By Alan Dymock
SPORTING CLICHES are often abused. Every tournament has a Group of Death and every player is weighed and measured to see if they will be found inferior or capable of cutting huge swathes through the mustard.
Of course, same old sayings and hilarious malapropisms from colourful commentators aside, it’s hard to avoid something simple and obvious about the Heineken Cup.
It is brutal.
In each game, each face-off and in every nano-second of play there is opportunity for one side to be humiliated or for two titans to clap together with wince-inducing power.
So as round five of the Cup trundles into view there will be several horrible, but riveting clashes.
Ospreys v Leicester Tigers (Sunday, January 13th, KO 3pm)
The Ospreys only just scraped past Zebre by a point in their last outing in the RaboDirect Pro12 leaving Adam Jones to bluntly exclaim that the O’s ‘were rubbish’, but they toppled Toulouse in the last round of the Heineken and they face a Tigers team who only just sneaked past Worcester Warriors in their last Aviva outing with a fair bit of good fortune and almost lost to Benetton Treviso in Round 4 of the Cup.
This could be a fascinating encounter, purely because both sides have their backs against the wall. The Ospreys are almost completely carrying Welsh hopes, while Leicester are weighed down by their own distinguished European pedigree.
With Toulouse fully expected to bring their A game for the next two rounds, this Sunday game is significant, anyway. Look out for Dan Biggar and Toby Flood, trying to steer each team towards a nail-biting Round 6, next weekend.
Northampton Saints v Castres (Tonight, KO 8pm)
Fresh from claiming a scalp at the home of the Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership, the Saints host Castres at Franklins Gardens on Friday night.
Pool 4 is set up with Ulster at the top, Castres in second and Saints in third. Ulster will be expected to destroy a depleted Glasgow Warriors side at Ravenhill, but Northampton will want to leapfrog their French counterparts.
The Heineken has never seen a runner-up team qualify for the next round with less than 19 points, but this could be the year that changes. The big if comes in at the Gardens, though.
Want an interesting match-up within the match-up? Look no further than the scrum half duel between Lee Dickson and Top 14 revelation Rory Kockott, who is trying to force his way out of Castres.
Anything in Pool 5 (Leinster v Scarlets, Saturday, January 12, KO 6pm; Clermont v Exeter Chiefs, Saturday, January 12, KO 7pm)
You can shove your Group of Death. This is the group of achingly impressive rugby.
This weekend sees the champions elect, Clermont, hosting stuffy Exeter at the impregnable Stade Marcel Michelin, where they could win their 54th home game in a row.
Meanwhile, Leinster take the Scarlets at the RDS, hoping that the result in France goes their way and they can exercise their try-scoring muscles against the lowly-placed West Walian side. Mind you, Scarlets have scored five tries so far, without winning, and Leinster have only scored three.
An interesting match-up, that may, or may not materialize, is one where French maestro Wesley Fofana and Fiji’s Sireli Naqelevuki try to out-step their way past each other in an intriguing midfield battle.
Toulon v Cardiff Blues (Saturday, January 12, KO 2.35pm)
New Welsh wunderkind Rhys Patchell versus Jonny Wilkinson/Freddie Michalak/Matt Giteau.
Whichever flavour you get, it is still mighty tasty. It will be like the Generation Game but without the schmaltzy hosts and pain at the buzzer. Well, actually…
There will be no starting spot for Gethin Jenkins, who has a crocked thigh after failing a fitness test, but Sebastien Bruno and Carl Hayman packing down in front of Juan-Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Steffon Armitage, Pierrick Gunther, Chris Masoe or Joe Van Niekerk is scary. For anyone. Let alone the Blues who will be missing hard-yard toilers Bradley Davies and Andries Pretorius.
Watch this one simply to see if Toulon’s Jekyll or Hyde turns up.
Racing Metro v Saracens (Saturday, January 12, KO 4.40pm)
Racing are trying to keep out of touching distance from Munster, who will be expected to best an out of sorts Edinburgh this weekend. The tickets have been selling well and as of this morning some 36,000 seats had already been shifted.
The subtext here is that two teams with international flavour are facing off in a vital fixture and with the scoring potential and differing styles of the two, there could be a couple of tries to savour, with Sarries preferring Europe to unleash their offensive arsenal.
Keep your eyes pealed for Francois Van der Merwe and Steve Borthwick coming into contact with each other at some point. Borthwick loves a lineout, mind.