By Rugby World reader, Kate Bamber
Munster v Northampton
This Friday night fixture is one of the biggest of the round as Heineken Cup supremos Munster take on high flying Northampton at Thomond Park in the match that will decide the winner of Pool 1. Last weekend Northampton started slowly at home against Perpignan but went through the gears in the second half to defeat their uninspiring visitors by 34-0. Munster on the other hand, notched up a six try win away at Treviso. The Saints did defeat Munster 31-27 at Franklins Gardens in the opening match of the competition but at home Munster are a different prospect, especially after completing back to back wins over Perpignan and Treviso. I expect this to be an action packed game, especially if Northampton can get a platform from the scrum and provide good ball to their back line. However I can’t bet against Munster at home in this competition.
My prediction: Munster to win by 8.
Perpignan v Treviso
After their respective hammerings last weekend neither of these teams can qualify (not that Treviso ever really stood much of a chance). Back on their home turf and against the Italian whipping boys, I think that Perpignan will bounce back from last Sunday’s result and give Treviso a good going over. Don’t forget that Perpignan will have a score to settle after Treviso beat them in round one with the shock score line of 9-8.
My prediction: Perpignan to win by 18.
Biarritz v Glasgow
Despite losing 23-8 to Gloucester last weekend in their only loss so far in the competition, Biarritz have already qualified from Pool 2. This means all that is left to play for is second spot and the chance to qualify as one of the two best runners up. Sadly for Glasgow, this isn’t achievable, as they currently sit third in the pool and even a bonus point win would only leave them on 14 points which just isn’t quite good enough. Glasgow won 29-25 last weekend against the Dragons, and the question of whether they will win this weekend will be decided on the team that Biarritz decide to field, bearing in mind that they’ve already secured their ticket to the knockout stages. If anything I think the fact that Biarritz have already secured their qualification spot will let them play with more freedom and no fear.
My prediction: Biarritz to win by 10.
Newport-Gwent Dragons v Gloucester
Gloucester need to claim a bonus point win away at Rodney Parade if they are to stand any chance of qualification. Last weekend they beat pool leaders Biarritz whilst the Dragons lost out in a close encounter against Glasgow. When these two teams met in the opening round, Gloucester came from behind after half time to win 19-17. Looking at their current form and the fact that Gloucester have it all to play for, I think Gloucester will nick the rematch.
My prediction: Gloucester to win by 5.
Ospreys v Leicester
The tightest pool of them all is Pool 3, where Leicester (top with 17 points) lead the Ospreys and Clermont Auvergne (both on 16 points). The Ospreys and Leicester both need a bonus point win in order to stand any hope of progressing, as Clermont pretty much only have to turn up at Viadana to come away with a four try haul and the full five points. Maths isn’t my strong point, but if Clermont take the five points away from Italy and rack up a much improved try tally, the destiny of Leicester and the Ospreys is in their hands as only a bonus point victory will do. Last week the Ospreys were dismantled to the tune of 27-7 by Clermont, whilst the Tigers roared to a 47-8 victory over Viadana. Given that Leicester don’t seem to be fazed by a big occasion, I’m tipping them to win.
My prediction: Leicester by 13.
Viadana v Clermont Auvergne
Viadana: Played 5. Won 0. Points difference -173.
Fifteen road cones would be more of a work out for Clermont Auvergne.
My prediction: Clermont Auvergne to win by 40.
Bath v Ulster
Bath have been improving slowly but surely in this competition and last weekend they were narrowly defeated 15-13 away by Pool 4 leaders Stade Français. Bath are still bottom of the pool, but at home they could well prove to be a potential banana skin for Ulster who have won their three home games but lost twice on the road in this competition. Ulster are still in with a shot to qualify for the next round if they take the full five points on offer and if Stade Français lose to Edinburgh. Bath on the other hand, have nothing to play for except any small patch of form that they can take back into the Guinness Premiership. Last weekend Ulster beat Edinburgh 21-13 at Ravenhill so they will go into the game with confidence, but for some reason I think Bath might well sneak a win.
My prediction: Bath to win by 4.
Edinburgh v Stade Français
Stade Français hammered Edinburgh 31-7 when these two sides met back in October and the French side has won all three of their home games, albeit the last one a close 15-13 win over Bath. Away from home, Stade have been anything but convincing as their narrow 29-27 victory over Bath and their 23-13 loss at Ulster show. Therefore with Ulster breathing down their neck, Stade Français will really have to raise their away game to secure their progression to the knockout stages. Edinburgh’s two wins in this competition both came at home (17-13 over Ulster and 9-6 over Bath) so they will be looking to complete a clean sweep of home wins in the competition. This game is by no means a foregone conclusion.
My prediction: Stade to win by 3.
Harlequins v Cardiff Blues
Last year’s semi-finalists, the Cardiff Blues, looked dead and buried in this year’s competition until last weekend’s 36-19 win over a Sale side who looked to have found traction in the Pool and were set to threaten table toppers Toulouse. The Blues’ win lifted them above Sale on points difference, and although neither Sale nor Cardiff can topple Toulouse (who have qualified already), both sides are still in with a shout for a best runner up spot. Harlequins lost 33-21 away at Toulouse last weekend and have been out of the competition for a couple of weeks, having won none of their five games. I’m sure the Quins will be looking to restore a bit of pride, especially in front of their home crowd, but Cardiff have it all to play for. Saying that, the Blues have lost both of their away fixtures in the Heineken Cup this season so they’ll need to conjure up another great performance to stand any chance of making it out of the group stages.
My prediction: Cardiff to win by 8.
Sale v Toulouse
Unlike the Cardiff Blues, Sale have the all important home advantage in the final round of the Pool stages. Sale were beaten 36-17 by Toulouse in the first round of the competition, but since then they strung together three winning performances in a row before their away defeat to the Blues last weekend. The only game that Toulouse have lost so far in the competition was the 15-9 away defeat by the Cardiff Blues, although the Quins ran them close at The Twickenham Stoop as they led their Gallic guests 14-0 at half time before Toulouse won in dramatic style to end the game victorious with a 23-19 winning score line. Therefore with Toulouse seemingly not as up for it when they’re away from home and with their qualification already in the bag, Sale really have a good chance of winning this game.
My prediction: Sale to win by 6.
Brive v Scarlets
Poor Brive. Last weekend’s spirited showing against Leinster was too little, too late for the 1997 Heineken Cup winners, who for all intents and purposes have been about as threatening as a marshmallow in this year’s competition. Despite holding a rusty looking Leinster to a seven point lead at half time, Brive still ended up on the wrong end of a bonus point win as the holders ran in four tries and ended the game as 27-10 victors. Therefore I can’t see that a slightly improved Brive side will pose too much of a threat to the travelling Scarlets, who will undoubtedly be buoyed by their excellent 31-22 victory over London Irish last weekend. Looking at the Pool standings, the Scarlets will not only need a bonus point win to stand any chance of progression as a runner up, but they will also have to hope that Leinster do them a massive favour and beat London Irish and that the results in the other pools go their way.
My prediction: Scarlets to win by 18.
London Irish v Leinster
Finally, and last but by no means least, is the much hyped fixture between the Exiles and the current holders of the Heineken Cup, Leinster. As Pool deciders go this one has to be up there with the best. At times in this competition both of these teams have played some wide, expansive and exciting rugby which sets this game up as a truly mouth-watering winner takes all fixture. Last weekend Leinster creaked against Brive after not playing a game for a few weeks, and yet a magical pass from Shane Horgan to Saint Brian O’Driscoll saw Michael Cheika’s men from Dublin snatch a last minute try scoring bonus point in their 27-10 victory over Brive. London Irish lost at the Parc-y-Scarlets last weekend, but lest we forget the shock of round one when the Exiles went to the RDS and came away with the scalp of the champions when they beat Leinster 12-9 in a try-less affair. Since then, Leinster have looked unstoppable in this competition and whilst I think they will win this match, if you can only watch one game this weekend then I suggest that you go for this one.
My prediction: Leinster to win by 9.
So what do you think? Are my predictions spot on this week or am I way off target?