Jeff Pagano previews all the Heineken Cup Round 6 matches along with some betting advice and team news.
After spending the entire week with our calculators and slide rules trying to work out everything that can happen this weekend in the Heineken Cup, the snow predicted for the weekend particularly in England, could yet throw a spanner into the works. Still, there promises to be some cracking contests and fingers crossed we may well have three Irish provinces in the final eight for the second year in a row.
Friday, 18 January 2013
Biarritz v Harlequins, 20:00
Key to this match will be the home side’s interest…and given they lie just outside the Top14 playoff places I doubt they’ll care too much about the Amlin. Quins +2 @ 10/11 with Boylesports.com looks one of the bets of the weekend.
Connacht v Zebre, 20:00
Eric Elwood’s men have already outdone last year’s maiden Heineken Cup performance, so although they have no hope of reaching any knockout stages, anything they can get from this final home match will be a bonus, and they will certainly fancy themselves to beat the so-far-winless Zebre.
And their ranks have been boosted by the return of Dan Parks to the number 10 jumper, not to mention the call-up to the international squad of Robbie Henshaw & Dave McSharry.
In the forwards Swift & McCarthy resume their powerful second-row pairing while Johnny O’Connor will no doubt be relishing a battle with his opposite number Mauro Bergamasco.
Not sure if a bonus point is quite within their reach but the win certainly is. Connacht -16 @ 10/11 with Boylesports.com.
British & Irish Cup
Munster v Plymouth Albion, 19:00
Saturday, 19 January 2013
Castres v Ulster, 13:35
The runaway leaders of the Pro12 will probably never have a better chance to get their first ever win on French soil.
Castres currently lie fourth in the Top14 and would surely see that as a priority over what would merely be consolation in the Heineken Cup, though with a home crowd to please you certainly can’t see them rolling over.
Mark Anscombe has made an interesting move with his starting lineup, moving Ruan Pienaar to 10 with Paul Marshall starting at scrum-half. Paddy Jackson took a knock last week and is named to the bench.
Despite the fact Ulster have a few injuries, I reckon the experience in their backline plus the strength of their front row will be enough to get the win here and secure an all-important home quarterfinal. Ulster by 4.
Glasgow v Northampton, 13:35
Have to assume the Warriors will be more interested in the Pro12 and Six Nations at this stage. Saints by 7.
Cardiff Blues v Sale, 15:40
Couldn’t even say these two were playing for pride. Blues to want it more as they would avoid a pool whitewash. Cardiff by 8.
Montpellier v Toulon, 15:40
This match is key for bot Munster and Leinster, both would prefer an away win. But with Toulon only needing a losing bonus point to guarantee a home quarterfinal I doubt they will be too motivated to help the Irish provinces out. Montpellier by 5.
Exeter v Leinster, 18:00
Provided this match goes ahead on schedule, Leinster have a mammoth task, although they certainly have the strongest possible squad available to get it done.
Brian O’Driscoll, Richardt Strauss, Sean O’Brien and Kevin McLaughlin all return to the starting lineup, and considering that they need as many tries as they can possibly get to give themselves the best chance of emerging from the pool, it is on the bench where they seem to have the best chance, with McFadden, Madigan, Jennings, Boss & Cronin all well able to contribute in the try-scoring department.
Not that the Exeter Chiefs are going to be pushovers, mind you. Rob Baxter as coach and Tom Hayes as skipper have combined over the years to make Sandy park something of a fortress and only once in the last 30-odd matches have visitors managed a four-try bonus.
The home side will rely on the power of their forwards like Dean Mumm and centre Sireli Naqelevuki to keep the champions honest and considering what’s a stake no doubt referee Roman Poite’s interpretations will play a major part in the result.
Although the Chiefs have a proud record at home I reckon Leinster’s form in recent weeks plus the fact that their lineup is so strong could see them getting the bonus point win theyy crave, though I’m not so sure how many beyond the four tries they’ll get. I’ll say five, which I doubt will be enough. Leinster by 20.
Scarlets v Clermont Auvergne, 18:00
As a rule French sides take their foot off the pedal for away games, but then again Clermont can be seen as an exception. Clermont by 14.
British & Irish Cup
Bridgend v Ulster, postponed
Connacht v Newport,14:00
Leeds Carnegie v Leinster, 11:30
Sunday, 20 January 2013
Munster v Racing Metro 92, 12:45
Any other time you’d have this down as a comfortable home win even without the suspended Ronan O’Gara. But Munster have struggled to get their new “expansive” style of rugby working of late so this is by no means a foregone conclusion.
Having said that, there’s an argument to be made that Ian Keatley, who has often impressed this season when deputising for O’Gara, could be the one to get the backline moving.
Racing had every chance to beat Saracens last week and be well in contention for this pool, but given they are effectively out of the competition I’m pretty sure getting into next year’s Heineken Cup via the Top14 will be their priority, so given that Munster should know exactly what they need to do come kick-off time, you have to fancy them getting it done comfortably. Munster by 17.
Saracens v Edinburgh, 12:45
Sarries won’t even need second gear to win this one. Saracens by 15.
Leicester v Toulouse, 15:00
Again assuming all matches are played this weekend, this meeting of past champions should decide the final quarterfinal shake-up. Always like the Tigers at home. Leicester by 6.
Treviso v Ospreys, 15:00
Tournament fizzling out for these two. Treviso by 3.
That’s it for me! Be sure and enjoy what should be a fascinating series of rugby matches wherever you are. JLP