Well it is back to Europe again this weekend, and after a bit of a stutter from the home nations last weekend, we'll be hoping for strong performances all round!
You would have quite happily back Exeter and Wasps to do the business last weekend, but only one of those managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat, and it is always quite satisfying for me when your old team are still performing hugely well in Europe. Being the battle of first plays second in Pool 2 it was obvious that Connacht were not going to lie down without a fight and this was probably one of the more exciting games from the weekend. You wouldn’t be at all surprised by the list of try scorers and it has got to be said that Hughes and Launchbury are doing monumental work for Wasps at the moment and it is only right and proper that they get plaudits for their efforts. Special mention has to be made to Kurtley Beale who stunned the opposition by scoring with pretty much his first touch of the ball for Wasps and then promptly getting sent off. A pantomime performance if there ever was one.
Exeter are having a mare of a European campaign at the moment, and although they are not sat in the easiest of pool groups, you'd expect a side that have been probing the upper echelons of the premiership for the last few seasons to be running their European counterparts to within an inch of their lives. That being said, they have got it all to do in the prem this season, as it is not the case that the Chiefs have particularly lost any of their 'mojo' but those around them have just gone next level. I shouldn’t think there are crisis talks going on down at Sandy Park, but there will be questions raised around intensity and performance. As we can see from the transformation in the current England squad, it is all about intensity and being able to play rugby for 80 minutes, not 78 not 79 but 80 minutes and it is these 1% changes that make winning teams. In the end though it was discipline that let them down, as you have score line separated by two penalties, of which Bordeaux made good on and gladly took the win.
Looking forward to this weekend you’d be expecting Glasgow to make a good fist of their game against Racing 92 who suffered in the home leg, so youd've thought that with the home advantage will allow Glasgow that little extra wind in their sails come kick-off. You'd never right off Racing as the margin wasn't huge at the last game but my gut tells me that Glasgow are favourites here.
The interesting games are going to be those return legs for the Wasps and Exeter where obviously, the Chiefs are in a must win situation that will hopefully give them the impetus required to find top gear and make a pretty decent affair of their trip to Bordeaux-Begles. If they keep the discipline and play out the full 80 with the drive we know they have, then there is no reason why they cannot turn the tables on last weekend’s result and sneak a win by a few points.
Wasps will have to bear the brunt of the Irish supporters on Saturday but I don’t think this will cause too much problem for the boys and I expect much of the same intensity and precision to produce the winning result again with all things except the crowd being equal.
Northampton have got it ALL to do against Leinster this weekend, top plays bottom in Pool 4 and I expect that unfortunately for Northampton it is going to be much of the same for them this weekend. Everything is stacked against them, abysmal premiership performance, abysmal European performance and an away crowd. Where has it all gone wrong? Table toppers two years ago and now mixing it with the bottom third of the league. Jim Mallinder cannot be a happy man at the moment, and although nothing is one or lost by Christmas, there has got to be a significant change in this team come 2017. (I’ve digressed a bit there)
The last game to look at is Leicester Vs Munster and I’d be backing the Irish in this one. Not particularly because of the absolute and unashamed drubbing that they handed down to Leicester last weekend. To beat a team 38-0 at this level is usually a freak of nature, but because Leicester are performing ever so adequately at the moment. Nothing spectacular is or has been happening at the tigers for a while and although they are consistently performing well, the problem is more to do with the fact that they are just performing well consistently! You often expect greatness from a team carrying the names that they carry, but somehow the pieces of the puzzle for whatever reason, just aren’t clicking into place at present.
Anyway, that is about it from me this week, and possibly until after Christmas, there is a heck of a lot to do between now and then and with the staff Christmas party looming on the horizon this evening, the only thing I may be fit for tomorrow is watching the rugby on TV…quietly.