With the 6 Nations running concurrent to these matches a lot of these picks are a bit of a crap-shoot so take these ‘predictions’ with a big grain of salt. It’s safe to say that if a team has been performing well up until this point then they’re likely to suffer a dip in form as their better players unsurprisingly get selected to represent the national side. Therefore teams like Connacht and Edinburgh will benefit at the expense of teams like Leinster and Glasgow; meaning a game that at first glance might appear to be a runaway mismatch could end up being a lot tighter than expected. Having said that now is the chance for any remaining players keen to make a case for their future selection for their club to put their hands up and make an impression.
Ulster vs Ospreys
There’s been some grumbling amongst the Ulster faithful regarding their lack of representation in the current Irish Squad of late. Personally I tend to agree with them but if I were an Ulsterman I’d see that as a blessing in disguise. With other top teams losing quality players to international duties now is the perfect time for Ulster to add to their impressive tally at the top of the table. With Ospreys depleted (missing players like Biggar, Hibbard, both A. & R. Jones and Tipuric) and Ulster playing at home I’d back the men from the north.
Prediction: Ulster by 17
Cardiff Blues vs Leinster
It’s been a tough few weeks for Leinster, crashing out of the pool stages of the Heineken Cup (partly thanks to longtime rivals Munster), losing Jonny Sexton to Racing Metro and Conway to Munster. Added to that they’re missing the likes of Heaslip, BOD, Kearney and co. this weekend and it might just go Cardiff’s way. The men from Wales aren’t at full strength either though, missing their impressive back line of Halfpenny and Cuthbert, not to mention J Roberts. I think this one will be close perhaps even a draw but I don’t like picking draws so I’ll flip a coin and go for Leinster
Prediction: Leinster by 2
Newport Gwent Dragons vs Benetton Treviso
Under normal circumstances I’d back Treviso to pull off the win here over the Dragons given their current form but with 13 of Italy’s 23 currently in action this weekend hailing from Treviso that gives me pause. The Dragons come into this with their tails up given recent wins in the LV=Cup, but are without Faletau or Coombs, who played well on his debut against Ireland. Nevertheless, I expect them to win comfortably here.
Prediction: Dragons by 15
Llanelli Scarlets vs Connacht
Given Connacht’s recent history against teams from Wales, wining only once in the last 18 attempts, and the Scarlets’ recent form in the LV=Cup, it’d be a brave man to back the men from the West this weekend. Scarlets may be missing the likes of North and Davies, but they were last weekend as well and that didn’t stop them trouncing an admittedly depleted Leicester 40-19.
Prediction: Scarlets by 12
Munster vs Edinburgh
Both times I’ve backed Munster at Musgrave Park they’ve let me down which makes me nervous about calling this game. The only mitigating factor is that it was against Welsh opponents and not Edinburgh who have been playing awfully this season in both the Rabo and the Heineken Cup. Take away Laidlaw, Visser, Scott and Ford and you have to fancy the home side, despite their shortage of of players.
Prediction: Munster by 15
Zebre vs Glasgow Warriors
I’m man enough to admit I was wrong (insane even) to tip Zebre to beat Biarritz in their last Heineken Cup encounter, but the law of averages says that they have to win at some stage (surely!). Zebre will be missing last weekend’s man of the match in Italy’s triumph over the French, Luciano Orquera, along with Venditti and Geldenhuys but Glasgow will suffer more, lacking the skills of Hogg, Maitland, S Lamont, Grant, and Weir to name but a few. Zebre lost narrowly here to Ulster and away to Glasgow in September (both of whom currently sit on the top of the table). They’ll fancy their chances this time round but it’ll be close
Prediction: Zebre by 3
Feel free to tell me how wrong (or right) I am in the comments below.
By John O’Brien (@tiptackler)