Here is part two of my Heineken Cup previews and predictions for this weekend’s quarter-finals.
Munster v Northampton Saints
These two teams will be pretty familiar with each other now having met twice already this season, and that familiarity could be the key for Northampton’s chances of proceeding to the semis.
The Saints slipped to a narrow defeat at Thomond Park in a tense, gripping match where neither side quite performed to its potential. That experience should stand the only English quarter-finalists in good stead as they’ll know what to expect when they arrive in Limerick, and at least some of the fear factor that makes Thomond such a difficult place to win might have dissipated.
There is no doubt that they’ve been the form side in the Guinness Premiership, and will select some of the best players in English rugby at the moment, and if they can control the game, maintain possession and play their own style of rugby rather than getting sucked into how Munster want them to play, they have a chance.
That said, I can’t see Munster being beaten this weekend. Even without Paul O’Connell, the home side should still have the edge in the pack, and their notorious ability to kill a game means that I’m leaning towards Munster in my prediction.
My SportGuru prediction is Munster by 9
Toulouse v Stade Francais
Finally, in another prediction influenced by home advantage, I’m backing Toulouse to win this all-French affair. That and the fact that in their most recent meeting, Toulouse beat Stade 29-0 in Paris, and will certainly carry the greater confidence into this clash.
Moreover, Toulouse have just qualified for the Top 14 playoffs wheras Stade are out of contention, and so on the face of it, complacency might be the biggest concern for Guy Noves’ team.
But it’s the French, so anything could happen. I don’t think the game will be a walkover, since all matches at this stage of the Heineken Cup are always fiercely contested, and the fact that Stade have no other silverware to contend for might just spur them on 0 – but I don’t think it will be enough to cause an upset.
My SportGuru prediction is Toulouse by 8