Stan Hey: 6-5 Against

Rugby's Saints can offer timely redemption
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The Independent Online

I know what you're thinking – I'm a lickspittle who extols betting when it has a corrosive effect on sport, cricket allegedly being the latest victim.

But read this: "The bookies soon found out how to reach the players. When they were in London the cricketers usually congregated at a pub in Oxford Street called The Green Man and Still. Naïve newcomers were easy to spot." Not an extract from a Sunday tabloid but from Start of Play, a colourful study of cricket and culture in the 18th century by David Underdown. The book chronicles a seam of gambling throughout the first century of English cricket. There are similar strands in football (see Soccer in the Dock by Simon Inglis). Sport and betting have been locked together since the gladiators.

Ironically, the game that dredged up "Bloodgate" – the rugby Premiership – returns, freshly cleansed. There's a double-header at Twickenham today as London Irish take on Saracens while Wasps play Harlequins. Tomorrow's mighty clash sees Northampton face the champions Leicester.

The Saints had last season's regular season in sight until late wobbles and Leicester's battle-hardened experience told. Northampton still have their core of talented young England players – Chris Ashton, Dylan Hartley, Ben Foden, Courtney Lawes – while Leicester must compensate for the loss of Ben Kay, Lewis Moody and Sam Vesty. The Tigers are favourites (2-1 Totesport) but let's trust the Saints (£20 win at 5-1 Totesport); plus a £5 each-way on Wasps (20-1 Sportingbet). As for tomorrow's cricket – no bet.