play-offs

The Guinness Premiership playoff semi-finals both look set to be absolute crackers.

Leicester and Bath renew their old rivalry while Harlequins and London Irish finished with the same number of points. Up for grabs is a place in the finals and a shot at glory.

You can see both games live on Sky Sports 3 with Leicester v Bath at 15:00 and Harlequins v London Irish at 17:30

Leicester v Bath

15:00 live on Sky Sports 3

Guinness Premiership winners and Heineken Cup finalists Leicester are 4/11 in the betting to dispose of 2/1 chances Bath in the first Premiership play-off.

These two have met four times so far this year and Bath have only been victorious once when coming out 25-21 victors at The Rec thanks to a late Butch James try.

The Tigers had a hard game last week against Cardiff but they played much better than the Blues and that is quite an achievement considering the calibre of opposition and on paper Bath should pose few problems.

Many will feel the handicap of -7 for Leicester at odds of 10/11 is easily achievable with Bath also 10/11 in receipt of 7 points.

However, everyone thought Munster would batter Leinster which shows it is extremely dangerous to write off the underdog although very rarely do away sides prevail in Guinness Premiership playoffs.

Richard Cockerill has turned The Tigers in to an almost unbeatable unit (lost one of their last 11 games) at just the right time but Bath have had a week longer to prepare and their away form over the season merits them some respect.

Despite this, it is difficult to see Leicester losing this and it is their pack which could tear the Bath side apart.

Tom Croft, Ben Kay and Martin Castrogiovanni are just a few of their almighty pack which can rip through the defence that Bath can offer and with the likes of Lewis Moody on the bench, Leicester have such quality to call on it will be tricky for Bath.

The main try threats look to be Johne Murphy who is 10/1 to score the first try and captain Geordan Murphy who looks a good bet at 5/2 to score anytime.

Bath's chief threats look to be Matt Banahan and Shontayne Hape who can be backed at odds of 9/4 and 5/2 respectively to score a try anytime.

For a winning margin if Bath are to snatch victory then it will be narrow and 1-5 at 6/1 in the betting looks the call for the optimists.

Leicester have the ability to run in a huge score but Bath's defence is not as slack at the likes of Bristol and a winning margin on 6-10 at 9/2 and 11-15 at odds of 5/1 look about right, although it may suit many better to just play on the handicap.

Bath will need to hope Leicester's Heineken Cup exploits have taken it out of them to the extent they tired towards the end of the game.

This is highly unlikely however and while The Tigers have their eye on two prizes, they are more than capable of battling on many fronts as they have shown all season and a Bath victory would be another upset in a muddling season.

Recommendation:
Geordan Murphy to score a try - 5/2

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Harlequins v London Irish
17:30 live on Sky Sports 3

Harlequins are rightly at odds if 1/2 to overcome 6/4 chances London Irish in the second Guinness Premiership play-off.

Unlike the Leicester v Bath game this looks like it really will be agonisingly close and the fact that 'Quins are playing at The Stoop could be absolutely crucial as they attempt to see off The Exiles.

This is demonstrated with the handicap making Harlequins give up just 4 points at odds of 10/11 with London Irish also 10/11 in receipt of the 4 points.

While 'Quins are favourite, Irish came from behind to win both matches at The Stoop earlier this season which not only throw the game open but makes Harlequins look a cracking bet on the half time handicap, giving up 2 points at odds of 10/11 with Irish even money receiving 2 points.

Harlequins have their talismanic fly half Nick Evans back from injury however and he can lift the entire back line and create something out of nothing meaning that a single concentration lapse from Irish could be punished.

Evans is 7/2 to score a try with Tom Williams and Lions selection Ugo Monye 15/8 and 7/4 respectively to cross the line during the game.

London Irish do have players capable of disrupting Harlequins movement though, Nick Kennedy and Steffon Armitage being two key players in the Irish forward line.

Kennedy's presence means the away side should experience a fair bit of joy in winning lineout ball.

Delon Armitage is an obvious attacking threat and is 9/4 to score a try at anytime with Adam Thompstone and Sailosi Tagicakibau both 2/1 in the betting to cross the line for the away side.

A winning margin either way of 1-5 (which is 9/2 in 'Quins favour or 5/1 in Irish's) looks about right with 6-10 also coming in at 9/2 for Harlequins and a more generous 7/1 for The Exiles.

In what should be a thriller slight preference is for Harlequins as the all-important home advantage could be enough to push them in the right direction.

Nick Evans will have the measure of Mike Catt's experienced by weary legs in the fly-half department and providing 'Quins don't let Irish's well organised forward line disrupt their plans they can reach the play-off final although they are sure to be given a fright.

Recommendation:

Harlequins -2 on half time handicap - 10/11
Nick Evans to score a try - 7/2

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