Heineken Cup Predictions 2012/13: Round 5

Here we go, 2nd last round of the pool stages, everyone’s got their calculators out and for a lot of the teams it’s still all to play for. There are plenty of sound arguments for slimming this competition down to just 20 teams but you have to admit that having 24 teams, all watching each other’s progress across all the pools, with their fates interconnected makes for a brilliantly interesting rugby tournament.

Heineken Cup

Pool 1
This pool is pretty tightly fought between the top three (sitting on 14:12:11 points respectively). Saracens are in the driving seat right now, but I wouldn’t discount Racing Metro at home, they need the bonus point win this weekend, but for Sarries winning this will surely set them up for the prize of a home Quarter Final. Meanwhile Munster need a bonus point win over Edinburgh now too and given how poorly the Scots have been playing this season, I don’t see the visitors being denied.

Racing Metro 92 vs Saracens: Saracens by 3
Edinburgh vs Munster: Munster by 15

Pool 2
This is another incredibly close pool. When Ospreys faced Leicester earlier this season it was nip and tuck the whole way until the last ten minutes, when Leicester quite clearly just went up a whole other gear to score three tries and power away from the visitors. If you asked me before last weekend I’d have backed the Ospreys on home turf, especially given their surprise defeat of Toulouse. Now after that woeful performance against Zebre in the Pro12 I’m not so sure. I think this is the toughest one to call of the lot. As for the other match, while Treviso aren’t the whipping boys of old, I think Toulouse simply have to much class to lose this one at home and given the head to head they’ll have with Leicester next weekend they won’t slip up here.

Ospreys vs Leicester Tigers: Ospreys by 3
Toulouse vs Benetton Treviso: Toulouse by 15

Pool 3
Top of the pool with 19 points out of a possible 20 and current domestic champions, Harlequins are just a solitary point away from certain qualification to the knockout stages. A strong win here sets them up for a potential home Quarter-final and despite Connacht’s ability to stun teams at the Sportsground, it’s highly unlikely at the Stoop. Speaking of being stunned at the Sportsground, the other match in Pool 3 is Biarritz (Connacht’s H-Cup victims of this season) against still winless Zebre. Zebre have been both downright awful at times and incredibly unlucky in other encounters. Is this going to be their first shock win?

Harlequins vs Connacht: Quins by 17
Zebre vs Biarritz: Zebre by 1 (I must be mad!)

Pool 4
First up in this pool is a repeat of an earlier clash between the current top two teams in the Pro12, where Glasgow have already lost to Ulster at Ravenhill. I expect more of the same here, especially after seeing the team-sheets. In the other fixture, Castres come to Franklin’s Gardens looking to do the double on Northampton this season. Not impossible but a big ask considering their away record in the Heineken Cup.

Ulster vs Glasgow Warriors: Ulster by 18
Northampton Saints vs Castres: Saints by 11

Pool 5
Clermont are the firm favourites to lift the Heineken Cup this year and rightly so. Exeter were unlucky not to snatch a draw with the current champions Leinster earlier this season but their opponents have gone undefeated at home in over 50 games. They might keep it close for the first half but Clermont will absorb any and all pressure and pull away comfortably in the end. For Leinster to have any hopes of making it to the knockout stages this season they need a big win over Scarlets and other matches to go their way. They’ve only got three tries this season, they need to add at least four here.

Leinster vs Llanelli Scarlets: Leinster by 15
Clermont Auvergne vs Exeter Chiefs: Clermont by 34

Pool 6

Toulon are one of only three unbeaten sides in this season’s pool stage and despite their recent shock loss to Racing Metro last weekend are still no. 1 in the Top14. As for Cardiff, a surprising win over Munster in the Pro12 last weekend notwithstanding, I don’t think they can pull off a win here especially with Toulon having something to prove to their home crowd. Sale’s season this year has been truly awful. With the Heineken Cup now totally out of reach they must now fight hard to avoid relegation in the Premiership; a fact reflected in their team selection this weekend against Montpellier. I expect the visitors to win fairly comfortably.

Toulon vs Cardiff Blues: Toulon by 22
Sale Sharks vs Montpellier: Montpellier by 17

How do you think the weekend will unfold? Feel free to share your predictions below.

By John O’Brien

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33 comments on “Heineken Cup Predictions 2012/13: Round 5

  1. I’ve picked Tigers to win at the Ospreys. Admittedly I haven’t seen the Ospreys play much this season, but I’m always loathe to back them in big matches…

    I’ve also gone for Biarritz (obviously), but otherwise agree on your other picks. Your margins are pretty big in some of them though!

    Can’t wait for the weekend.

  2. Also gone Tigers and Biarritz. Think Leicester have actually been playing very well recently.

    Generally gone for similar margins with the exception of Sale, who I think have been playing better than earlier in the season. Can’t see them winning, but think that at home to a French team, it will be much closer.

  3. want saints to lose and munster to beat racing next week then only one out of that pool! ospreys hopefully will win keep leicester points down. castres hopefully beat northampton and ulster beat them next week that will leave the path clear for lienster to qualify to the QF as long as they get 9 points from next 2 matches :)

    If my dreams don’t come true then connacht can thank leinster again because they will want to definitely win the amlin challenge cup as the final is in their back yard!

  4. I’ve gone with metro and ospreys, both very tight. Cant wait for tigers v ospreys going to be some game I’m sure

  5. Yeah, the Leicester-Ospreys or Metro-Sarrires matches could go either way. I flipped between one team or the other many times before settling on who’d I thought would win. Ultimately the injury blow to Metro’s scrum-half and the fact that Sarries have been homeless all season anyway made me side with them. I think the prize of a home quarter is too good to pass up.

    As for the other match, well I’d never discount Leicester, but I think Osprey’s terrible performance against Zebre is indicitave of them being totally focused on the game against the Tigers this weekend and them just assuming that they only needed to show up against the Italians. Add the home advantage and the scare from Zebre and then you’d prob favour the Welshmen.

    The Zebre-Biarritz game is very optimistic but when you consider Biarritz’s win-loss-win-loss record stretching back 10 games in this comp, French teams underperforming on the road and Zebre’s near misses there’s a chance albeit slim. There’s bound to be an upset this weekend. I just asked myself what matters more to Biarritz right now, The Heineken Cup or the Top14. If I’m wrong I can shrug my shoulders but if right then I look like a genius! ;-)

    Regarding the scores, week in week out *if* I called the winner correctly, I invariably find myself either spot on or close enough to the margins with 15-20 mins to go, then the heads drop on the losing team and they concede 5-10 more points taking me out of the margin, so I’m doing a wee experiment this weekend and adding 5-7 points on games I don’t expect to be close. We’ll see how that goes!

  6. Taking a look at the Heineken Cup tables now after 4 rounds (yes, we are 2/3 of the way through) – in ALL 6 pools the bottom position is being taken up by a Pro 12 team (1. Edinburgh. 2. Treviso. 3. Zebre. 4. Glasgow. 5. Scarlets. 6. Cardiff Blues).
    The 2nd from bottom position is being taken up by Pro 12 teams in half of the pools (1. Munster. 2. Ospreys. 3. Connaght)

    As things stand at the moment only 1 of the 11 Pro 12 teams (Ulster) in the Heineken Cup would make it to the Quarter Finals (& 3 from the 7 French teams & 4 from the 6 English teams).

    Last year there was much concern about the English failure to do better in the Heineken Cup – does the Pro 12 have the same level of concern this year – the % success rate this year, so far, is shocking.

    What has changed? Is this the natural ebb and flow or do the results indicate deeper issues? Is this a statistical anomaly? Will the last 2 rounds significantly change things?

    • Sorry – small correction – 4 from the 7 French teams & 3 from the 6 English teams would currently qualify

        • So no concern amongst the Pro 12 that 9 of their 11 representatives are in the bottom half of their tables? Really?

          • Concern? Disappointment that we have done poorly. Wales domestic problems are well known. For the Blues I know full well why we are where we are and believe the club are doing the right things to move us forward – backing the welsh youth, looking at some signings etc. I don’t think that a snapshot in time would make me panic and say its all terminally broken. I’m not Richard Whiney Cockerill.

    • Well, part of that is the fact that the PRO12 has a little bit too much representation, which leads to weaker sides in the HC.

      • Oh yeah, forgot about that, too many non English and French sides in a European cup. Good point. Need more English and French sides to give it that cross continental flavour.

        Seriously though, this really is an asinine argument about pro 12 representation. The HC predates the Celtic league. If the Eng/Fre fans decide that the way to fix their problems is to have less Irish (for example) teams in the HC then what they do not realise is that the Irish solution is to simply withdraw from the pro 12 as it is the HC that is most important. Ire/Sco/Wal/Ita do not have the populations to support more clubs and hence their own leagues so they have all gone in together. To then penalise them for this decision by saying “well, each league should be top X only” is both ignorant and frankly a little disgusting. It’s not for other countries to tell us how to run our domestic club game but this is what they are doing by telling us that because we have grouped together, because we cannot afford to do anything else, we should have less places per country.

        • but why is it that, for instance, Italy is guaranteed two places but no Georgian teams are guaranteed spots? We can’t talk about this being a European competition when, in reality, it is a 6N competition. Neither the ideals of pan European competition nor meritocracy are being satisfied here.
          It is a case of ring fencing and protecting the 6N teams – effectively it is a cartel

          • Do Georgia have a pro league? Where do you stop – Romania? Spain? Malta? I don’t see inviting them to the top comp in the plans?

            Meritocracy is well served by the best teams winning the cup. The sticking point seems to be that the English league think that a) their league is better than the pro so it’s “not fair” the pro has so many more teams b) the middle table teams deserve HC rugby more than the Scot/Welsh teams who have never win the HC. Hubris, the same sort of hubris that has seen countless English sides fall to Celtic sides over the last few years.

            To count the pro the same as the fre/eng leagues is a mistake as I explained in my first response – the pro exists because we do not have the populations to support the league size that the French and English have. To penalise us for that would be where unfair would start – its the same as the old plan of demanding the final six nations match be made an annual Anglo welsh affair because they were the dominant sides. As you suggested above I believe it is ebb and flow. Rise and fall. The current comp accommodates that well – blues in the semis a few years ago, Edin there last year, etc.

        • Notice how I only said “part” of it and “a little” too much representation. I did not say that the PRO12 has way too much representation, only a little. Surely you cannot say that Zebre, Connacht, and Edinburgh are putting up less of a fight than. say, Gloucester, would?

          You’re just assuming my view. I agree that the PRO12 should have more representation than the Prem and Top14. I also think that the country allocation rather than league allocation is a good idea. I’m not sure whether changing the allocations allowed to each country is a good idea. After all, I don’t think that reducing the continental-ness of the competition in favour of a slight increase in quality is worthwhile.

          All I did was point out that the reason why the PRO12′s results may appear “shocking” is the way in which it does have too much allocation in proportion to its relative quality (not too much allocation; just too much if allocation is given out solely on the basis of quality).

          • Ok Mike, apologies. I misread what you are saying. I’m over sensitive about this subject as enough people have gone over it in the past with more simple arguments than yours i.e. Rabo should not have any more teams than Eng Prem, should have exact same qualification requirements, etc. As I hopefully explained above, the Rabo cannot be treated the same as the Eng and Fre leagues but I realise now that wasn’t the point you were making anyway.

          • connacht only their as Leinster won the comp last year ! so really only zebra is a bit of a joke team as they were brand new this year and only get one team! not sure what the solution is but the argument that Leinster get to rest their players more than French teams is a joke did u see the team put ut by Clermont before our pool matches completely different than the team that played us!

  7. QF places my predictions
    1st Quins 28 8th Munster 19
    2nd Clermont 28 7th Leinster 20
    3rd toulon 27 6th Toulouse 22
    4th ulster 23 5th Sarries 23

  8. Well i would agree in general with Brighty in this debate on h c places, We might squabble on wales ireland matters lol but he is spot on here. The h c needs above all else to be pan-european with the aim of really developing a wide pro-rugby base around europe especially outside the non traditonal countries. How about this, 7 groups of 4 teams , group winner and one runner -up go in to q final. The extra teams would be made up of 1 each from fra/ eng . and then a radical propasal, how bout bringing the likes of the Georgian and Romanian national sides in to the compt as this would be an ideal level for these nations to really develop their pro game and generate more interest there. The second tier nations could even have their own qualification process each season. Love to get feed back on this , good or bad.

    • Am in two minds over this. We have a two tier competition and I am all for a pan european competition which helps develop rugby in all countries.

      However would it not be better for say Zebre (to pick the obvious team from this year) to be playing competitive rugby in the Amlin cup rather than being hammered (mainly) in the HC. Other European countries can then have representation in this second tier competition. However is it beneficial for them to be hammered by the likes of Gloucester, Wasps, Stade Francais, etc.

      However I don’t want the HC to be Eng, French and Irish dominated (based on this years results only!). Therefore in two minds. Glad it’s not my decision to make.

      Maybe a three tier competition is needed!

      Also maybe a blog specifically on this matter is required!

      • Zebre are a regional team created specifically to play as professionals in the HC and Pro 12. If they did not get into the HC they would likely be disbanded.

        This is the problem with the Eng/Fre trying to direct how the Pro 12 teams get represented in the HC – they do not understand why the teams in the Pro 12 exist and why they take part in the Pro 12. I’m not having a go at you Staggy, I’m having a go at the Eng/Fre powers.

        The Eng/Fre leagues are made up of clubs. Take away the HC and the clubs and leagues would still exist. For the Wal/Ire/Ita/Sco teams (probably a little less for the Irish though) they are entities created for financial reasons, to enable a pro playing base in those much smaller countries. They are funded by their Unions and by money from the competitions. So for example to remove HC rugby from one or more of them would lead to a collapse of that system rather than the desired outcome of 2nd/3rd tier involvement.

        The now annual participation in the Amlin of the Dragons in Wales is part of why they are now continually threatened with closure.

        • Brighty. Very good point well made. I was looking at it from the playing point of view rather than the financial one. And of course they are two sides of the same coin. Once again we go round in circles with no answer as to how to structure it any better.

          It might come down to some increased participation by English and French clubs without the decrease in other countries participation. Just a thought!

          Bucharesti have certainly surprised me this year in AC. They’ve upset my predictions on several occasions, which is fantastic for the game!

          Am I imagining things or was there an occasion when some of the national sides like Spain played in a european club competition?

          • Staggy, that still happens. Gernika RT are a Spanish side – and they’ve won two games in this year’s Amlin as well!

    • I think Georgia/Romania is a great idea but they would need to create a professional team first, it couldn’t be part timers. So they’d need a Zebre type entity but then they’d likely get hammered a lot as, much like Italian teams, most of their best players would be in France already?

      • Agreed ok but how about letting the national teams of these second tier nations compete in the h c rather than trying to put a competitive club side together as this could take a long time to bed-in. It would also be an ideal standard to play at for these countries and would really generate interest in the game especially in Georgia and Romania. Their national team players are already professional . How about Munster needing a result in georgia in the final game or Saracens having to win in Romania , . This would really be a huge boost for th h c .

        • I think if that happened you would suddenly see a load of Romanians and Georgians declare themselves unavailable for their teams in order to preserve their jobs in France. If they suddenly became unavailable on HC matches their values would plummet as many teams would no longer sign them.

          It’s a messy problem to fix.

          A few Arg players are already seeing their contracts not being picked up due to their commitments in the Rugby Champ now clashing with a big chunk of the northern domestic leagues.

          • Yeah, with Argentina in the Rugby Championship now, maybe we’ll see an exodus of Argentine players to the teams in the Southern Hemisphere in the future?