It’s a new year and we’re now entering the final two rounds of the opening stage of European rugby’s premier club competition. Previous rounds have served up some epic matches and this weekend looks set to be the biggest yet, with teams attempting to secure their places in the top two of the Pools. Of course nothing will be decided until the final round, but this weekend’s results will determine whether teams can approach the final match with an air of comfort, safe in the knowledge of progression, or nervously watching results elsewhere.
Below is a little preview of each of the Premiership team’s clashes and my prediction of the scoreline, let’s see how many I can get wrong…
Friday 16th January
Leicester v Scarlets K.O. 19:45 Welford Road
Both these teams go into Friday night’s game on 8 points meaning that whoever comes out on top is likely to finish runner up to Toulon in Pool Three. Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill has recalled Freddie Burns back to the starting XV in one of 6 changes to the team who started their last league match. Meanwhile Scarlets have a raft of injuries, and are struggling for form this season. This match is well worth staying in for, with two teams scrapping for their lives under the floodlights.
Prediction – Leicester 23- 15 Scarlets
Saturday 17th January
Saracens v Munster K.O. 13.00 Allianz Park
Paul O’Connell has been playing a bit of mind games when he talks about Munster’s chances of winning this match as ‘probably slim’ considering his side’s European pedigree. Munster have won 5 of their last 6 games against Saracens and will need to extend that fine record to have any chance of making it through to the quarter finals. This game will almost definitely be a close affair with the team with the better discipline and more accurate kicker likely to prevail.
Predictions – Saracens 18- 15 Munster
Sale v Clermont Auvergne 17:30 AJ Bell Stadium
Clermont Auvergne are currently topping both the Pool of Death and the Top 14 and will come into Saturdays game confident of remaining top following this match. Sale will be up against it facing this French team who have won four of their last six games away from home against English opposition.
Predictions – Sale 10 – 17 Clermont Auvergne
Harlequins v Wasps 19:45 Twickenham Stoop
Pool 2 is the closest group in the tournament and brings together two of the Premierships top teams. In a recent interview Nick Evans was talking up his team’s chances claiming that they “are getting back to a style of rugby that has caused problems for a lot of teams”. One such team was Leicester on the weekend and if Quins repeat that recent performance they should triumph against Wasps at the Stoop.
Prediction – Harlequins 32 – 20 Wasps
Sunday 18th January
Toulouse v Bath 15:15 Stade Ernest Wallon
Toulouse have a 100% percent record in Europe this season but I predict Bath have the firepower to cause an upset. With Sam Burgess finding his feet in union, and Ford and Eastmond pulling the strings in midfield Bath have a backline which can trouble the best defences in the world. This match is the pick of the round.
Predictions – Toulouse 21 – 24 Bath
Ospreys v Northampton 17:30 Liberty Stadium
Northampton comfortably dispatched Ospreys 34-6 when these sides met earlier in the tournament and I predict that the English champions will again prove to be too strong for their Welsh opponents. Saints will be boosted by the return of captain and Dylan Hartley and by the memory of last season’s win on this ground.
Predictions – Ospreys 17 – 28 Ospreys