The Heineken Cup reaches the climax of the pool stage this weekend, and making predictions is by no means easy, but I’ve picked out a few key matches and published my full list of picks at the bottom.
Munster v Northampton
The weekend should begin in tremendous fashion when Munster host Northampton at Thomond Park. Both sides need to win the game to top the pool and guarantee safe passage to the quarter-finals – although defeat for either side should still see them through, the loser will be left nervously watching the other results.
Northampton are in a slightly more precarious position, with 18 points to Munster’s 20, and so they’ll be going all out for a win. However, the Thomond Park factor, and the fact that knockout rugby is Munster’s speciality, means that I’m predicting a home victory.
Ospreys v Leicester
It’s a similar position for these two teams, where a bonus-point victory for either side will guarantee qualification, and defeat will leave them hoping that other results go their way.
The stakes are high, and my prediction is based on my understanding of the character of each team. The Ospreys on their day can be a phenomenal side, but too often have disappointed in important matches. They appear to be a collection of talented individuals, rather than a close-knit unit that would go the proverbial extra mile for one another.
The Tigers, on the other hand, have that fierce resolve in abundance. Plenty of talent of course, but the sort of pride and determination that can result in a team greater than the sum of its parts – take the first round draw against the Ospreys when they had such a depleted team as an example.
It’s this belligerent refusal to lose that means I’m backing them for a win and to top their Pool.
London Irish v Leinster
Irish will have been kicking themselves all week following their second-half capitulation against the Scarlets which has left them in a precarious position. Both sides will be targeting a bonus-point victory, which could make for a classic match, and Irish must win this game to survive.
With so much at stake, form is not necessarily the greatest guide, which is why I’m considering each team’s mindset. Defending champions Leinster are at the top of the pile, and a bonus-point win will guarantee a home quarter-final. They have their sights set high, and this game is one important step in their journey.
The Exiles may be slightly dejected. They squandered so many opportunities last week, and facing the defending champions this week, they might just wilt under the pressure. There’s a chance that they’ll avenge last week’s defeat and come out fighting, but I think their heads might be down and Leinster will be in an unforgiving mood.
Here are my SportGuru picks for every match in the round.
Munster v Northampton Saints: Munster by 13
Perpignan v Benetton Treviso: Perpignan by 28
Ospreys v Leicester Tigers: Leicester Tigers by 13
Viadana v ASM Clermont Auvergne: ASM Clermont Auvergne by 47
Bath v Ulster: Bath by 6
Edinburgh v Stade Francais Paris: Stade Francais Paris by 13
London Irish v Leinster: Leinster by 9
Brive v Scarlets: Scarlets by 13
Gwent Dragons v Gloucester Rugby: Gloucester Rugby by 5
Biarritz v Glasgow Warriors: Biarritz by 13
Harlequins v Cardiff Blues: Cardiff Blues by 8
Sale Sharks v Toulouse: Toulouse by 9