By Kate Bamber, Rugby World reader
Hmm… So last week my efforts to correctly predict the results of the rich smorgasboard of Heineken Cup rugby were rather hit and miss. In fact, I only correctly predicted 50% of the winning teams, which, let’s be honest, is a bit below par. Therefore, with round four heralding the return legs in the back-to-back fixtures, I’m hoping that the results from last weekend will make this week’s job a little easier for me. Here goes…
Perpignan vs Munster
Last week I tipped the French side to pay scant regard to the mighty Thomond Park faithful and push past Munster to a 6 point win. It was a very close encounter for the French invaders, who held a narrow lead at the death before the mercurial boot of Ronan O’Gara kicked Munster to a 24-23 victory. It’s not often that the team who scores three tries to the opposition’s none comes out of the game with a loss, although praise has to be heaped at O’Gara’s door after a near faultless performance in which he kicked all of Munster’s points. I know that traditionally French sides don’t travel well, so losing by a single point is a dangerous sign for the red men of Munster. Back on their home turf with the added pressure of failing to continue to the next round should they lose, I expect Perpignan to win the return fixture.
My prediction: Perpignan by 5.
Treviso vs Northampton
Northampton thumped Treviso in a convincing manner in their 30-18 victory and happily bagged a try-scoring bonus point to lift them to second spot in the group. With Munster facing a difficult fixture in the south of France over third placed Perpignan, Northampton have the opportunity to sneak into top spot as long as they don’t become complacent. Don’t forget, Treviso beat Perpignan in round one of the competition so they are far from being a complete pushover. Of course, the Saints will have a more difficult task to bag a bonus point win away from home, but I tip them to dish out more of last week’s healthy helping of trys.
My prediction: Northampton by 10.
Gloucester vs Glasgow
The Warriors from Glasgow successfully plotted Gloucester’s demise last weekend on their home turf and the question is whether they can do the same down at Kingsholm. I think they probably can, although my gut feeling tells me that this game will be a lot closer than the 33-11 victory which Glasgow enjoyed last weekend. Pool 2 is still fairly tight if you discount Biarritz who look to have already romped away with top spot, so there is still everything to play for.
My prediction: A gutsy Gloucester performance but Glasgow to win by 9.
Newport-Gwent Dragons vs Biarritz
Last week, my prediction for the Biarritz vs Dragons game stated that the Dragons would snort a bit of fire and smoulder to a 6 point victory. This of course meant that the 49-13 win for Biarritz was totally expected. It’s difficult for me to ignore such a conclusive score-line when predicting the result for this weekend, even though Biarritz will be away from home and their Top 14 form has been woefully inconsistent. Therefore I’m going to have to back the French to do the double over the Dragons – just not by as much this time.
My prediction: Biarritz to win by 14.
Ospreys vs Viadana
Viadana, or as I’m sure all the teams in Pool 3 are calling them: an easy 5 pointer. After the Ospreys swooped and devoured the Italian side last weekend in a 62-7 trouncing, the question isn’t whether they will repeat this feat this weekend, rather how many points will the Ospreys beat the Italian side by? Viadana can no longer qualify from this Pool but this doesn’t mean they won’t try to put up a fight. Despite this, I think Viadana will be on the wrong end of another complete drubbing.
My prediction: Ospreys by 35.
Leicester vs Clermont Auvergne
Now we’re talking. This is by far and away the juiciest fixture of the weekend. Leicester need a win over Clermont (preferably of the bonus point variety) in order to keep their Heineken Cup dreams alive. Last year’s losing finalists almost pulled a surprise two bonus points out of the bag last Saturday against their French rivals in a frantic final twenty minutes. This was despite Clermont having a firm grip on the game throughout. With the final score a tasty 40-30 and with Leicester returning to Welford Road empty handed after last week’s battle, I expect the Tigers to throw everything into this game. Home advantage will be crucial, as will Clermont Auvergne’s concentration and desire to press home their advantage in the group. Dan Hipkiss and Harry Ellis are likely to make returns from injury which will add power and zip to the Leicester starting fifteen. If you can only watch one game this weekend than I suggest that you go for this one.
My prediction: Leicester to give it everything and to win by 10.
Stade Français vs Ulster
Ulster were victorious at their Ravenshill home last weekend, and this Saturday the return leg takes the teams to Brussels in an attempt to showcase top quality rugby to a Belgian audience. This fixture will undoubtedly contain a bit of spice after Stade scrum-half Julien Dupuy and flanker David Attoub were hauled before a disciplinary panel after seemingly gouging the eyes of Ulster’s Stephen Ferris in last Saturday’s game. (The decision of the panel is still pending at the time of writing). I can only think that Stade’s home fixture being played at a neutral venue can only be of benefit to Ulster due to Stade’s inconsistency on the road, and if fly-half Ian Humphreys can weigh in with a performance of the same calibre as last weekend, then I think Ulster have a very good chance of winning this game too.
My prediction: Ulster by 8.
Edinburgh vs Bath
Hurray! A correct prediction and a win for Bath. OK, so the 16-9 final score-line wasn’t the most scintillating result from last weekend, but a win’s a win and this along with a superior points difference lifted Bath off the bottom of Pool 4. Edinburgh replaced them in the basement, but with home advantage this weekend I think Edinburgh will reverse the result in what will probably be another low scoring match. That’s the prompt to cue an out and out try-fest…
My prediction: Edinburgh by 7.
Toulouse vs Cardiff Blues
Last weekend’s 15-9 score line was a good win for the Blues over three times Heineken Cup winners Toulouse, although in comparison with the other try packed games on offer this was more of a damp squib than a spectacle. Again the old chestnut of French teams failing to travel well seemed to ring true last weekend, but with Toulouse only holding on with their fingertips to a one point lead at the top of Pool 5 from both Sale and the Blues, I think they will come out and grab a victory at Stadium Municipal de Toulouse on Saturday to gain a firm grip on top spot.
My prediction: Toulouse by 6.
Sale vs Harlequins
Well what a big disappointment for all Quins’ fans. Sure, Sale played some great rugby last Sunday in the 29-19 victory over Harlequins at The Stoop, but Quins are now out of the competition and have nothing left to play for apart from that all important pride. Danny Care is back for the west London club after he was slapped with a one match ban for a dangerous dump tackle in the Guinness Premiership game at Leeds Carnegie, and his return will add some zip and urgency to the Quins backline. Sale will be gunning for another bonus point win whilst simultaneously praying for a low scoring and try-less affair in France, both of which will help their cause in pushing for top spot in the Pool. The question is, will the Edgeley Park pitch that has been under the microscope in recent weeks allow Sale to play running rugby, or will Sale become bogged down by their own expectations?
My prediction: A closer score line than last week, but Sale to win by 6.
London Irish vs Brive
Brive are the Viadana of Pool 6: out of the competition, superglued to the bottom of the Pool on zero points, and perceived as a team that can be beaten in style to earn the much sought after five points. Last weekend, London Irish demolished a Brive side who showed little invention, despite having beaten Toulouse the previous weekend in the French Top 14 competition. Chris Malone did most of the damage for London Irish, starting ahead of Ryan Lamb at fly-half and bagging 14 points which included a try. Despite Brive’s inability to progress from the pool, Jamie Noon, Steve Thompson and Andy Goode will all travel to Reading which indicates that Brive want to make a match of it. At the impressive Madejski Stadium I can’t see London Irish do anything other than win this game though, and convincingly so.
My prediction: London Irish to win comfortably by 18.
Leinster vs Scarlets
Last but by no means least is Leinster vs Scarlets. The meeting between this pair last Saturday was my favourite game of the weekend by far, especially Leinster’s first half performance which was a master class in attacking, running rugby which resulted in a 32-7 away win for Michael Cheika’s men. The Scarlets emerged as a different team after half time and dominated possession: at one point they had 93% to Leinster’s measly 7%. However I can’t see how the Scarlets will be able to turn their fortunes around in a week to enable them to successfully front up to Leinster at a pulsating RDS, especially as Cheika’s men will have been working hard to eliminate the more negative aspects of their second half performance from last weekend.
My prediction: Leinster by 16.
So what do you think? Am I way off again or am I closer to the mark this time? Please let me know your views!