Pitchside with Ferris: Champions Cup preview, including Munster v Saracens
Northampton Saints v Leinster (13:00, Sat)
These are two teams that have really hit their straps over the last few weeks.
Northampton Saints are unbeaten in their last three games and have shown some enterprising rugby at times, especially last weekend against Leicester Tigers when they put them to the sword at Franklin’s Gardens.
Leinster are unbeaten in all competitions all season long. No wonder they are favourites for this huge game, but any inconsistency and the Saints have the firepower to punish you.
There are awesome match ups all over the pitch, but Biggar vs Sexton, Naiyaravoro vs Lowe and Franks vs Healy are the ones I’m most looking forward to. This game has the potential to be the game of the group stages. Let’s hope it lives up to its billing!
First try scorer: I expect Leinster to get off to a fast start and with Ringrose and Kelleher in scintillating form then these two guys would be my pick.
A crisp Saturday afternoon at Franklin’s Gardens is in prospect. I expect Leinster to continue surfing on this unbeaten wave.
Prediction: Leinster Win.
Ulster v Harlequins (15:15, Sat)
The Kingspan Stadium is like a graveyard for visiting teams and when Ulster are in their comfort zone in Belfast they are a match for anyone.
They are huge favourites for this match and I believe that is due to the way they dispatched the Scarlets last weekend in the Pro 14. In my opinion Ulster have some of the most in-form players in Europe.
Coetzee is terrifying defences with his ball carrying. Cooney is controlling games for fun and doing it with a smile on his face. Billy Buns has become instrumental to Ulster’s rise this season.
A team that is playing for each other is a dangerous side and Ulster are certainly that.
Harlequins snatched a deserved victory last week against Gloucester in the Premiership. It feels like they have the potential to cause an upset against Ulster, but why?
Well, Joe Marler spearheads the pack, Chris Robshaw, a former England captain, is packing down in the back row, Danny Care, one of the most entertaining scrum halves in world rugby, is a box of tricks so, maybe.
I hope these two teams go out and try to play some enterprising rugby. If Ulster get a big win they will be licking their chops at travelling to the Stoop next week.
Imagine Ulster fans if they managed to get eight or nine points from this back-to-back fixture. But flip that on its head and if Ulster put in a poor display with Harlequins sneaking a win, then next week would be colossal.
Prediction: Ulster -9
Munster v Saracens (17:30, Sat)
Who would have expected Munster to go down to Edinburgh last weekend in their own backyard?
Not great for confidence when you have the reigning European Champs coming to Limerick this weekend. Although what kind of team will Saracens send over!
Saracens’ main focus has to be getting out of trouble in their domestic league and clawing back some of those 35 points they were docked for breaking some of the salary cap rules.
They have accepted the punishment. But can they accept giving up their European Crown? Munster certainly hope so. Munster have yet to impress me this season, but with Joey Carberry apparently fit and ready to go, this is a boost that is surely needed.
Munster look like a team that is tired and a team that is going through a transitional period. Some new coaches looking to stamp their authority on things but we all know what has brought Munster success over the years…. FIGHT.
Prediction: It all depends on team selection. A full strength Saracens team vs a full strength Munster team and I only see one winner. But with a few changes and Munster needing a big result, I’ll go with a Munster Win.
Ospreys v Racing 92 (17:30, Sat)
Ospreys fought so hard to get into the Champions Cup. But what a massive let down they have been this season.
Head coach Allen Clarke departed the club, key players have been injured all season, lots of internationals went away to the RWC in Japan – it really has been a disaster.
Racing 92 have the players to open this Ospreys team up. They have been consistent away from home in the past couple of seasons and I can see them doing a job in Swansea.
It’s not a game that fills me with excitement, but I see Racing 92 coming away with a win in Wales and continuing on the right road for the quarter finals.
Prediction: Racing win
Sale Sharks v Exeter Chiefs (15:15, Sat)
Sale Sharks are slight underdogs even though they are at home. The reason for this is because since that slip up at home to Bristol Bears, Exeter Chiefs have been outstanding.
Going strong in Europe with two big wins, and a very polished performance last weekend in the Premiership, tees them up well for this match.
A Saturday afternoon game with hopefully a dry ball could give us some very slick rugby as both teams like to throw it around.
I could see this one being high scoring but due to Exeter’s strength and experience in this competition I see them just edging it.
Sale haven’t shown me enough this year to say that they can beat a fully loaded Exeter team. But with the World Cup winner Faf de Klerk in your side anything is possible….
Prediction: Exeter Win
Toulouse v Montpellier (16:15, Sat)
I love the way Toulouse are playing at the minute. When I was a player and the draw was being made you always hoped to avoid Toulouse.
They fell away for a few years but seem to have found their stride once more and have started this competition very well. After an away win vs Gloucester and a home win vs Connacht they are sitting pretty at the top of their pool.
Montpellier know Toulouse well and what they are capable of. If they can contain the fire power which Toulouse possess then of course they are in with a chance.
But with a vocal home crowd cheering on their superstars I can only see one outcome; a resounding win for Toulouse.
A big win would set Toulouse up nicely with the potential of a home quarter-final looming on the horizon in the south of France.
Game of the Weekend
Northampton vs Leinster- Both teams playing superb rugby and it has the makings of a classic Heineken Champions Cup match. Whose big players will step up to the plate…? I can’t wait to see.
My five-fold acca