Following a good week for the Irish provinces, including the nail biting draw for Munster at the Chiefs, we have another tasty European weekend in store.
If anyone else saw Bath’s defeat to Toulouse last weekend, they will know we are travelling to the toughest match of the season. The only other four-time winners of the competition will not got down without a fight.
Not that there is anything to be overly fearful of either. The stand out players for me were in their back three, Medard, Kolbe, and Ramos. Medard was excellent with the ball and wily in defence — tipping Freddie Burns hand as he celebrated scoring a try won the game for the French in a game they tried to throw away.
This was the first time I witnessed Cheslin Kolbe play. He has dancing feet reminiscent of Jordan Larmour. If the two start on Sunday it could set up an exciting game, with loose kicks punished dearly.
Friday night sees Leicester v. Scarlets. With a big loss away to Ulster last weekend Leicester have a lot to prove this weekend. The Scarlets are also coming off a narrow, one-point loss at home to Racing 92. This could be a spicy encounter with the Welsh men and their flare up against dogged defence. I think Scarlets have lost something this season, but I’ll back them to edge a tight encounter.
Saturday sees three pairs of games.
First up at 13:00 is Pool 2 games. Munster welcome Gloucester and should win on their home patch. They were excellent last week although will feel both lucky to escape with two points and a little disappointed they didn’t steal all four. A chance to really start the season is there for the taking.
Meanwhile the Exeter Chiefs travel to Castres. Always a difficult place to win a game of rugby. Leinster had many narrow losses down in the heart of France. I think the Chiefs will have enough to sneak a win, perhaps even winning convincingly. They are maturing as a force in Europe; winning away in France when they need it most is key if they plan to pose a real challenge this year.
The next two games kick off at 15:15. Wasps will attempt to put the record defeat to Leinster last week at the back of their minds for the all-Premiership clash against Bath, who have their own demons coming into the fixture. Freddie Burns missed an easy penalty, recovered from that by single handedly carving through the Toulouse defence, only to celebrate before grounding the ball. There are skeletons in both closets coming into this game, so expect some nervousness. Bath to win.
There was a time when no one beat Toulon at home. Last week we were all a little shocked (and delighted) to see Newcastle come away with a single point victory. Can lightning strike twice? It‘s Edinburgh’s turn this weekend. Murrayfield can be a difficult place to travel to, especially when you have just come out of a loss at home. This could be the game of the weekend, but I think Toulon will prevail.
The early evening kick-offs are at 17:30. Saracens host Lyon, and I don’t see this one going any way other than a home win.
A more interesting game is Racing 92 v. Ulster. Both won last weekend, but it will be advantage to the Parisians on their home turf. Can Ulster find their away form in France? If so, this could be an interesting game, but given the form at the moment, I think this will swing in favour of the home team.
And so to Sunday. Three games, including Leinster to look forward to.
The first game is the early kick-off at 13:00 where Newcastle welcome Montpellier. I’ve got to admit to knowing little about the English club, but I hope they can hold up to last week’s standard and take another French scalp.
At 15:15 Cardiff Blues host Glasgow in the only Pro 14 only match. This could be an interesting clash, Glasgow know how to beat the Blues. Unfortunately clashes with the Leinster game.
Simultaneously, Toulouse take on Leinster. The game of the weekend, with two heavyweights up against one another. Toulouse showed they have improved last week, but it was not the classic Toulouse, the game being filled with mistakes by both sides. At home they will be a different team. Leinster made many mistakes in the first half but were clinical to the point of sadism in the second. It’s hard to see any other team beating them (or even their second string) in any competition at the moment. Verdict: Leinster
Please leave a comment with your own predictions if you don’t agree with mine.