Back to Europe this weekend as we get down to the business end of proceedings in the pool stages of the Champions Cup competition.
If we cast our minds back (way back) to the last round, it was a mixed bag for the UK teams on their last outings with Northampton taking an absolute mauling at the hands of Leinster with not a single point seen in the second half from the Saints. You’ve got to hand it to Leinster to be 13-5 down after 20 minutes, to suddenly get that read on the game, find the pressure point in the Northampton armour and hammer on it for the next 60 minutes unanswered is pretty impressive play from the Irish outfit. You couldn’t really pick a star man for Leinster from that game as the unit on the whole was just about perfect. You might put a nod towards Isa Nacewa for a pretty much perfect day, but I don’t think you’d want to take anything away from the team. Great showing.
Exeter took the win they deserved at Bordeaux Begles and more importantly the win they very desperately needed to keep things alive. The Chiefs are playing some pretty reliable rugby in the premiership at the moment, but they have just not got out of the starting gate in Europe; sure they have a pretty tough pool group but I don’t think for a second that the standings are representative of where they should be. You’re always coming in for a tough 80 minutes against Clermont, but with the tight margins that they lost to both Bordeaux and and Ulster, you could be forgiven for thinking that Exeter could be propping up second place at the moment. I expect to see a very fired up South West contingent this weekend at Sandy Park and let’s hope that home advantage sees them start to climb back up the pool.
Leicester had a pretty good day in the office and we’re casting our mind back now to when Cockerill was still at the helm, The only disappointment here was probably the better rugby still came from Munster but thanks to their own inability to help the ref keep his whistle in check, they threw away the game to indiscipline. Unlike the Leinster game, it is fairly easy to pick a star man out of this game thanks to the metronomic boot of Owen Williams who put every point on the board for Leicester.
The major reporting from the last round of course was the Irish riding in to ruin the day for Wasps as Connacht took a slim win at home with last kick of the game from Jack Carty. A well-deserved win for Connacht lads who unlike Exeter in the Aviva premiership, have not exactly been shining bright in the Pro 12 either, so it seems like congratulations for a hard-fought victory on this occasion! Wasps will be looking to swiftly bury that memory at home to Toulouse this weekend, and I’ve no doubt in my mind that it will be a firecracker of a game with 1st playing 2nd in the pool. One to watch for sure.
There weren’t many surprises from the other two games of the last round with Sale putting up a worthy fight against Sarries but ultimately not being able to capitalise on some good early work and leaving the middle third of the game to be undone by the boot of Owen Farrell and a “cherry on top” try from Nathan Earle putting the game out of reach from a late Sale revival.
Racing 92 have had a pretty dismal showing so far and things didn’t get any better for them as Glasgow pulled them apart with relative ease over the entire game, only shipping points in the last two minutes of the game. I’m happy for Racing that they get on the board as it is bitter pill to swallow giving everything you’ve got for the square route of nothing after 80 minutes.
Looking forward to this weekend’s fixtures, it is a brave man who hangs his hat on any results coming in as expected.
We’ve seen a couple of upsets already and I expect to see a couple more. For what it’s worth though, let’s have a stab at it and see what happens!
Leinster to beat Montpellier
Connacht to beat Zebre
Northampton to beat Castres Olympique
Wasps to beat Toulouse
Munster to beat Glasgow
Leicester to beat Racing 92
Saracens to beat Scarlets
Clermont to beat Bordeaux
Sale to beat Toulon
Exeter to beat Ulster
Just don’t take those predictions to the bookies!
Have a great weekend, enjoy the rugby!