Pitchside with Ferris: Leinster, Ulster and Munster previews

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Benetton v Leinster, Saturday, 14:00

Unfortunately, Benetton are out of the European competition and there is no possible way of them getting through to a Quarter-Final

Leinster are sitting pretty on top of their table with 24 points, being the team with the most points in the competition so far.

They can also equal the highest number of points for the group stages if they win with a bonus point, only Biarritz have achieved 29 points before. For them to be 100% sure of a home Quarter-Final, they need to go to Benetton and get a win.

Leinster more or less have everything to play for whereas Benetton have very little to play for. I think Benetton head coach Kieran Crowley will field an inexperienced team and can’t see them being bogged down from getting beaten by Leinster.

These guys will keep their focus on the Pro14 over the coming months. They are a good side and have come to play Leinster several times over the last number of years and have ran them close on some occasions.

Prediction: Leinster have been consistently scoring over 40 points this year, a lot of those points being at the RDS or the Aviva stadium. They are unbeaten in all comps this season, so a convincing win is what I’m predicting. However, Benetton will not roll over at home and I expect them to sneak under the Handicap and give Leinster a game for large parts of the match.

Exeter Chiefs v La Rochelle, Saturday, 17:30

Exeter had a kick to win the game last week against Glasgow in the dying minutes, but it came back off the crossbar and the game ended in a draw.

However, playing at home this weekend you would expect them to get the job done. They play a very attractive brand of Rugby and like to throw it around and get the opposition moving around the pitch. They play with intensity and accuracy and are a match for anyone on their day.

Prediction: I can’t see anything more than a very convincing Exeter win in this game by 20-25 points.

Ulster v Bath, Saturday, 15:15

Ulster’s result last weekend against Clermont was extremely disappointing. They got dominated in the last quarter up front and this will be a concern for Roddy Grant who is the forwards coach for Ulster.

We all know how important set piece is in big games, I’m sure the Rugby World Cup final is still fresh in people’s memories…. Finishing strong is crucial to success and Ulster will need to up their intensity for Baths visit to Belfast on Saturday afternoon.

I am hoping they are going to bounce back this weekend, and with Bath being at the bottom of their group on four points it should be a convincing win.

Bath have been very poor this season in both the Gallagher Premiership and the European Cup. It’s been a disappointing couple of months for the men in blue and white.

Prediction: I expect Ulster to win and get four tries, that would give them five match points and bring them to a respectable total of 22 points after the group games. This will definitely be enough for a quarter final spot, albeit away from home. Score prediction for this game is Ulster to beat the Handicap -23!

Saracens v Racing 92, Sunday, 13:00

I am most looking forward to watching this game at the weekend as both teams have a lot to play for!

Looking at Saracens and all the controversy surrounding them it’s amazing to see that they are still in with a shout of qualification to the quarter finals.

It may be a game away from home, but this could be the positivity the team needs not only for moral but financially also.

I think they are going to go full strength this weekend which they have not done that often in the European Cup. For me, I can see their big game players like Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt making a huge impact on this fixture and really setting the tone.

Prediction: Racing +14 points is my end score prediction. Reason being, if Racing win this game, they will be guaranteed a home Quarter-Final. I know Saracens will have hopes of making that Quarter-Final too, but with Racing 92 having so much to play for I am going to go for them to beat the Handicap… but Saracens to get the win.

Munster v Ospreys, Sunday, 13:00

Munster need all the results to go their way to be in with a chance of qualifying, and I personally cannot see this happening.

If they can go out and get a win this weekend against the Ospreys who have been struggling of late, then it will definitely help lift a little of the pressure on the Munster players and coaching staff.

They have a good run of games coming up in the Pro14 where you would back them to get victories, so it’s not all doom and gloom for the Munster men.

Munster need to shake those shackles off and go out and play some attractive rugby. They haven’t scored many tries this season so a big win would be awesome for the faithful Munster fans who I’m sure will be turning out in their thousands once again on Sunday. I think it will be too little too late for this club to qualify for the Quarter-Finals which will be hard to take for everyone involved.

I was surprised by the great determination the Ospreys had shown last weekend. With their captain Alun Wyn Jones back, he led from the front and really was a vocal point in his side.

One or two players will obviously add experience and talent to the Ospreys team, but yet again I can’t see them getting out of this massive hole they find themselves in.

Prediction: My end score prediction for this game is Munster to win by 20 points.

Toulouse v Gloucester, Sunday, 16:15 > My best value bet this weekend!

This is going to be a brilliant game! Gloucester had lost at home to Toulouse when they last came face to face so Gloucester will be coming back wanting revenge! However, I can’t see that happening.

Toulouse have been playing an excellent brand of Rugby. They are a very physical side with a lot of pace and intensity.

They seem to be able to go into second or third gear and then take it easy for 15/20 minutes and then ramp it up again!

Very similar to the style of play Racing92 had shown in the last 10 minutes when they were facing Munster last weekend.

Gloucester still have a chance of qualification and if they go over to Toulouse and get a big win, they could sneak in for a Quarter-Final position, but I really can’t see things going their way in this game as Toulouse will be wanting to get that home Quarter-Final sewn up.

Prediction: Toulouse to win 15-20 points and beat the Handicap!

My Five-Fold ACCA for this weekend:

Ulster v Bath: Ulster win
Munster v Ospreys: Munster win
Exeter Chiefs v La Rochelle: Exeter win
Toulouse v Gloucester: Toulouse win
Harlequins v Clermont: Clermont win

Stephen

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Stephen Ferris

After a fine backrow career with Ulster and Ireland, Stephen Ferris will be sharing his thoughts on all the big rugby talking points here on Ladbrokes News, including the World Cup and Six Nations.