The first two rounds of the Heineken Cup have come and gone, and now Round Six of the RaboDirect Pro12 looms on the horizon. An intriguing list of fixtures await, particularly with the Autumn Internationals in the back of everyone’s minds, and Messrs Gatland, Johnson, Schmidt and Brunel will all be looking on with considerable interest.
Zebre vs Scarlets
If you had offered the Scarlets six points from their opening two Heineken Cup games two weeks ago, and a place at the top of Pool 4, they would have bitten your hand off. That being said, there will likely be a lot of frustration surrounding the fact they could not finish off Racing Metro after a very encouraging start last week, and I expect them to take that frustration out on Zebre. With the combination of Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies playing as well as any centre pairing in the Northern Hemisphere, and an underrated back row of Aaron Shingler, John Barclay and Josh Turnbull, they should put a struggling Zebre side to the sword.
Prediction: Scarlets by 17
Ospreys vs Newport Gwent Dragons
Both the Ospreys and Dragons come into this game on the back of differing European fortunes, albeit with the latter playing in the Amlin Challenge Cup, but home advantage should be enough to secure a win for the Ospreys, and put their European pain to bed, at least for the meantime. With an Ospreys team eager to impress Warren Gatland, a losing bonus point for the Dragons is as much as I can see them coming away from the Liberty Stadium with.
Prediction: Ospreys by 7
Ulster vs Cardiff Blues
The Blues come off a fantastic win against Toulon last weekend, but they now face a challenge almost as daunting, taking on an in-form Ulster side at Ravenhill. If the Blues are to come back from Belfast with a win, the likes of Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, and Gethin Jenekins will need to be at their absolute best, and repeat performances from Robin Copeland and Cory Allen, both of whom were key in their victory against Toulon, are a must. Outside of the Toulon win, Cardiff’s form has been poor however, and although the win will have buoyed the team considerably, I still can’t see them overcoming a strong Ulster side, who are currently on a five-match winning streak.
Prediction: Ulster by 10
Glasgow vs Munster
The undoubted tie of the round sees Glasgow host Munster, in a winner-takes-all clash at the top of the table. Both sides had their moments in the opening Heineken Cup rounds, but Munster’s loss away to Edinburgh will have been disheartening, especially given the Scottish side’s form in the Pro12 thus far. The return of Sean Lamont from injury is a big boost for Glasgow, whilst Munster have named a relatively inexperienced XV for the game, and on paper the Glasgow XV looks the stronger. However, Munster have named a strong bench, one which could certainly turn the tide of the match in the last 20, and for me, it is just a question of whether or not Glasgow will be able to seal the victory before Munster’s replacements enter the fray.
Prediction: Glasgow by 5
Edinburgh vs Treviso
If Edinburgh play the way they did against Munster in the Heineken Cup, they should see off the challenge of Treviso without too much trouble, and move themselves from the foot of the Pro12 table. Unfortunately Edinburgh’s form in the Pro12 has, on the whole, not even come close to resembling their performance in that game, and Treviso could be another stumbling block. With alarm bells already ringing for Edinburgh, this game is a must win (apologies for the cliché) for the Scottish side. The presence of Tim Visser, Matt Scott, and Greig Tonks in the back line does however offer significant attacking threat, and could be enough to swing this game in their favour.
Prediction: Edinburgh by 7
Leinster vs Connacht
Leinster made an excellent start to their Heineken Cup campaign picking up wins in both of their games, whilst Connacht will be happy with their return of a solitary win, although ironically, they arguably performed better in their loss to Saracens, than they did in their win over Zebre. Connacht are certainly a team that can upset the odds, but Leinster are unbeaten at the RDS since Ulster beat them in March, and I cannot see Connacht ending this run.
Prediction: Leinster by 15
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)