Round 5 of the Heineken Cup means a feast of Rugby on Sky, and as each pool reaches its climax, now seems as good a time as any to look at the odds available in the outright market.
Toulouse are, unsurprisingly, favourites to defend their crown and they fully justify their position at the head of the market. They are yet to taste defeat in this year’s competition and have a squad of players to rival that of any team in the world. That said, 3/1 is plenty skinny enough for any team at this stage of proceedings and better value can be found elsewhere.
Northampton and Leinster have given themselves every chance of a home tie in the quarter finals and are understandably prominent in the market as a result, currently 11/2 and 7/1 chances respectively. The Saints’ prospects won’t have been done any favours by the injuries picked up by England duo Chris Ashton and Courtney Lawes and it’s possible there has been a bit of an overreaction on the bookies part after their win away at Cardiff.
On the flip side, Leinster have already had several key injuries to contend with, yet have still managed to top their group after 4 games, with the bonus point away in Clermont key to their chances of progressing. The emergence of youngsters Sean O’Brien, Fergus McFadden and Eoin O’Malley has been a real feature of Leinster’s bid to regain a trophy they won in 2009. Sarries at home and Racing Metro away are next in line, and a weakened Metro line-up for their final game seems likely given the Parisian side could be dead and buried in this competition by then.
Pool 5 still looks very open. The Scarlets play host to Leicester this Saturday and the outcome will have a big impact on the shape of the outright markets. Leicester will be confident of victory in the Parc y Scarlets after a comprehensive win over the Welsh side earlier in the term and I expect them to be topping the group on Saturday evening. The total points market is one I’m interested in for this game, with both sides particularly free-scoring this season, and I’d be happy to back over 50 pts if the game is played in good conditions. Leicester will undoubtedly be a force in Europe in the coming weeks, but their failure to see off Perpignan at home could be costly, and a best price of 10/1 just about sums up their chance as it stands.
No one needs telling of Munster’s pedigree in this competition, but the men from Limerick haven’t quite looked the force of old on their favourite stage this season, and it looks like they will have to do things the hard way should they qualify from pool 3. Munster finally came up against a referee that recognised the Ospreys’ dominance in the front-row in the last round and duly came unstuck. With that in mind, Tony Buckley and co. won’t be looking forward to the prospect of going up against a pretty formidable-looking Toulon pack.
A shock defeat to Treviso still hasn’t stopped Biarritz topping their pool after four matches: three try bonus points putting them clear of Ulster. The Frenchmen are scoring tries for fun at present and they go into this week’s crucial tie at Ravenhill on the back of a 65-22 thumping of Agen, whilst Ulster themselves ran in four tries against the aforementioned Treviso last weekend. I can’t see there being a great deal between the sides and would be surprised if Ulster were in receipt of any more than a point on the bookies’ handicap line. Ulster aren’t without a chance in qualifying from the pool and I wouldn’t put anyone off having a nibble at the 40/1 currently available. However, it’s Biarritz that makes the most appeal given that a win here would almost certainly guarantee them a home quarter final. Their current price of 12/1 still seems an overreaction to that Treviso defeat and last year’s runner-up look a solid each-way bet.
In summary, Leinster and Biarritz are the two I think represent the best value at this stage of the competition. The former have acquitted themselves very well even with an injury hit side and should only get better as the likes of Brian O’Driscoll return. I’m happy to put Biarritz’s defeat in Italy down to complacency and they have limited the damage of that loss by picking up the try bonus points along the way – 12/1 underestimates their chance in the competition in my view.
Biarritz: 12/1 e/w
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By Stuart Jones