Pitchside with Ferris: Ulster, Connacht and Leinster Champions Cup
Ulster v Clermont, Friday, 19:45
This is going to be a tough game for both sides in a wet and cold Belfast. In the Bath v Ulster game last weekend, it was tight.
Ulster had 3 points with the handicap and when it came down to it, they got a 1-point win. I can see this game having a similar result with Ulster getting 2 points on the handicap this evening.
Ulster have a lot of key players out injured like Sam Carter who dislocated his shoulder, Jack McGrath an Irish International and Rob Lyttle.
Billy Burns came off in the Bath game a little early last weekend and there is talk he may not be 100% fit for this game. We shall see at 7.45pm…
Clermont on the other hand seem to have a full squad to pick from. Leaving the likes of Parra and Lopez on the bench, shows the depth they have in their squad.
Those two were instrumental in their big victory against Harlequins last weekend but now having Greg Laidlaw at 9 who is more of a pragmatic player, maybe suggests they are looking for more control due to the weather conditions.
Ulster have certainly got their work cut, but as the record will show over the last decade in the European Cup, they have got a great home record and not too many teams come to Belfast and win. If there was a team to come and spring a surprise, it could be Clermont this weekend.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Ulster got the win, but something tells me Clermont are going to run out victors in this one and Ulster will come up just shy.
I am going to stick with my gut and say Clermont are going to edge it by a couple of points, I can’t see the handicap of 2 points being far off.
Saracens v Ospreys, Saturday @ 13:00
Saracens have gotten off to a tough start. I had thought the media attention would bring the team closer and make them a stronger unit.
I hadn’t expected them to field the team they did in the end against Racing 92, I thought there would have been a lot more of the international players like Liam Williams coming back from Wales along with a handful of their English internationals.
I have a feeling they are coming for the win this weekend against Ospreys.
They have accepted the fee of 5.36mil and the points reduction of 35 points for the Gallagher Premiership and now they must try and get on with things.
Ospreys are in bad form and seem to be playing for pride and to do their region proud. Losing by19 points at home to Munster, I fully expect Saracens to beat them on their home turf by at least 20 points. My bet in this game would be Saracens for –22 points.
Toulouse v Connacht, Saturday @ 14:00
I had thought last weekend was going to be tough for Toulouse against Gloucester but they came out and turned it around in the second half!
This weekend Connacht need to be on the money with their set pieces as Toulouse are dangerous with ball turnover.
Their counterattack is one of the best in Europe which they showed at times against Gloucester.
I think there will be some changes once again in the Connacht team. I’m hearing that Conor Fitzgerald is going to start ahead of Jack Carty which is an interesting selection. He was the one who kicked the winning penalty against Montpellier last weekend.
The handicap has Toulouse by 21 points which I agree with. But I do think it all comes down to weather conditions.
If it is a wet day on a soggy and very heavy pitch over in Toulouse, I would expect Connacht to beat the handicap. But if it is a dry day, it could be a difficult one for Connacht with the form Toulouse are in.
Lyon v Leinster, Saturday @ 16:15
Lyon are the top team in the French League right now. However, they had a disappointing away result last weekend against Northampton.
As I mentioned in my blog last week, the French teams just don’t seem to travel very well. Looking ahead to this weekend being on home soil, they will be a different kind of animal.
Leinster may be the favorites going into this match, but they will have to be on top of their game to get a result.
I know Leinster can go out there and win, but I think it would be good for the competition if Lyon sprung a surprise and beat them. With Leinster being unbeaten all season and in all competitions, who is going to bet against them?
There are a lot of different elements to take into consideration this weekend, but my bet would be to stay clear of the handicap and bet on Leinster to just nick it.
Munster v Racing 92, Saturday @ 17:30
This is the game of the weekend! It gets the heart pumping and the mouth-watering.
Munster are my fancy heading into this clash. Looking at their European record at Thomond Park, it is outstanding.
Munster have been the underdog in their own back yard in games over the last number of years due to the rebuilding after legends like Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer, Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan all moved on or retired.
But yet Munster still find a way to come out on top! You got to take your hat off to them.
I am sure Andy Farrell will be sitting in the stands or watching close by for this game, so some of the Irish lads from Racing will have points to prove.
It is interesting to see Simon Zebo back, will he start the game? He has been starting every other game for Racing 92.
It is going to be an intriguing battle this weekend. I see Munster edging it by more than a score, and with the home support and home record they have, you would be a brave man to bet against them. Racing 92 however won’t go down without a fight.
Harlequins v Bath, Saturday @ 17:30 > My best value bet this weekend!
I was disappointed with Bath’s performance last weekend. They had two thirds of possession against Ulster. Ulster scored two break away tries and Bath showed absolutely nothing throughout.
Bath don’t seem to offer that much in their attack. Priestland who is the out half for Bath is struggling at the minute for form and Will Chudley, who is the scrum half was very off colour at the weekend against Ulster.
Bath are away from home this week heading to the Twickenham Stoop, and with Harlequins looking to bounce back after a slightly embarrassing defeat away from home then this game should be a cracker.
Both teams need a big win to get their Heineken Champions Cup campaign back on the road. I would be backing the Harlequins Handicap –4, hopefully it is a dry day and we see some good attacking Rugby.
My Five-Fold ACCA
Harlequins v Bath: Harlequins win
Saracens v Osprey: Saracens win
Munster v Racing 92: Munster win
Toulouse v Connacht: Toulouse win
Exeter Chiefs v Glasgow Warriors: Exeter Chiefs win