The final round of pool games can sometimes be a boring affair, with dead rubbers strewn across the fixture list and teams putting out second teams to conserve fitness for the bigger tests ahead. However, with questions aplenty still to be answered in most pools, you sense that will not be the case this weekend. Here are my Superbru predictions.
Friday night begins, unfortunately, with perhaps the least interesting of pools. Harlequins have all but wrapped up a home quarter final, but will still be keen to put in a professional performance against Biarritz. They will also fancy the no.1 seeding, but with the draw that they have had that really isn’t surprising. The other game is one of those played ‘for pride’, and is entirely irrelevant in the grander scheme of things – nonetheless I think Connacht will record an easy win.
Saturday brings intrigue. Ulster head to France in search of their first win there, as well as a home quarter final spot. This could be vital, as in their current form not even the French heavyweights would fancy a trip to Ravenhill in the last 16. I think they will win, but it could be close against a Castres side that have been anything but pushovers this year. Northampton travel north of the border knowing anything other than a bonus point win will see their European dreams extinguished, and even then they need other results to go their way. Glasgow have nothing to play for, so I expect the Saints to record the big win they need, then face a nervous wait to discover their fate.
One of the most interesting fixtures of the weekend comes in the shape of the all French affair in pool 6. Montpellier host Toulon, who are chasing an unbeaten record and a home draw in the next round. Montpellier could derail that and confirm their own qualification with a win, but they will have to be at their very best. As it is I think it will be a tight affair, but with the legions of talent on the Toulon roster they really should win. Again, the imposing Stade Mayol is not somewhere teams will want to have to travel to. The other game in the pool means little, and I expect a young Sale side to fall at the hands of a more experienced Blues outfit.
Pool 5 is another fascinating one. Leinster went gung-ho last week to bag a fourth try, which could end up being vital. If they manage the same this weekend against Exeter they will surely have enough to go through as a best runner-up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chiefs managed to thwart their attacking game. I expect Leinster to win, but not get the 4 tries, leaving them on 19 points and making things all rather mathematical again. In the other game Clermont will want to end the pool stages on a high and guarantee themselves a favourable quarter final tie. They should win comfortably against the Scarlets.
Pools 1 and 2 will be resolved on Sunday. With no-one from either pool guaranteed progression yet, it looks set to be quite a day. First up Munster, like Leinster, will be chasing 4 tries against a Racing Metro side that saw their ambitions doused last weekend by Owen Farrell. If they get them, they stand a strong chance of progressing. I have a nagging feeling they might do just that, and consign old rivals and holders Leinster to the Amlin in the process. Saracens should have no trouble in picking up a win at home to Edinburgh, but it will be interesting to see if they can throw off the hitherto tightly-clad shackles and chase an all-important bonus point that could secure them a home quarter final.
The weekend culminates in undoubtedly the game of the round. Last weekend’s draw at the Liberty Stadium, whilst not ideal, gave the Tigers a real chance of progression. Had they clung on for a win, a home quarter final may have been within their grasp. As it is, they will settle for just progression. They have been playing fantastic rugby in fits and spurts recently; if they can put together 80 minutes of it they could blow away a Toulouse side that has been disappointingly underwhelming so far. Still, they are former back-to-back champions, and will fight to the last whistle. It really could go either way, but for prediction’s sake I have gone for the Tigers to sneak through at home. In the other game I think Treviso will get a well-deserved first win this season, at home to the Ospreys who they have already beaten in Italy this year.
CONNACHT RUGBY to beat Zebre by 15
HARLEQUINS to beat Biarritz by 4
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS to beat Glasgow Warriors by 9
ULSTER to beat Castres by 5
CARDIFF BLUES to beat Sale Sharks by 9
TOULON to beat Montpellier by 5
LEINSTER to beat Exeter Chiefs by 9
CLERMONT AUVERGNE to beat Scarlets by 15
MUNSTER to beat Racing Metro 92 by 4
SARACENS to beat Edinburgh by 15
LEICESTER TIGERS to beat Toulouse by 2
BENETTON TREVISO to beat Ospreys by 3
How do you see the weekend going?