Ospreys vs Zebre
Zebre are still chasing their first ever win in this competition and given Ospreys’ recent home form against their Welsh rivals, scoring over 30 points against both The Blues and The Scarlets you’d have to assume that only the most optimistic of Italian supporters would fancy Zebre’s chances this weekend. Despite being less rested than their Italian visitors I expect the home side to take this rather comfortably.
Prediction: Ospreys by 34
Ulster vs Llanelli Scarlets
Both these teams are coming into this weekend off recent away losses. Scarlets were pretty much humiliated by Ospreys on Boxing Day and Ulster’s unbeaten run this season came to a halt last weekend against Munster. Admittedly Ulster were minus many of their star players due to injury or training for the national side, nonetheless, a half strength Ulster side didn’t make things too easy for the men from Thomond. You’d imagine a full strength side playing at home will be a very daunting prospect for any team even considering Scarlets impressive away record this season (only 2 losses in 6 away games), especially when you factor in the rafts of changes Scarlets have had to make in the lead up to this match.
Prediction: Ulster by 17
Glasgow Warriors vs Benetton Treviso
The Warriors will be buoyed by their retention of the 1872 Cup in the recent back to back matches with Edinburgh. Nevertheless, a late Edinburgh fight-back and their somewhat precarious current position in the top 4* should keep this team sharply focused this weekend. Treviso have had three wins on the trot (their best so far this year) and will be looking to extend that run. Also, they know what it takes to come over and win in Scotland this season, albeit over Edinburgh, not The Warriorts. Having already beaten Treviso on the road, you’d expect Glasgow to come through this encounter unbeaten as well, but Treviso won’t make it too easy.
Prediction: Glasgow by 9
*Both Ospreys and Leinster (5th and 6th respectively) are only a single point behind Glasgow in the table.
Edinburgh vs Leinster
Edinburgh must be delighted to have 2012 over and done with, they’ve had a tough few months both in the Pro12 and the Heineken Cup and they’ll be looking for a new beginning in 2013. Leinster’s season has been a fair bit better but they too will no doubt feel that there’s room for improvement and will be looking to start afresh as well. Unfortunately for Edinburgh, Leinster are welcoming back several key players not least being Kearney, Fitzgearld and O’Driscoll. With an eye on staking a claim on a playoff spot, I expect Leinster to dispatch Edinburgh handily.
Prediction: Leinster by 15
Connacht vs Newport Gwent Dragons
Both of these teams are slugging it out with only two points between them near the bottom of the table. Only Zebre have played worse. The Dragons won earlier this year against Connacht but the Sportsground can be a tricky venue to visit, and given the Dragons’ record there (only winning once in nine previous occasions, way back in ’04) I’m betting that the home side will take this one
Prediction: Connacht by 8
Munster vs Cardiff Blues
Their win over Zebre aside, the Blues’ recent season hasn’t been stellar. Despite playing well against the Scarlets, only losing by 3 points, they made hard work out of their win away to the Dragons a few days later. Those short Christmas turnarounds do take their toll no doubt. The good news for them is that they have Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny back in the fold now. On the other side, despite Munster putting a stop to Ulster’s perfect season, many people have called their win ‘unconvincing’. They failed to get a valuable 4-try bonus point despite playing at home to a weakened Ulster side. Head to head Munster have already beaten Cardiff this season in Wales, although their only home defeat this term was at this same venue (Musgrave Park, Cork) and also to a Welsh side (Scarlets), but somehow I doubt they’ll let that happen again this time.
Prediction: Munster by 10
By John O’Brien