It’s the second round of the Heineken Cup double headers this weekend, and with some intriguing results in the last round several teams find themselves in need of a win to keep their European dream alive. It’s the time of the competition when coaches will be extolling that old favourite: ‘every game from here is a knockout game for us’.
The action starts on Friday night when Racing Metro travel up to Edinburgh. The Scots have nothing to show for their campaign so far and are playing for little more than pride, which could either mean we see a dispirited display and they get hammered, or they go out with nothing to lose and make a good fist of it. Either way, Racing will probably win fairly comfortably, although Edinburgh will be desperate to register at least a point. Also that night Connacht make the away trip to Biarritz. We should no longer be surprised when they beat the big teams, as they did last week, and Biarritz will have to be wary of a team high in confidence. On a cold, Basque night in front of a partisan crowd, however, I don’t expect Biarritz to slip up again.
On Saturday, Toulouse head to the Liberty Stadium in a game that the Ospreys simply have to win. If they lose, and Leicester beat Treviso, they are out of the competition. With a mounting injury list and low on confidence, I think that may well be the case; Toulouse could register a quite comfortable victory. The trip to Treviso is no longer a guaranteed 4, let alone 5, pointer and after their spirited second half performance last week the Tigers will be wary of an Italian backlash. I think Leicester will still win, but expect it to be very close. Quins will smash Zebre at home, whilst down in Devon Exeter, now with a maiden European win under their belt, will triumph again over the Scarlets who will struggle without the injured Priestland. The two stand-out games of the weekend then come back-to-back as Leinster renew their rivalry with Clermont, followed by Ulster against Northampton. Leinster so nearly snatched a draw in France last week, and despite a new look centre combination managed to shackle all of Clermont’s firepower. That said, the Frenchmen did look very slick with ball in hand and it will be another engaging encounter this weekend. At home, I think Leinster will win, but it will once again be very tight. At fortress Ravenshill, Ulster should have no problems in completing the double over the Saints if they can keep up the intensity they played with last week. Leicester were blown away there last season; the same may well happen to their East Midlands neighbours. Montpellier against Cardiff should go with home advantage, although if the Blues can keep 15 men on the pitch they stand a chance of bagging at least a bonus point.
On Sunday two English teams with vastly differing fortunes are in action, as Sarries take on Munster and Sale travel to the Stade Mayol to face Toulon. Sarries could have beaten Munster last weekend if Farrell had had his kicking boots on, and they should manage to do just that this weekend with home advantage. Down in France, Sale face a Toulon side brimming with confidence playing in front of a partisan crowd – a combination that is unlikely to work in their favour. They will do well to keep it to a respectable scoreline. Finally, Castres continue their pursuit of the knockout stages at home to Glasgow, where they will look to get 5 points to boost their chances of taking a runner-up spot.
Edinburgh v Racing Metro 92: Racing Metro 92 by 6
Biarritz v Connacht Rugby: Biarritz by 10
Ospreys v Toulouse: Toulouse by 5
Benetton Treviso v Leicester Tigers: Leicester Tigers by 3
Harlequins v Zebre: Harlequins by 30
Exeter Chiefs v Scarlets: Exeter Chiefs by 9
Leinster v Clermont Auvergne: Leinster by 6
Ulster v Northampton Saints: Ulster by 10
Montpellier v Cardiff Blues: Montpellier by 7
Castres v Glasgow Warriors: Castres by 10
Saracens v Munster: Saracens by 4
Toulon v Sale Sharks: Toulon by 15
Do you agree?