Gloucester v Toulouse, Friday @ 19:45
Domestic leagues are halted as we head into the opening weekend of the Heineken Champions Cup. I don’t see this being an easy game for Toulouse whatsoever.
They will be without their World Cup hero Cheslin Kolbe, but they are a team littered with a lot of muscle and a lot of brawn. They will fancy themselves… but sure they always do!
Gloucester suffered a bad loss last weekend against Saracens, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they used the pain of that defeat to bring out a home performance that we know they are well capable of.
However, I do expect Toulouse to get something from the game due to the quality they possess. My prediction for this game would be for Gloucester to sneak it by less than a score. 1-7 points.
Bath v Ulster, Saturday @ 13:00
This is the game I am most looking forward to watching this weekend. It is a boggy old pitch, the changing rooms are tiny, it brings you back 15-20 years to the amateur days, and the smell of deep heat before you run out almost burns the back of your lungs… OLD SCHOOL.
There has been a lot of rain over the last couple of weeks in England and given this, I think the game is going to be a bit of a dog fight.
This game won’t be the skillful type of Rugby we witnessed at times during the World Cup, it is going to be more of a grind it out kind of game.
Bath are going into this game favourites and rightly so having a good win last weekend. With guys like Jamie Roberts and Sam Underhill leading from the front I feel they are few points better than Ulster this Saturday.
However, Ulster have a good record over Bath in the European Cup and could they throw up another surprise…?
This could be a tough Heineken Cup run for Ulster being in a group with Clermont and Harlequins. They are missing their talisman Rory Best who has retired from International and Club Rugby which will prove to be tough on the team.
With Iain Henderson having to step up as Captain, the team’s future depends on how they play the first two weeks of the tournament. If they don’t get off to a good start it could be a long campaign ahead.
Leinster v Benetton, Saturday @ 15:15
Leinster are a team packed full of talent and raw power. With the start they have gotten off to in the PRO14 they have shown they are a match for anyone.
Rugby World Cup players are back in the mixer and they will just make this Leinster team even more of a juggernaut when called upon by head coach Leo Cullen.
Ross Byrne may start the match at out half, Johnny Sexton might sneak onto the bench and give them a good platform to work off.
Guys like Ronan Kelleher who has been a try scoring machine for Leinster so far this season will need to show that he is more than capable in making that step up to European rugby. James Tracey is waiting in the wings to get his chance so Ronan will be looking for another huge performance.
Leo Cullen has done an excellent job over the first 6 weeks of the PRO14 season, giving guys plenty of opportunity and experience. With the likes of Johnny Sexton, Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney and Josh van der Flier coming back they will be a strong, tough team to come across.
Benetton have been doing OK in the League, but I don’t see them having the same firepower as their opposition. They can score tries and have pace, but at the same time
I don’t think they have the big game experience to get anything out of this match. I expect a bonus point win here for Leinster.
Ospreys v Munster, Saturday @ 17:30
Munster have the upper hand heading into this game,I think they are going to run out worthy winners.
Average enough last time out against Ulster they have massive room for improvements, but I don’t feel they really need to improve that much to beat a depleted Ospreys. Playing at 70/80% I feel they can still win.
Ospreys got beaten by the Southern Kings last weekend.. no one seen that coming… That was the Southern Kings first ever away victory in the Pro14. Crazy! It just shows where the Ospreys are at the minute and I think Munster will be looking to get a 5-point win.
Connacht v Montpellier, Sunday @ 13:00
The Connacht guys will surely be disappointed about their performance last week against Leinster and that could be the wakeup call they needed.
I think it would be good for the team to get back to the way they were playing under Pat Lamb throwing the ball around, making the opposition work hard and tire them out.
Montpellier are a ferocious team full of big men. They are renowned for not travelling well so if Connacht can catch them on the hop and get a score or two early on, you never know what could happen.
Montpellier have a lot of individual talent and can come together as a collective and be a match for anyone in the topflight. But for some reason I fancy Connacht to get one over on the French team. So, I am going to take Connacht (+3) as my handicap bet for this game.
Racing 92 v Saracens, Sunday @ 15:15
Racing 92 don’t have a great home record in the League, they seem to perform better away from home. They are a hit and miss team. It really depends what side of the bed they wake up on to the way they play.
I think the amount of pressure and headlines Saracens have gathered over the last two weeks, could bring out the best in the team and bring them even closer together. They are going to be dangerous and I see them getting within 5 points to beat the handicap.
There is a massive fine and points reduction potentially on the line for Saracens if they are found guilty after the review. Directors and owners of the club need to take responsibility for what they are being accused of and try their best to rectify this horrendous situation.
If anything, I think the players will be getting on with their own job and it could bring them even closer together and make them stronger. Adversity can galvanise a group of players… but Racing 92 will be licking their lips with a wounded Saracens coming to Paris.
My treble for this weekend’s games
Munster –10 > My bet of the weekend
My Five-Fold ACCA for this weekend’s games
Ospreys v Munster: Munster win
Leinster v Benetton: Leinster win
Connacht v Montpellier: Connacht win
Clermont v Harleqins: Clermont win
Gloucester v Toulouse: Gloucester win