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Saracens v Clermont Rugby Betting Preview

Heineken Cup semi-final betting – Saracens the wolfpick

aracens v Clermont rugby betting one-man-wolf-pack
For a game that I’ve been agonising over for the last week, this preview could easily have turned into a Sarries love parade after this last day’s deliberations. Let me first say I think Saracens are going to win.  So with that in mind, I’ll run through the cons before I list off the pros.

Saracens v Clermont Rugby Betting Preview – Cons – Why Clermont might upset Saracens.

Well, first, they’re Clermont – everyone fears them, they have that ridiculous home record, and they’ve been here before.  They’re a  class team with superstars, a hard edge, and can beat anyone on their day – stating the obvious is a waste of time. This is their last chance as a group you feel for a couple of years with Cotter leaving and a few lads past their prime. So many near misses, so much heart-break, ever the bottlers. You definitely get the feeling it’s now or never for this core group of Clermont servants. It’s therefore a reasonable assumption for the Clermont-fancier to think the big push will come this weekend, and that they’ll give it everything.

And look at their backs. James, Nalaga, Sivivatu the genius, Byrne playing well enough, and Fofana the finisher. When you line Nalaga and Sivi up against Strettle and Ashton, you would be forgiven for having a little Vincent price giggle – it could (& should) be carnage. And let’s not forget Burger for Saracens – a yellow card magnet who loves playing filthy – so Clermont might even get to play against 14 men for a time.

And that’s it. That’s all I see as positive for les Jaunes. I just can’t help this love-in I’m feeling, for the ugly over-achieving red-headed Stepchild that is Saracens. Allow me to explain.

Pros – Why the Sarries Wolfpack ( shudder….) should win the day

Well, there’s a shit-load of reasons in my mind; so let’s try to match up my reasons with Clermont’s failings in those departments.

  1. Saracens have had two weeks rest. They had a high intensity dress rehearsal for this game versus Northampton two weeks ago where they played with openness and scored some excellent tries, showing great cohesion and understanding. They took the foot off the gas at the end but that was the Ulster remnants. Last week they sent the reserves up to Newcastle ( all except Goode who was coming off injury and needed some game time) so they’re totally fresh and ready to keep the tempo high. Clermont on the other hand were mired in a shitfest at hard-hitting-bunglers Racing Metro, with most of the first team playing, failing to make breakthroughs.They did turn up at Racing and tried to score(and win), but they were bested by a brutal Metro team pulling away at the end. It’s been a long season for Clermont, and they’re showing fatigue – no doubt about it.

  2. Saracens are a winning team. They’ve lost two games in the Aviva Premiership out of 20 games, and they lost one game in the Heineken Cup group stages to Toulouse by a point at home. Clermont have also lost just one game in the Heineken group stages (against v racing Metro interestingly, who have the best defence in the TOP14, like Saracens in the Premiership). But look at the TOP14 it’s a different story – just two away wins both v relegated Biarritz and likely relegated Perpignan. Now before you jump down my throat I know, TOP 14 away wins are like hen’s teeth this season – still, that’s no stat to be proud of. In truth they were lucky enough to beat Quins away in the qualifying stages too, and Quins weren’t in great form at that point; But for a seriously cruel bounce of the ball it would have likely been a Quins win ( Nalaga’s butchered earlier chance aside).

  3. Organisation. Saracens are a happy camp. There’s no way I can know the mood in the Clermont camp but I can infer from how they’re playing that all is not well. Cotter’s remarks about the players at the end of last season looks to have sucked the spark out of their play relative to the past few seasons when things seemed to be clicking for them much more. If you look at the preparation for this game it also looks perfect for Sarries after that good run against Saints and a full two weeks rest. You can bet the extensive Sarries backroom staff have analysed Clermont fully at this point and executed accordingly in training in the two weeks off.

  4. Main men in good form. Saracens look to be firing on all cylinders, with good backup in all positions – Hodgson has been dropped (his chargedowns might be missed v James but his tackling won’t) as Bosch can cover fly half; we saw last week his confidence is sky-high with a 56 metre penalty.

  5. Most of the team is playing well and look to be peaking, and Bosch has brought alot to Saracens’ game from his experience as probably the best Argentinian back around at the minute. The two Vunipola’s are well rested and ready to unleash that carrying ability on a tired Clermont backrow and a knackered Hines who has been giving away some daft Jim-Hamilton/Leo-Cullen-like penalties lately. Clermont have lost Captain Rougerie and his absence will be felt. A huge leader for club and country in these sorts of games (and the man who finally unlocked the Leicester defence if you recall), him missing leaves me looking around for leaders in this side in this type of game. Hines is in no form, looks very slow around the park, and he will leave holes. Sivivatu at a push for leader? He did look good last week returning from injury. Still, I’m looking for who pulls them together if things start going against them and I don’t see much bar Parra having a squawk.

In general freshness and hunger I just see Saracens as being the  more likely winner here. Saracens were 100% on their lineout against Ulster and 100% in their scrum. I know Payne was missing and the  ripple effect will have been felt, but that bodes well – along with two weeks practice. In general Saracens have been like that all season, owning their lineout, and own scrum ball. Clermont lost 4 throws against Leicester and they’ve only become more tired since then. As I said Hines looks in bad shape and I feel he’s a liability in the line, the lineout and the scrum.

Lining up both sets of players, there’s no doubt Clermont have an edge in the backs but the question is how much ball will they get from a likely dominant Sarries lineout and marginally dominant scrum.

One key thing I can’t shake out of my head in arriving at the decision to oppose Clermont is their fatigue (relevant to Sarries) and I believe it will tell in the second half particularly. Watching them, you just feel they’re tired, and they’re defending very narrowly – which should open things up for a Saracens side who look to be ramping up for a game of ball-in-hand attack. In the last two big games away from home they’ve conceded to a cross field kick – once against Leicester when they hadn’t the legs to get back and defend the cross field kick on half way, and once against Racing 6 days ago when Imhoff found acres of space from a cross kick. When you line that up against Saracens’ try-scoring exploits this season, it’s ominous for Clermont.

Clermont will expect Saracens to come out controlled and methodical but I don’t think that will happen – I’m expecting an all guns blazing start like the Northampton game, and the selection of De Kock at Scrum half backs that up as he’s much quicker than Wiggleworth. I’m expecting this to get Saracens ahead early, and I don’t think they’ll look back at a Clermont side I feel may be rudderless and past it’s prime. Tomorrow should be about making a statement for who they’ll face in the final, and all signs for me are pointing to an unexpected comfortable Saracens win. I’m very much in the minority and a one man wolfpack in our rugby betting forum, with many supporting Clermont, so don’t go too nuts. I’m confident though – Nigel to bring it home for the home side.

Recommended Rugby bets –

For the cautious – Saracens plus 4.5 on the no draw handicap in Boylesports

For the coy – Saracens to win at 6/4

For the courageous – Saracens to win by 13+ in Stan james at 12/1. I see this as a very real outcome as Sarries will want to make a statement and ensure they don’t get caught (fingers crossed for a Cudmore card and a bit of luck on this one)

For the chaser – Billy Vunipola for anytime try at 15/2 in Skybet looks generous. Ashton at 11/4 in Ladbrokes and Nalaga at 11/5 both look worthy of a punt depending on what side of the fence you’re on too

There’s a list of Free Rugby bets here

And lots more top info and opinion in our Rugby Betting forum here

Munster v Toulouse Heineken Rugby betting

Munster v Toulouse Rugby betting, 130 GMT Saturday

Weather, should be dry enough without too much wind, small chance of rain.

I’ll start with the teams (at bottom of post). No surprises really bar the spark of McAllister likely missing at ten (Beauxis is named; McAl is subject to a late fitness test). Beauxis is inconsistent enough and I’d rather have Keatley kicking the way he did v Leinster than taking a chance with Beauxis. Him starting is great for Munster too as he can’t quite get a backline moving like LM can. Truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s being held back intentionally, more on that below.

O’Mahony back is of course crucial to Munster and has no doubt been held back for this game. Camara will give him a run for his batch-turnover money but once Munster hit rucks with intensity, which they will; Camara’s heart for the turnover should wane quickly enough. Picamoles looks flogged to death too in recent months.

One of the key things for me here is the Munster attack v the Toulouse defence. I’ve been watching Toulouse a fair bit recently in the run up to this game, and how they defend. They don’t hold a straight line and they usually have one or two pushing up. Munster can be a frustrating side to watch in attack at times under Penney, with the first receiver standing 15 yards back from the opposition defensive line sometimes, giving a regimented line ample opportunity to see what’s coming and just defend by numbers. But the way Toulouse defend I think this will play into Munster’s attacking arms with lots of doglegs and gaps, meaning inside balls and Laulala offloads should pay off big time for Munster getting in behind. You can see this coming off say lineout’s in the Toulouse 22, going into a maul, everybody hitting the deck and then the recycle as it’s sent wide. Either way, i think Munster’s overall attack will work much better here than it has recently, and we know they’ll front up with intensity in defence. Nigel Owens is generally good to Munster too.

More crucially though, Toulouse have shown in recent years that their commitment to this tournament is much less than 100% when they have two away knock-outs in a row on the horizon. If they win here, they have to go away to either Toulon or Leinster in the semi.

Recent history suggests they won’t be as up for this as if they were at home. I know that sounds obvious but I think this has been very pronounced for Toulouse in the last five years or so. Also, and key, is the fact that Toulouse have a very real chance of moving from 6th up to 4th or 3rd in the TOP 14, with a tiny chance of second. They have three games left and a very realistic 15 points, with Grenoble and Brive at home, and Oyonnax away. When you put this beside Castres’ fixtures, currently in 4th and 4 points ahead of Toulouse with tough fixtures to come, you get the meaning here. Fourth place for Toulouse would mean a home barrage playoff before the semi-finals in the league.

Now juxtapose a likely home playoff in the Top14, with two away games at Europe’s powerhouses. I think you can see where I believe Guy Noves’ and his players’ priorities will lie for the remainder of the season – if this game gets tough, I can see them throwing it in. And Munster will make it tough. Hon ta f*ck Munster!

Best bet – Munster -4 at evens looks good to me – I don’t see any value in the 1-12 at 11/8 unless you have it in a multi. Keatley at 10/1 for a try anytime looks worth a flutter playing off Zebo and with his opposite number being Lionel Blair ( er, Beauxis).

There’s a list of Free Rugby bets here

And lots more top info and opinion in our Rugby Betting forum here

Munster Rugby

15. Felix Jones; 14. Keith Earls, 13. Casey Laulala, 12. James Downey, 11. Simon Zebo; 10. Ian Keatley, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Dave Kilcoyne, 2. Damien Varley, 3. BJ Botha, 4. Dave Foley, 5. Paul O’Connell, 6. Peter O’Mahony (c), 7. Tommy O’Donnell, 8. James Coughlan
16. Duncan Casey, 17. John Ryan, 18. Alan Cotter, 19. Donncha O’Callaghan, 20. CJ Stander, 21. Duncan Williams, 22. JJ Hanrahan, 23. Gerhard van den Heever

15. Maxime Médard; 14. Yoann Huget, 13. Florian Fritz, 12. Gael Fickou, 11. Hosea Gear; 10. Lionel Beauxis, 9. Jano Vermaak; 1. Gurthro Steenkamp, 2. Christopher Tolofua, 3. Yohan Montes, 4. Yoann Maestri, 5. Patricio Albacete (c), 6. Yacouba Camara, 7. Joe Tekori, 8. Louis Picamoles
16. Jaba Bregvadze, 17. Cyril Baille, 18. Schalk Ferreira, 19. Romain Millo-Chluski, 20. Gillian Galan, 21. Jean-Marc Doussain, 22. Luke McAlister, 23. Yannick Nyanga

Heineken cup semi-final betting – Saracens v Toulon

Heineken cup semi-final betting tips – Saracens v Toulon, Sun28April, 3pm SkySports

Heineken cup rugby betting semi final Saracens v toulon rugby betting
-Handicap of Saracens +1, Toulon scratch available

There are a number of macro indicators ahead of this weekend’s Heineken cup semi-final suggesting Toulon should have the edge.

Let’s take a quick look at the last weekend of European rugby, when three Premiership sides met three French sides in the quarter-finals of Europe’s top two competitions. In the Challenge Cup, Stade Francais & Biarritz both sent under full strength sides away to Bath & Gloucester and both convincingly dispatched their Premiership opposition (as predicted in our betting forum at huge odds of 7/2 and 4/1). Bath and Gloucester sent out strong enough sides with a few players rested, & most bookmakers expected them to win handily.

So by that Saturday afternoon we already had a decent relative indication of the current strengths of both leagues – understrength lower table French sides hammering aspirant top-six Premiership sides.

Then Leicester were beaten in Toulon in the Heineken cup Quarter final. Leicester turned up and put their bodies on the line, and for that they deserve commendation. However, George Clancy’s refereeing of the scrum was, as usual, on the side of Leicester (remember the Toulouse game?), and questions have to be asked on how he keeps getting Leicester and England international games (Just as Wayne Barnes has refereed three of Clermont’s major European games in the past three years).

Clancy’s odd interpretation (to put it mildly) of the scrum two weeks ago saw Leicester 12 points to three ahead, until Toulon cranked up the intensity and worked their way back into things to win by six points. True, Leicester were within a score at the death, but had Toulon had a little bit of luck they could easily have run out 20+ point winners even after having to deal with George Clancy’s bizarre Tigers-friendly calls. Near misses from Toulon kept things tight; Botha’s double movement for the disallowed try; Bastauread pushed out in the corner instead of just running straight with only Thompstone to run through; and Tilous-Borde frustratingly missing three Toulon forwards with a pass, when the Leicester line was there begging. Had any of these chances been executed with more composure, Toulon would likely have won far more comfortably.

So what does all this have to do with Sunday’s game between Saracens and Toulon?

Saracens are at the top of a league full of teams that have had no answer to French power this year, and up until last week Toulon were leading the TOP14 (now 1 point behind Clermont). You can see the comparison we’re making here – Toulon are at the top of a vastly stronger league based on this year’s head to heads, and it’s a fair enough bet that the dominance will continue this weekend as the two league leaders collide.

Toulon are mercenaries, pay-cheque collectors, hooering jesses, Guns for hire, etc

Not so in our opinion. Toulon have plenty of obsessive critics as the new money side in French rugby, but the fact is they have frequently shown character in adversity. Take the Quarter final against Leicester – it would have been very easy to lie down and wilt at the coal-face of one of the aristocratic sides of Heineken cup rugby, after going 12-3 behind, along with the referee being against them. But they battled back into it, stuck to their game plan, and overcame significant adversity – they have a real hunger for this competition there’s no doubt about it.

Yet another example was last year’s TOP14 final, when they fought back with an amazing series of phases to almost pip Toulouse at the end with no time remaining – a high pass and a knock on 5 metres out prevented a certain try. These Toulon lads are serious international professionals that want to win this trophy, plain and simple. There will be no stereotypical French away days here.

Statistical league Match-ups (bear in mind there are four more games played now in the TOP14 versus the Premiership -25 v 21)

Tries scored (leagues) – Toulon 63, Saracens 38
Tries scored (Heineken cup Pools) – Toulon 23, Sarries 15
Tries conceded (leagues) – Toulon 30, Saracens 23
Tries conceded (Heineken cup Pools) – Toulon 8, Saracens 6

Some other interesting stats – Toulon have conceded the least amount of yellow cards in the TOP14, so their discipline has been excellent, showing that they work for each other. They have also won more away games than almost every other side in the TOP14, (where away wins are tough to come by), with seven, joint top with Racing metro. In playing 21 games of the 25 so far, Johnny Wilkinson has the top spot for drop goals (7), conversions (42) and penalties (78) for a league-leading total of 339 points. Lastly, Toulon have scored a league-leading 736 points and conceded 435. Saracens have scored 510 and conceded 325.
If it seems like we’re concentrating on the TOP14 here more than the Premiership, it’s for the simple reason that the TOP14 is the stronger competition, and thus has more meaningful numbers (and I don’t have all day here!). (We can blame the fact we have a weaker competition on the salary cap, we can blame it on the greedy/lying club chairmen, the dodgy TMO decisions, the fact the Premiership is an unfair cartel possibly operating against European competition laws, David Rose’s love affair with yellow cards, or Wayne Barnes pulling decisions out of his arse…. – it’s another day’s discussion either way).

Backrow Blue Bloods

If you’re a Saracens fan, you’re hanging onto the defensive potential, where they have fared slightly better statistically in both the Heineken cup pools and the league. However, this is where the news that Will Fraser is out injured will really start to look ominous. Fraser (Man of the match v Ulster in the Quarters) has started 16 and played in 19 of Saracen’s 21 premiership games this year. Saracens don’t have another fit openside (Jacques Burger is back, but he isn’t fit, and he has been missing tackles since returning to the side), and the loss will be felt hard by a side that relies on his turnovers and ground work to relieve pressure.

Toulon’s ball carrying back row have the winning of this game. We’ll probably see a 6, 7, 8 of Lobbe, Armitage, Masoe, (actually turns out Armitage and Joe VN are on the bench, and the backrow is 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Danie Rossouw).(Full teams at base of page) That’s some serious firepower against a likely back row for Sarries of three from Wray, Brown, Joubert, and Kruis & Burger. Solid players, but it’s advantage Toulon with no fit Sarries seven, and the brains of the operation Joubert wearing a face-mask due to a facial injury. Last year the Saracens Wagon wobbled in both competitions due to back row problems and it looks to be happening again here. The overall ball carrying, international experience, and ground-hog ability of that Toulon back row is simply phenomenal in contrast.

Saracens need to keep the ball away from Toulon for as long as possible but I’m not sure they have the quality to do it. Dean Ryan has made the point a number of times in recent months that you need a bit extra to win these sorts of games, and you can’t just rely on on defence at this level, and I agree with him. Yes, Saracens have been scoring tries of late, and their game has come on leaps and bounds from last season, but i’m not convinced yet – mainly due to the caliber of their opposition recently (I actually fancied this game to be high scoring, but i’m not sue that will happen with Rollaind reffing). Saracens are no longer a defensive side that’s for sure, but have they got the attacking weapons to deal with a really top side? I’m yet to be convinced. Where’s the spark in this Sarries side? I just don’t see it compared to Giteau, Armitage, Masoe Smith and even Wilkinson. They’re also conceding tries too and when it comes to the crunch, I’m not sure they have the creativity to change things if the game is going against them.


The Toulon backs have the edge in ability and experience too, with Giteau and Bastauread a potent combination, and creatively alongside Wilkinson and Tilous Borde they have the edge on the conjurers remedial class of Farrell and Barritt. Even Felon Armitage at full back looks to have the edge on Goode, and is in fine form at the minute. David Smith is the equal of Ashton at least, and David Strettle goes missing if it isn’t laid on a plate for him, and he still has passing issues (though he has got better from no passes per game, to a few passes per game in recent months).

The scrums (once refereed properly) should be slightly in favour of Toulon with the international experience they have in Jenkins, Sheridan & Hayman, and the lethal ball carrying ability of Orioli to match the excellent Vunipola (though not so excellent at scrummaging) will tell in the last twenty minutes. The lineout should be Saracens, and this being their main weapon, it needs to function flawlessly against Botha and Kennedy (maybe even Botha and Lobbe) to have any chance of winning this game. Botha has a few titles under his belt though, and should be able to have an impact….so nothing is guaranteed for Saracens in this respect.

Vunipola will be a huge factor in Saracens winning or losing this game. His possible scrummaging weaknesses will be an easy target for the referee. On the other hand his ball carrying (and tryscoring) ability could be key; Saracens have been using him running at full tilt as first receiver off ruck ball in the opposition 22 for about three months, and if Toulon haven’t done their research to watch out for this, they’ll pay the price.

5050 game?

There’s too much in favour of Toulon here for it to be a 5050 game as the bookies are pricing it up, and the loss of Fraser really is as big as it has been made out to be. The key positions all hold so much international experience for Toulon and they have definitely shown against Leicester that they are interested in the Heineken Cup. Wilkinson should direct thing’s ably against Owen Farrell, and when you read that the ground will be half empty with less than 30,000 tickets sold, all of the chips look to be falling in Toulon’s favour. Despite Saracens acknowledged defensive ability, in these kinds of games you expect both sides will be up for it in that respect, and it’s usually the superior attack that comes up trumps.

Heineken cup semi-final betting – Saracens v Toulon, the verdict

We’ve backed Toulon simply to win at 10/11 in Paddypower. Toulon are simply the better side, events are conspiring in their favour, and they’ve shown they want it. Plus, there will be precious few Sarries fans to get the atmosphere pumping by doing that finger thing in the stands. No loudspeaker playing daft music either. In fact, I know a few Saracens fans who will be happy the pathetic loudspeaker is off, so who knows!

Saracens can win this game – they have a good squad and some game breakers, but everything will have to go perfectly for them, particularly for their defence, and i’m willing to bet against that happening. Farrell is wobbly under pressure and he’ll have to control the yips too, as if they don’t kick their goals, they’re doomed.

Further betting thoughts;
Initially I thought this would be high scoring contrary to expectations, but with stop-start-whistle-happy Rolland refereeing and destroying things as a spectacle in his own way, the Under might be the pick. No lines available yet, but I won’t be touching it either way as I’m invested in the Toulon win. The 1-12 winning margin price is terrible too so I wouldn’t touch it – there’s a chance Toulon could win by more, and 6/4 is not worth the risk of a late score or two.

Try scorers
– Very few prices up yet (Only powers) and I will update here when more are available in thee next couple of days. One or two look tasty for now (Vunipola is probably worth a fiver anytime try at 12/1 in Paddypower, especially if you like Saracens contrary to the above – he will be one of their main strike weapons).

Good luck whichever way you go, especially if it’s my way.

free rugby bets dropkick

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steve Borthwick, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Carlos Nieto, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 George Kruis, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Wyles.

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Rudi Wulf, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Danie Rossouw, 5 Nick Kennedy, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Sebastien Bruno, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Davit Kubriashvili, 19 Joe van Niekerk, 20 Steffon Armitage, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Jocelino Suta

Best try of the Heineken Cup rounds so far?

A little video we put together on Treviso’s last minute match winner v the Ospreys, scored by Pratichetti (or realistically, the whole Treviso team)- alot of people may have missed it.

Treviso scored two tries in the last five minutes to nick it from being 14-3 down with six minutes to go.

Probably getting a little ahead of ourselves calling it the best team try ever, but this try was a serious thing of beauty, and god dammit, we’re excited! Our personal favourite of the tournament so far anyway.

G’wan Treviso!

Have your say in the Rugby Betting forum, and don’t forget our member’s only Six nations betting prediction tournament, with modest cash prizes and a few free bets, details coming this week.

Biarritz v Harlequins Rugby Betting Preview

Biarritz v Harlequins Rugby Betting Preview, Heineken Cup, SkySports 8pm, Friday 18-jan 2012

Biarritz host table toppers Harlequins at 8pm tonight in Friday’s main game as round six of a tough pool series descends upon us. Bookies initially started out with Biarritz -2 and -3 point favourites but have since rown back on that slightly, with what looks like money coming for Quins pushing some handicaps into -1. The straight priced win on Quins is also shortening; hovering around evens currently, where it was bigger than 5/4. One bookmaker has stuck to their guns from the outset, with Stanjames offering 0 handicap at 10/11 for both sides.

The present qualification situation facts are simple enough; Quins are currently guaranteed a home quarter final and are only after a win here for top seed in order to play 8th place runner up; Biarritz need a win and more than likely a bonus point win to qualify. Biarritz were in this position last year when they hammered a good Ospreys side 35-6 and went on to qualify for the Challenge cup and eventually win it. They are always motivated at home, and they’re definitely up for the Challenge cup too.

Here’s a stat for you from the Dropkickrugby statbunker

You have to go back to 2002 to find a game that Biarritz lost in Round six of the Heineken cup. That’s right, for the past 11 years they’ve won every game in round six – beating Saracens, Bath, Wasps (in their pomp), Leinster, Northampton (away) etc. That’s a monumental record for the old aristocrats of European rugby, and they seem to do particularly well against English sides, home and away (hence the monthy python cover photo from here!).

Motivation and teams
Let’s take a look at motivation here. Quins already have qualification and home quarter in the bag here and they’d have bitten your hand off if you’d offered them that at the start of the tournament. Winning this pool with top tournament seeding would be a fine achievement but consider that they may well meet current champions Leinster if they do. It’s fair to say that nothing is certain and they may end up with the easiest draw of all by picking up only a losing bonus point here.

They’ve named a strong team but it’s the same team that has struggled in the wet at times this season, with flakey performances losing away to Bath and only managing to beat Worcester at home by a late drop goal by Nick Evans – who incidentally is somewhat wobbly with the boot lately and doesn’t like kicking from soft ground either. Crucially though, Quins are missing Nick Easter (replaced by Guest) this week and I feel O’Shea has rested him due to his lynchpin-status for this side – especically in the wet. Easter is ice-cool at the back of the scrum, always makes ground in contact, chooses the right angles, and knows when and when not to offload. Without him in what will be wet and mucky conditions Quins have lost a guaranteed source of leadership and go forward. He’s a huge loss here, and O’Shea is undoubtedly saving him for the later rounds.

Now look at Biarritz. Hammered away in round one at Quins gives them motivation enough to front up here. But they also play on Friday night with the entire weekend ahead of them. All they can do is play what is in front of them and they can only give themselves the best chance possible and go after the win. A win gives them entry to the Challenge cup quarters more than likely, and a bonus point win gets them in with a Quarter final chance in the Heineken. And they’ve named a team that looks set to give it their all- their key triumvirate of Traille, Yachvilli and Hairydonkey all start, along with Balshaw, Baby, and some serious weight and ability in the pack. The Biarritz scrum should get parity at least, with French international Barcella up against James Johnston. Johnston has upped his scrummaging game this season but he does have a weakness and he’s up against real quality here; this could be the losing of the game for Quins, especially with Easter missing at the back of a potentially retreating scrum.

Biarritz are a wet weather side, they seem to thrive in it in the TOP14, and in games against Connacht and Zebre recently in the Heineken Cup. They have a pack that has dominated wet and mucky games all season and tomorrow my dear, it will be wet and mucky, with heavy rain since yesterday and no let up to kick off according to the internerd’s various weather sites.

Friday’s Heinekn cup rugby main bet

We’ve backed Biarritz for the straight win at 10/11 in stanjames, also in Bluesquare (4/6 elsewhere). The motivation is all with Biarritz. The 11 year (ten wins at home) round six winning record is with Biarritz (and remember they are on a serious unbroken Heineken cup qualification run too, and they don’t want to be the side that blows that). John Lacey the referee tends to favour the better home breakdown team too (Ospreys last week v Leicester) and without Nick Easter playing for Quins, that’s Biarritz again for me.

The weather is with Biarritz – they’ve been excellent in the wet in this cup and in the TOP14 lately. And most of all Quins don’t need to win. The Biarritz 1-12 win is slightly interesting at 6/4 biggest in Stanjames (13/10 elsewhere), but with Biarritz needing to go after tries – you never know what might happen – they got them last year against the Ospreys. If you want a smaller bet then I wouldn’t put you off the 1-12 but i’m happy on the 10/11 straight win to be honest.

The draw isn’t to be totally ruled out either for a small bet in the conditions at biggest 20/1 in coral (18/1 generally). Quins have a tendency to cut things fine at times. They’d probably be happy enough with a draw too, so if there’s three in it with 5 to go and Quins get a penalty, they’ll take the kick for the draw rather than go for the corner (and that’s nothing to do with Chris Robshaw being captain by the way!).

Quins will see better days and we fancy them to maybe win the competition, and to be honest it will do them no harm to lose tomorrow – they’ve been ticking along nicely under tha radar and bookies are wrongly (we belive) pricing them as big as 8/1 outright tournament winners (stanjames again incidentally, where Ladbrokes have them 6/1). The loss would keep them under the radar, and you get the feeling that’s just where O’Shea wants them.

You could do much worse than backing them at 8/1 each way for the tournament outright in stanjames with the each way paying 1/3 odds. With a home quarter guaranteed and maybe a home semi in the draw – they have have the beating of anyone in this tournament. Then they’re in a final and anything can happen, even if they lose you get your money back and then some.

Quins’ big days are yet to come though, Friday should be Bairritz’s night to win. 10/11 biggest in Stanjames.

Harlequins team: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Tom Guest, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Olly Kohn, 3 James Johnston, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Luke Wallace, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Ollie Lindsay-Hague.

Biarritz team: 15 Iain Balshaw, 14 Taku Ngwenya, 13 Benoît Baby, 12 Damien Traille, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Raphael Lakafia, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Pelu Taele, 4 Thibault Dubarry, 3 Ben Broster, 2 Arnaud Heguy, 1 Fabien Barcella
Replacements: 16 Jean-Philippe Genevois, 17 Thomas Synaeghel, 18 Eugène Van Staden, 19 Erik Lund, 20 Talalelei Gray, 21 Yann Lesgourgues, 22 Julien Peyrelongue, 23 Seremaïa Burotu,

Ulster v Glasgow Heineken cup rugby betting

Ulster v Glasgow, Heineken Cup Rugby Betting – Ulster -16 10/11 Ladbrokes, Glasgow +17 10/11 Paddypower, Sky Sports 8pm

Ulster v Glasgow Heineken cup rugby betting

It’s crunch time in the Heineken cup for almost every team in playoff contention, and after stuttering to a loss at home to Northampton last time out Ulster simply have to beat Glasgow here, preferably (for them) with a bonus point as Northampton are hot on their heels. That would leave Ulster on 20 points with a tough trip to Castres in round six, where nothing is guaranteed. The one thing Ulster won’t want is to be depending on a win in Castres for qualification. If they can get the bonus point win tonight, and Northampton beat Castres by any score, then Ulster are guaranteed a playoff spot as group winners by virtue of their superior head to head with Northampton – who can at most reach 20 points from their remaining two games.

Ulster will be aware that they can secure qualification tonight with a bonus point win – anything next week in Castres regarding a home quarter final will be a bonus. Of course if Castres beat Northampton Ulster will still need something down in Castres, but that’s unlikely with the disharmony in the Castres camp right now. Ulster’s opponents tonight Glasgow are out of the tournament, with not even Amlin Challenge cup qualification to play for at this point. They have plenty of injuries, and I have a sneaking suspicion they’re looking to next week’s game against Northampton at home for their only win of this year’s Heineken cup.

Rugby odds pool four heineken cup
Heineken cup pool four standings betting

Ulster welcome back plenty of experience into the backline and it’s quite potent looking, with Payne, Gilroy, and Trimble all in fantastic form. The often-maligned Paddy Wallace has been integral to this Ulster side’s success over the past two years and after a rest for the past few weeks he comes back into the side to partner Darren Cave in the centre. Cave has looked lost without Wallace at times and aside from the home loss against Northampton (where the entire team floundered under the weight of expectation), these two are excellent together, and are more than a match for Dunbar and Horne (sounds like a brewery…or a wrestling partnership) in the Glasgow midfield. The rest of the Ulster side picks itself with injuries the way they are- they look stronger than Glasgow everywhere but at lock, where Henderson and Stevenson may lack a bit in the partnership stakes. There’s no questioning their ability to get on the front foot, but they may have issues in the lineout with Glasgow having so many operators.

The Glasgow side overall is seriously hit with injuries, and as above, It seems that they might be saving their powder for Northampton next week- no side wants to leave the tournament without one win, and for Scottish rugby’s ERC place negotiations alone they’ll want at least one of their sides to have registered a win. So this week they bring in Weir at ten instead of Jackson. Weir and Pyrgos don’t form the most capable partnership – indeed they were together for the only time this season that Glasgow have been beaten by more than tonight’s 16 point handicap – 31-3 away at Munster on the 1st December last month. They’ve left players like Hogg on the bench, and despite having plenty of lineout operators in the second and back row, there’s a lack of pace overall in their pack. Their one big hope will be DTH Van Der Merve on the left wing, who is in good try-scoring form, but you’d wonder how much decent ball he’ll see.

Overall, for both hunger and playing ability, this Ulster side eclipse this week’s Glasgow squad of 22 (not the usual 23 players, as they’re so short of props to injury that they have no replacement). So can they beat the handicap? There’s only two things standing in their way – the weather, and Pascale Gauzere the referee.

Gauzere is the whistle-happy Frenchman who refereed (destroyed) the Munster v Saracens game last month. I can humourously say without reservation that his was the worst refereeing performance of a top level club game I can remember. Indeed, only Craig Joubert’s world cup effort for New Zealand eclipses it for me. He whistled Munster off the park all night and virtually marched Saracens up the field to secure them a bonus point in the final minutes, awarding two astonishing penalties. Saracens missed a lot of kicks that night but Gauzere completely ruined what should have been a great spectacle between two of the best teams in club rugby, with a great rivalry. Ulster better hope that whatever was going on with Gauzere and the ERC for the Munster/Saracens match doesn’t extend to Ulster. Other than that, the weather forecast is for light rain and mist but it’s not a huge worry to be honest; Ulster have racked up some big scores in the wet so far this year.

Friday’s Main bet-

We’ve backed ulster -16 10/11 in Ladbrokes (-17 everywhere else). For a number of reasons I think Ulster can beat this handicap well, as long as Gauzere doesn’t turn this into a mess. Glasgow are a severely depleted side, and for me look to be aiming for next week’s game against Northampton in a last ditch effort to salvage a win from this season. Finally someone in the Ulster camp saw some sense last week in their 47 -17 win against the Scarlets; Pienaar looks to be back on penalty kicks for Ulster so there shouldn’t be any festering about on the scoreboard thanks to paddy Jackson missing handy punts at goal.

Glasgow have had a tendency to drastically fall away from games in the second half recently (Munster, Edinburgh twice, Northampton), and while the second half handicap of -9 looks tempting, i’m willing to take the overall cap as the safer bet, while hoping they stay true to form in that respect, helped on by their injury situation and light bench. If Glasgow get behind they’ll have to try things and I’m not sure they have the players or the drive to succeed with that tactic this week. Space will open up, and this Ulster side can exploit that.

In home games this season in both the Rabo Pro12 and the Heineken cup, Ulster have scored a total of 232 points in eight games, which averages out to just under 30 points per game. With Weir and Pyrgos running things for Glasgow I’m not sure they’ll be able to keep up on the scoreboard against a lethal Ulster backline, superior scrum, and Nick Williams in the form of his life. Ulster to win by more than 16 in going after an essential bonus point.

Don’t forget to head on over to the rugby betting forum and give your two cents on this and all of the other games this weekend. There’s plenty of discussion on the rest of the weekend’s games but we can’t see every decent punt this weekend – so come help your fellow punters out. There’s also live in-game chat on the home page of the forum for those of you who want (and who want to contribute to) blow by blow accounts of what’s happening across the tournament, along with the odd rant!

Heineken cup Rugby Betting – Predictions

We’ve had a long look at last weekend’s results across all three leagues, and below are some general predictions for final standings per pool after round six, along with final predicted standings at the bottom. Nothing is guaranteed of course, but there was alot to be learned the past two weeks.

Heineken cup rugby betting – Pool one predictions-

Round five fixtures
Pool 1 Edinburgh Rugby v Munster Rugby 12.45 Romain Poite (Fra)
Pool 1 Racing Metro 92 v Saracens 16.40 Alain Rolland (Ire)

Round six fixtures
Pool 1 Munster Rugby v Racing Metro 92 12.45 Wayne Barnes (Eng)
Pool 1 Saracens v Edinburgh Rugby 12.45 Jerome Garces (Fra)

Saracens munster and racing metro

Pool 1 Predictions – Sarries 20, Munster 20 – based on Sarries getting a losing bonus at Racing at five at home to Edinburgh, and Munster getting five at Edinburgh or at home to Racing Metro and winning the other game. Very interestingly, if this happens it comes down to match points to decide who tops the group after finishing equal on 20 points. Then it comes down to tries scored, which is also one a piece from the second game between Munster and Saracens. Finally it comes down to aggregate points in the matches. The results were 15-9 Munster and 19-13 Sarries. So the total aggregate then is Munster 28, and Sarries 28! If you take a look at the ERC rules (here) at first glance it looks like no provision has been made for this outcome.

However, we called ERC Rugby today and they have clarified that the following paragraph on that rules page applies to this possible situation, despite the fact it says ‘clubs from different pools’. Therefore, if Munster and Saracens draw on 20 points, the ultimate result will come down to;

(a) the number of tries scored in all pool matches.
(b) aggregate points difference from all pool matches.
(c) the club with the fewest number of players sent off and/or suspended in all pool matches.
(d) toss of a coin.

Currently, Sarries have nine tries (1 v Munster, 3 v Racing, and 5 v Edinburgh) and Munster have seven ( 1 v Sarries, 4 v Edinburgh, and 2 v Racing Metro). Munster will have to do some serious tryscoring in their next two games to overhaul this figure, as you’d expect a try-fest for Sarries last game at home to Edinburgh. Tough ask, but doable. Sarries are in the driving seat for topping the pool though, once they get a losing bonus at least at Racing this weekend. That being said, that isn’t guaranteed; Racing were excellent away in Toulon last weekend, despite Toulon getting an awful lot of hometown decisions. If they bring the same cohesion and intensity at home, I think they’ll beat Sarries, and maybe by more than seven. Remember, they’re still in this competition, and they might fancy their chances away at Munster. Plus, they’re slightly adrift in the TOP14 race for the first six places and might decide to concentrate on the Heineken now.

Heineken Cup Pool two predictions-

Round five fixtures
Pool 2 Ospreys v Leicester Tigers 15.00 John Lacey (Ire)
Pool 2 Toulouse v Benetton Treviso 16.00 Wayne Barnes (Eng)

Round six fixtures
Pool 2 Leicester Tigers v Toulouse 15.00 George Clancy (Ire)
Pool 2 Benetton Treviso v Ospreys 16.00 Greg Garner (Eng)

Leicester Toulouse Ospreys betting odds rugby

Pool 2 Predictions, Leicester 19, Toulouse 19 (maybe ospreys 19). Another tight finish predicted here, with both Toulouse and Leicester likely finishing on 19 points. Based on Leicester getting a losing bonus away at Ospreys (the likely loss of Flood to the citing is crucial, as Ford isn’t up to it at this level yet (**Update**, Flood has magically escaped a citing from the RFU, no doubt the RFU looking after one of their own which I suppose was to be expected. If does highlight however that professional rugby still has plenty of unfairness and bias, and it isn’t a level playing field), and beating Toulouse at home, and Toulouse getting a five pointer at home to Treviso this weekend and a losing bonus away at leicester. With Leicester misfiring and their back row looking particularly unfit, you’d think Toulouse would beat Leicester away, but don’t bank on it with George Clancy refereeing the Tigers at home.

Clancy is always a good referee for English teams so don’t panic Tigers fans. This would leave things down to tries scored between the two teams, so Leicester are going to need to score some tries in that game too, with Toulouse leading in that area in the head to head. The Ospreys could sneak the group if results go their way and they score plenty of tries at home to the Tigers in round five- unlikely, but possible. On balance I think Toulouse will probably beat Leicester away but this group is a coin toss at the minute, as reflected by the bookies who have Leicester and Toulouse both even money to top the group. Toulouse may squeak through once they can score the same number of tries in the last game as Leicester, and make sure they get a losing bonus point at least. In truth though if they can’t beat Leicester with George Ford at ten they probably don’t deserve to be in the quarters – fascinating game in prospect there.

Heineken Cup Pool three predictions-

Round five fixtures
Pool 3 Zebre v Biarritz Olympique 14.35 Peter Fitzgibbon (Ire)
Pool 3 Harlequins v Connacht Rugby 13.35 Mathieu Raynal (Fra)

Round six fixtures
Pool 3 Connacht Rugby v Zebre 20.00 Pascal Gauzère (Fra)
Pool 3 Biarritz Olympique v Harlequins 21.00 John Lacey (Ire)

harlequins and Biarritz rugby betting odds

Pool 3 Predictions, Quins 28, Biarritz 14 – Quins are a cert to qualify at this point, and i’d expect a bonus at home to Connacht and a tight win away in Biarritz. Biarritz won’t be qualifying more than likely, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zebre beat them this weekend. Zebre were good away at Ospreys this weekend gone, and this game coming up is essentially their only big game this season where the rugby world might be watching, so they’ll give it a right good go at beating a stuttering Biarritz side.

Quins are a decent each way bet for the competition this year – they have a virtually guaranteed home quarter final, and if they can dodge Clermont and pull a home semi from the draw, you’d fancy them to take most teams at home bar Clermont. Many people are discounting them because they’ve had an easy run in the pool but don’t let that put you off – they’ll be fresher than most sides, and the Heineken cup is no doubt their target this year. They’re 8/1 in stanjames, skybet or Ladbrokes ( as low as 6/1 elsewhere) to win the tournament, and they’re paying each way terms of 1/3 (so if they reach the final and lose, you still get your money back and about 2 thirds your total stake in of winnings, and if they win, then you’re in the money in a major way). Not bad value if you’re looking for an outright bet – the 8/1 will be gone if they win their next two games, which they should. They’re also an English team, which is an important asset this year considering their threat to pull the plug early in the season.

Heineken Cup Pool four predictions-

Round five fixtures
Pool 4 Ulster Rugby v Glasgow Warriors 20.00 Pascal Gauzère (Fra)
Pool 4 Northampton Saints v Castres Olympique 20.00 George Clancy (Ire)

Round six fixtures
Pool 4 Glasgow Warriors v Northampton Saints 13.35 Leighton Hodges (Wal)
Pool 4 Castres Olympique v Ulster Rugby 14.35 Nigel Owens (Wal)

Rugby odds pool four heineken cup
Rugby odds pool four heineken cup

Pool 4 Predictions, Ulster 22, Northampton 19, (Castres 14 or top the group?) – This is the toughest group to call for a number of reasons. Common wisdom expects Ulster to nail Glasgow at home and get a five pointer and win down in Castres, but there’s a few problems with that situation.

Castres rested a few important players last weekend in the TOP14 away at surprise package Grenoble (which they lost by 6).(Klassy Kockott wasn’t here, but he was at his sister’s wedding in South Africa – so it isn’t 100% that they were intending to rest him for this week’s HC game). They dealt with Northampton very easily down in Castres earlier in the group stages, where Northampton were lucky to get a bonus after Kockott missed some very easy kicks. On balance, it looks likely they’re coming up here to compete and if they were to win I’d marginally fancy them to beat Ulster down in Castres in round six, and thus qualify for the quarters. So much is dependent on this weekend’s game at Northampton, and Ulster are far from home and dry either way.

Jim Mallinder has a dilemma on his hands now – Northampton are going well in the league and have beaten Exeter away and they virtually beat Sarries the week before (everywhere but the scoreboard,thanks to some woeful refereeing against Northampton). With Leicester in the doldrums and Quins and Sarries likely to be focusing on the Heineken cup (and not playing brilliantly), they have a very real chance to win the league this year. So does Mallinder make mistake by naming a full side for this weekend, and gamble that they can get a bonus point win away at Glasgow in the final round? Or does he be realistic and name a half a side v Castres and say goodbye to the Heineken cup for the season, hope for the win and look upon it as match practice for his backup players? It’s a crucial decision I think, because Castres will pitch up with a full side. Going on Mallinder’s history, he’s likely to go for it and hope they can get five away at Glasgow in round six to leave them on 20, which may get them through. This game will decide so much right across the pools – make sure you get to see it on Friday – it’ll probably be far better than the Ulster game that’s on at the same time, which should be a good Ulster win.

One interesting bet here is Castres to top their group at 10/1 in Bet365. Keep an eye out for Northampton’s team news in the betting forum this coming Thursday, as if they name a below full strength team this is well worth a small bet. One other thing against Castres (who have been overall excellent this year in the TOP14) is the fact George Clancy is refereeing the game. Clancy always seems to favour the English teams in his refereeing internationally and on the club level – maybe he just understand their general style of play. Who knows.

Overall a very tough group to call and anything could happen – Castres are as good as Northampton and at home can beat Ulster – we may see neither Ulster or Saints qualify this year. If the above results do go accordingly, Ulster may secure the most favourable possible home quarter final opponent in Montpellier.

Heineken Cup Pool five predictions-

Round five fixtures
Pool 5 Leinster Rugby v Scarlets 18.00 Jerome Garces (Fra)
Pool 5 ASM Clermont Auvergne v Exeter Chiefs 19.00 Nigel Owens (Wal)

Round six fixtures
Pool 5 Scarlets v ASM Clermont Auvergne 18.00 Neil Paterson (Sco)
Pool 5 Exeter Chiefs v Leinster Rugby 18.00 Romain Poite (Fra)

leisnter scarelts, Clermont v esetr betting rugby odds

Pool 5 Predictions, Clermont 27, Leinster 20 – This group winner is forgone conclusion at this point, and Clermont are virtually guaranteed a home quarter final. They’ll get five points at home to Exeter, and will likely beat the Scarlets away from home. There is a small chance that the Scarlets could pull off a shock if their ground is in poor shape as it may well be. It’s unlikely though, and Clermont will top the group though so they’re through and almost definitely on a home quarter final.

Leinster seem to have gotten over their slump and i’d expect them to get five at home to Scarlets and just sneak five away at Exeter. Leinster are the current champions and they have an ability to do the necessary when they have to. Many of their big names are returning, and they had a steely determined look about them away at Edinburgh in the league last week, with Sean O’Brien in particular looking to be peaking at the right time. Exeter have adopted a bit of a ‘devil may care’ attitude lately with ball in hand and if they continue that, Leinster can score four tries against them in a shootout. Exeter may have a tough reputation at home, but if they’re playing for nothing and Leinster turn on the intensity (which they will, guaranteed), there’s big questions over whether they’ll hold out.

Clermont are biggest 11/4 to win the tournament in Skybet and it’s hard to see any reason not to back them if you can afford a decent sized bet. They have one ot the top three packs in Europe, the best inside centre in the world right now in Fofana, brilliant backs and a bench that always has at least five good impact players. They want this tournament after last year’s disappointment and there’s not one team I would back to beat them right now anywhere across Europe. I expect them to win the it outright, as long as James stays fit. He’s not the greatest player in the world, but he holds the whole machine together far better than Skrela can.

Heineken Cup Pool six predictions-

Round five fixtures
Pool 6 Sale Sharks v Montpellier 20.00 Leighton Hodges (Wal)
Pool 6 Toulon v Cardiff Blues 14.35 JP Doyle (Eng)

Round six fixtures
Pool 6 Cardiff Blues v Sale Sharks 15.40 Peter Fitzgibbon (Ire)
Pool 6 Montpellier v Toulon 16.40 Alain Rolland (Ire)

pool six toulon cardiff sale montpellier rugby odds

Pool 5 Predictions, Toulon 24, Montpellier 22 – Toulon were brought down to earth with a bang last weekend losing at home to Racing metro in a game in which they were 16 point favourites with the bookies pre-game. They have no doubt been the form side in Europe the past few months but Racing gave everyone a lesson in how to beat them here; Front up, don’t back down, and keep believing. When on the backfoot Toulon were lost, players missing tackles, no leadership ( too many chiefs, too few Indians), with johnny Wilkinson making some particlularly poor decisions at penalty time and kicking from hand. Some have said the reason Armitage hasn’t got near the England squad is because he’s poor on the back foot and that was in evidence here as he went missing for large parts of the game, as did others. Missed tackles, missed kicks, handling errors; itleads us all to one inexorable conclusion – Toulon don’t like it up them and if a team gets in their face in the knock out stages the mercs may wilt.

They’ll get five points at home to Cardiff in round five, especially with homer ref JP Doyle taking care of proceedings, but more than likely so will Montpellier away to Sale on the basis that Sale would be absolutely crazy to put their full team out with relegation threatening in the Premiership. That sets us up for a final day in Montpellier and a win there will guarantee Montpellier qualification. Toulon will be already qualified at that point, and Montpellier are well capable of beating them with their full side out. Toulon getting a losing bonus point should see them with a home quarter final anyway, even if they lose away to Montpellier in that final pool game, so there may be a lack of motivation for Toulon to win that game as well as a determined Montpellier side facing them.

So where does that leave us? Well, if the above all work out as planned ( unlikely?!), this is the scenario based on the group winners getting the first six seedings;

1. Harlequins 28
2. Clermont 27
3. Toulon 24
4. Ulster 22
5. Saracens 22
6. Toulouse 19
7. Montpellier 22
8. Munster/Leinster 20 (depending on who scores more tries currently Munster 7, Leinster 3)

Leaving us with,

Quins v Munster. Clermont v Montpellier.
Toulon v Toulouse. Ulster v Saracens

and don’t forget the semi-finals are an open draw.

There are of course any number of things that could happen here right across the pools, and Castres could really throw a spanner in the works for Ulster if they can beat Northampton. Likewise, Toulouse are eminently capable of dispatching Leicester away with Ford at the helm and an out of sorts backrow. Leinster may not pick up a bonus away at Exeter, nor may Munster away at Edinburgh, which would open the door for Leicester who may be on 19 come the end of round six. It’s all leading us towards what will be a fascinating weekend. We’ve a number of longrunning bets going but the most attractive one right now before this weekend is Harlequins at 8/1 to win the tournament as mentioned above (each way).

If you have any opinions on this (which i’m sure you do!) there’s discussion in the forum for Heineken cup round five here. Join up and get stuck in.

Also, for a comprehensive round up of last weekend’s Premiership results and what they mean to a few of us punters, you can also find that in the forum here.

Heineken cup betting – Saturday Previews Rd 4

Treviso v Leicester
Ospreys v Toulouse
Exeter v Scarlets
Leinster v Clermont
Ulster v Northampton

Heineken Cup Rugby Betting – Treviso v Leicester, Treviso +10 Bet365, Leicester -8 Sportingbet

13 35 GMT Sky Sports
There’s more dirty weather forecast for this game early tomorrow afternoon and Leicester pitch up to the Stadio Di Monigo tomorrow facing a tough game. Only two teams have beaten a ten point handicap at Treviso this season- Toulouse came in the first round of the Heineken and won by a twelve point margin, and Glasgow won by 11 after two late tries in a league game despite the fact Treviso were winning with 15 minutes to go. Other than that Treviso have been winning games away, beating the Ospreys at home and losing by a point to both Leinster (last minute Sexton drop goal) and Ulster. Treviso deserve alot of respect – perhaps more than the bookies are giving them.

Since beating Sale by 12 points away six weeks ago, Leicester have lost away from home to both Wasps and Gloucester. The side they take away tomorrow is solid as usual but it’s nothing wondrous and it has it’s weaknesses, mainly George Ford at ten and Goneva missing on the left wing. Ford has been missing a large percentage of kicks all season in the league, and he was off with the boot again last week at home to Treviso missing most of his kicks. That game saw Leicester manage an easy first half bonus point, only to be totally outplayed in the second half. Indeed, the way Treviso were so passive in the first half suggested they possibly had a gameplan to try to catch Tigers in the second half, and they almost did; losing by just eight in the end. They were excellent in that second half last week, and there’s no reason they won’t bring that hunger tomorrow – be sure that they are targeting this Leicester side as a possible scalp.

Treviso start dead-eye-dick Di Bernardo at ten this week and he’ll get most of his kicks – he is truly excellent with the boot and provides a sharp contrast to Ford’s wobbly aim. Van Zyl and Minto take over in the second row and they’re a step up from Pavanallo and Bernabo last week, and crucially the classy Zanni comes back into the side at six for Favaro after being rested last week. Overall this Treviso side is much stronger than the team that played at Welford road

Overall Treviso look to be focusing on this game relative to last week when they managed to get things back to within eight points, and while Leicester did ease up slightly they were certainly still trying. Recent Leicester form gives no valid indication why they should be 10 point favourites here and to be honest i’m expecting there could be a shock tomorrow. There hasn’t been one yet these last few rounds and Treviso are well capable of winning this game. The one worry for Treviso is their bench being a little light, however the conditions tomorrow may suit them, making it difficult for Leicester to get back ahead if they go behind.

Main Rugby Bet– Treviso +10 at 10/11 is our pick here in BEt365 (dropping to 9 elsewhere). Treviso will go all out here and Leicester this season are no great shakes compared to season’s past. The main issue for them beating this handicap is Ford at ten, and he simply can’t be depended on to take his kicks. We can take it for Granted that Leicester SHOULD win, but I have a feeling they still don’t appreciate the fight they’ll have on their hands tomorrow. Look out for he two backrows clashing and keep and eye out for Vosawai in particular who was brilliaint last week. Treviso should be maybe 5 or six point underdogs here, with a better kicker and a much better home record. Crucially, Leicester have been getting hugely favourable referees lately in the Premiership but Alain Rolland won’t give them anything but even calls tomorrow – Rolland is a great ref for Treviso backers.

Side bets – There’s word in the forum that some of the lads are going for Treviso half time and Leicester full time at 15/2. This is an excellent bet for smaller money based on Treviso’s propensity to be wining at half time and losing at full time. However, I would posit that the 13/2 in bet365 for Treviso halftime/fulltime is similarly attractive as if they get ahead and play ball like they did last week, Leicester neither have the kicker to take the points nor buckets of creativity to get the tries in rough weather. Treviso could make things extremely difficult here for Leicester tomorrow, and a possible shock looks on the cards to us.

Heineken Cup Rugby Betting – Ospreys v Toulouse, Treviso +5 Stanjames, Ospreys +7 Betfred

This game has top billing of the two early kickoffs but I think Sky have made a mistake there possibly – i’m expecting the Treviso game will provide far more drama. Toulouse made hard work of their win last week and in truth we were lucky to get the handicap win with a last minute penalty in front of the posts saving our bacon for a sixteen point win. McCallister (who is injured for this game) must have missed about seven kicks and had he nailed them all the Ospreys surely would have given up all hope and the margin would have been closer to thirty points.

As it was the Ospreys came out looking like they were worth their 16 point loss with the fight they put up. While this is an understandable way of looking at things, the fact is that Toulouse stopped playing completely for periods of that game and the Ospreys should have taken advantage before half time to take the lead. They didn’t though and Toulouse went on to lead comfortably. I’m putting that lull down as a blip becuase i feel that Toulouse just weren’t prepared for any serious resistance from a weak Ospreys side. They came out in the second half with a replaced front row and renewed vigour and never really looked back, with the Ospreys rarely threatening.

Despite a few injury returnees for the Ospreys, looking at the two teams tomorrow I still can’t see any superiority positionally for the Ospreys other than Biggar at ten (and maybe Fotualii at 9 having parity with Burgess), and the Toulouse bench is also miles ahead of their counterparts. So the only question for tomorrow is whether Toulouse will be arsed putting the Ospreys away or not on the handicap, because i’d be pretty sure of a Toulouse win here.

We’ve said it before that we think Toulouse are firmly concentrating on this competition this season (after taking the TOP14 title last year) and I have no inkling that they’ll slip up and lose tomorrow knowing that they’ll be firmly on course for a home quarter final if they win. They will remember full well how much away quarters have cost them the past few years.

The Ospreys have a decent home record but in truth they’ve been playing poor sides at home all season, and the one time they met a coherent side at home in Glasgow they were beat by eighteen points. Their Heineken season staying alive rests on a winning bonus point tomorrow but when Toulouse start to build a lead I can see them getting desperate, making mistakes, and their heads dropping. I also saw this pitch on Wednesday night in the football league-cup snorefest when Swansea snuck past Middlesborough with an own goal – and this pitch is in fantastic condition – so this will be no slugfest in the muck – which will suit Toulouse more than the Ospreys.

Main bet- Medium stakes, take Toulouse -5 in Stanjames while it lasts. The Ospreys are outclassed here in every department bar at ten, and Biggar may not still be fit. The Toulouse bench has impact everywhere, and club captain Dusatoir is back at seven from injury. Toulouse should be getting a bonus point here and I don’t think the usual fear of Toulouse just turning up and doing enough applies here – had they made their kicks last week they likely would have won by 30+.The Toulouse 1-12 appeals but at biggest 6/4 in Labrokes it’s a tricky one to invest heavily in. Maybe accumulator material.

Tryscorers- If you like the Ospreys and think they may have a Biggar shake at this then we’re giving them, then back Ospreys scrumhalf Fotualii for an anytime try at 11/2, he looks most likely for them. Picamoles is 9/2 at williamhill and rampaging in the loose, or breaking off he back of a dominant scrum (and in the form of his life) for us he has to be invested in.

Exeter v Scarlets Betting

This one has the handicap hovering aroung 6-8 points and it is maybe best left alone…. but for small to medium stakes we’re taking an interest. Scarlets welcome back George North and he has got them out of jail in the wet on a few occasions this year already. Davies continues at outside centre and Williams returns to his natural full back position. I’m actually quite surprised North has been let play a dead rubber that will have heavy collisions by the WRU and i’m not sure he’ll play the full 80. That goes for Davies too (both of them have been wrapped in cotton wool by the WRU since they emerged) with big league games coming up in the league and of course the six nations. If Exeter get out in front they may be replaced.

Exeter have beaten most of the big teams in the Premiership here this season and I can’t see them losing. The Scarlets have no reliable scrum ( and it’s wet) and no reliable kicker in Aled Thomas, and the Chiefs have both of those in plentiful supply. On top of that they have should own the lineout with Mumm playing the backrow, and they won’t lose too much around the park either.

The Scarlets have nothing to play for here whereas the chiefs can make the Challenge cup with Leinster still to come to Sandy park. This game will probably go one of two ways – The Scarlets will make it tight and the game will finish around five to eight points in their favour, or else Exeter will run the Scarlets ragged, keep the scoreboard ticking with their better kickers, and run away with it in the end- keep an eye out for Nowell on the Chiefs right wing who I saw in the Anglo Welsh cup recently, he’s lethal looking, unfortunately prices don’t look appealing for tries. The Scarlets backline looks dangerous but we can’t see them getting much ball with superiority in the lineout and scrum going to the Chiefs.

Main bet- the more I think about it the Chiefs look a really good bet here. Beause i’m not watching it (all eyes on Leinster Clermont) I won’t go full stake but medium money looks a good investment. Handicap is best in Stanjames, -6 at evens (7 and 8 everywhere else)
**We’ve had a small interest in big Exeter handicaps for this game today, in a search for some Christmas value – while it may well stay close enough, if Exeter get ahead they could really go for the jugular – it’s something they have done a number of times so far this season at home, showing a real willingness to put teams away. -22 and-25 at 13/2 and 9/1 respectively in Ladbrokes.

Heineken Cup Rugby Betting – Leinster v Clermont, Leinster -5 williamhill, Clermont +7 Paddypower

The big one returns after last week’s enthralling epic and this looks set to be the clash of the weekend once again. Last week’s game had some of the most extreme intensity of any pool game i’ve ever seen in the Heineken cup. It was like a test match, with neither side giving an inch, both uber-conservative for the most part, both waiting for the opposition to blink. Neither did blink in the end, but it was Leinster who no doubt came away with more regrets. Schmidt almost executed the perfect gameplan with the tools he had available, and only one thing didn’t come off for him on the day- the lineout. Leinster had Clermont by the balls for a period of about fifteen minutes in the second half but blew several crucial lineouts in the red zone when scores looked likely. We backed Leinster +6 and it came off nicely, but we were a bit disappointed too that Leinster didn’t follow through and get the win that we felt was there for them. It’s all set up this week and the Champions simply have to win here or it could be curtains for this year’s Heineken Cup.

So what has changed from last week? Not much. Everything we said still stands from last week’s preview (which you can see at the bottom of this post here), and we still reckon Leinster are the better side here. Leinster have made some changes and they are for the most part positive- Strauss starting instead of Cronin suggests Schmidt is happy that they’ve sorted out the lineout that cost them so dearly last week. Reddan starting suggests they think they’ll get more space than last week (though I think Boss should start here still). There’s impact on the bench with Dave Kearney, Conway, Cian Healy, Mcglaughlin, Cronin, Bent and Isaac Boss. If you look particularly at Leinster’s bench you can see an all international front row to come on in the second half in Cronin, Bent and Healy. That’s some serious impact in an area that Clermont are a bit light in and this should tell in the second half.

Clermont shuffle some players in the backrow, with notably Bardy coming in (more on him below). Crucially, Brock James is facing a late fitness test and rumour has it he won’t make it. This is a huge plus for Leinster and a big dent in Clermont’s ambitions to move the ball. Skrela is a solid player but many would say he’s past it and flaky in the extreme, and his distribution is not in the same league as James’.

Clermont now have two loose cannons in their side with the introduction of Bardy into the backrow behind Crackers-Cudmore in the second row. You can bet the entire Leinster backrow and particularly Leo Cullen (who caught a headbutt off Bardy last April in the 2012 semi-final) will be looking to wind him up from the get-go. And he will react, the only issue is whether Barnes will have the balls to show the yellows. Cudmore will be targeted too after flooring Isaac Boss last year in the run up to Cian Healy’s opening try. If Leinster can manage to wind these two up things could really fall right for them today.

Leinster showed last week that even shorn of some of their marquee players they could still bring a test intensity to the cauldron in the Marcel Michelin. It was inspiring stuff watching them completely un-intimidated by a whinging crowd (who were notably scared out of their wits that they were going to lose judging by the crowd shots, and the constant howling for every little decision) and the Clermont home-record. If the Clermont home crowd were that worried last week, this week they’ll be petrified. Clermont have only lost three times away from home all season by an average of six points, but I really feel Leinster can get a bonus point here tomorrow. Clermont are going to qualify anyway more than likely with two likely wins to come at home to Exeter and away to Scarlets, and if (WHEN) the going gets tough, and Leinster start to get under their skin they may start to question why they should bother and start to surrender their cards.

My only for Leinster here tomorrow is referee Wayne Barnes. You know how we feel about the ERC and how they need English and French teams in big numbers in this years playoffs. Barnes virtually walked Clermont up to the Leinster line in last year’s semi-final, first calling a Sean O’Brien knock on that wasn’t; then going to the TMO for a penalty that looked good (and having it ruled out) and then calling Heaslip in at the side for a penalty which looked very harsh. He has very recent form then, form that is eerily similar to Gauzere last week marching Sarries up to the Munster 22 with two hugely dubious penalties for a bonus point.

However, I think Leinster will be coming out and hitting this Clermont side with everything they have from the off, knowing full well they can’t count on Barnes to call everything they deserve. Last year’s off the ball stuff will make them hit even harder. Leinster can definitely send this Clermont side packing tomorrow, and if they can close down Rougerie and Fofana (like we said last week) then they win this game well.

Main Bet – we’e been on Leinster -6 from early in the week but there’s still -5 available in Stanjames/Betpack. I doubt it will be there come kick off. We might have a look at a big handicap closer to the game. Leinster will have 50,000 fans shouting for them tomorrow and there’s alot of payback for fouls in last April’s game. I’m expecting the Champs to put away a Clermont side that a) doesn’t need to win and may decide to save their powder for another day and b) looked exhausted last week.

Tryscorer fancies!-
unlike last week I think there will be tries this week. Cian Healy was a hero last April against Clermont getting the first try at 40/1 (anyone in the Brian Boru in Drumcondra that day last April will remember us jumping around like fools holding 40/1 dockets in our hands) but he starts from the bench tomorrow. Don’t let that put you off though, he’s well worth a fiver for last tryscorer (possibly the bonus? to save a win?) at a whopping 40/1 (prices only in williamhill right now, but you’ll get paddypower tomorrow probably). I guarantee you he will have at least one go at the line from the base of a ruck from when he comes on until the end of the game, and there should be some give when he goes for it. Incidentally – Paddypower are refunding all losing tryscorer bets in this game if a forward scores the first try – good value.

Head over to the forum for the rest of the games discussed this Saturday. A quick word on Ulster v Northampton – we’ve been on Ulster -11 from early in the week and we may take more of the -10 in williamhill and Betfred. Not much has changed from last week’s preview, except that Northampton have huge games in the next two weeks against Saracens and Quins in the league. Ulster can put them away here and then some, and despite Northampton talking about pride this week, it’s hard to see where they stay with this Ulster side. There’s a slight danger in that they have nothing to lose now, but missing Hartley and Lawes they look to be missing a bit of bite…as well as motivation. With Mallinder’s league season facing crucial games in the next fortnight expect him to empty the bench early and that will also disrupt any continuity they might have.

No bet on Monty v Cardiff for us- anything could happen. If you have to back anything, back Monty to beat a huge handicap at a big price for small money in labbrokes or Paddypower (ladbrokes better prices); it’s just as likely as anything else happening, including a Cardiff win.

Head on over to the rugby betting forum and give your two cents.

Biarritz v Connacht – Heineken cup rugby betting

Biarritz v Connacht – Heineken cup rugby betting

Biarritz (-14 bet365, v Connacht +16 williamhill) – Friday 2000 GMT Skysports.

We’ve been dodging making a decision all week on this game simply because we’ve been burned so many times backing an enigmatic Connacht side over the years – too often when they look hot, they blow cold, and vice versa. However, things have been stacking up all week in Connacht’s favour and with nothing else attractive showing itself for Friday night, it’s time to delve a little deeper into this one.

I’d imagine most rugby fans in the UK and Ireland will be watching this game on Friday night, willing the underdog from the West of Ireland to pull off an upset down in Biarritz. Last week Connacht managed to keep us all inside the +6 handicap and more, winning at home by eight points to completely go against the bookies’ handicaps (that margin could have been more but for a last minute Hairydonkey try for Biarritz). In response to that loss, which has likely cost Biarritz a place in the Heineken Cup playoffs, fat Serge has fired his coaching staff and has the caretakers in to manage things this weekend. True, this might freshen things up, but in any sport such a tumultuous change in coaching circumstances is never good. Advantage Connacht.

When mother Ireland gave birth to the screaming province of Connacht many millenia ago, you can guarantee it was wet, windy, cold, and the midwife was a Munster woman. Biarritz has had incessant rain for the past two days and all day today, and this kind of weather is meat and drink to these Connacht lads, who can play these conditions as well as anyone. Biarritz did manage to beat Zebre by a 21 point margin here in round two when the weather was similar and parts of the playing field were a swimming pool. But that was when they were still in the hunt for a playoff spot, and Zebre are a far worse side than Connacht – they fell off tackles all night in that game and really weren’t interested in turning up. Connacht will do no such thing tonight, and the forum pollster’s seem to think so too with 60% voting for Connacht +16 as tonight’s best bet. The forum gurus got four out of four results correct last week, so they deserve respect.

As mentioned in last week’s preview, these Heineken cup games are Connacht’s entire season. They’ll do nothing in the Rabo and they have no worry of relegation. When you step back and forget about conventional wisdom, Connacht now have a semi-realistic opportunity to reach the playoffs. Bear with me here. If they take four points here they will have twelve points, with a home game against Zebre to come after an away day against Quins. If they can come away with a losing bonus at Quins and then get a try bonus at home to Zebre, they’ll be on 18 points which could conceiveably be enough to qualify them depending on how other results go. If they can manage to somehow shock Quins at home (remember, they beat them at home last year and almost shocked them away), well, we’d have a true cinderella story on our hands. Either way, you can bet the Connacht squad are aware of the possible permutations. Contrast that with Biarritz, who now likely face the Amlin challenge cup again after winning it last year, you have to wonder how committed they’ll be tonight.

Stats for Connacht go out the window here because league form really means very little as mentioned above. But looking at Biarritz, they’re on a terrible streak in both the league and the Heineken. In their last eleven games they’ve lost eight, with two of those losses being away at Connacht and at home to a brutal Bayonne side. This week they welcome back some quality, and Damien Traille at inside centre is a real positive for them to at least avoid the ignominy of a famous defeat here. He’ll settle things down, straighten things up and keep Connacht honest. But that’s the only difference really from last week – Peyrelongue comes back in at ten for Berquist but that won’t have too much of an impact.

Connacht make one change, with Johnny ‘concrete’ O’Connor coming back in to make the tackles and lead the mayhem. And you can guarantee it will be mayhem tonight like the Irish side of the 80’s when they wanted a win badly – Connacht will launch themselves into everything tonight and leave nothing out there. There’ll be bodies everywhere, broken limbs scattering the sidelines, johnny O’Connor will play on one leg at some point, there’ll be medical tents on the 22 administering life saving blood transfusions to Dmitri Yachvilli and Serge Blanco’s stomach. Eric Elwood will be wearing a viking hat on the sidelines togged out and ready to sub in. There’ll be rabidConnacht tribesmen in bear pelts with slingshots and Cider-tipped spears in a cacophonous trance in the stands…….and in the middle of it all will be Braveheart Dan Parks, cool as a cucumber, pinging the corners, playing the conditions, taking his kicks, and with a bit of luck, steering project mayhem home for a famous win.

Main Rugby bet – We’re backing Connacht +16 still available in Williamhill and Stanjames. There’s only one side hungry tonight and hunger wins games. Every background context points to Connacht staying within this handicap and Biarritz being disjointed. If the wind blows the right way for Connacht in the first half, they might even win this.

Side bet – it’s 20/1 no tryscorer in Ladbrokes (12 elsewhere). With Yachvilli and Parks likely to kick everything in the muck, this is definitely a bit of value for small money. make sure you back ‘No Tryscorer’ if you go for this as you’ll be covered if there’s a penalty try.

Don’t forget to head on over to the rugby betting forum and give your two cents on this and all of the other games this weekend. We can’t see every decent punt this weekend – so come help your fellow punters out.

Heineken Cup betting – reflection & previews

Ramble at the top, betting previews at the bottom

It’s been a strange weekend so far and to be honest I’m looking at this rugby betting Sunday with a fair bit of trepidation. Saturday went to plan overall (except for Zebre- what the f*ck happened there!?), and our forum pollster’s have also contributed coming out with three wins from three for the majority vote. But there were little things in there that bothered the hell out of a few of us. Johnny Wilkinson missing two penalties from in front of the posts, and another three kicks on top of that was slightly un-nerving, and it meant we had an anxious finish on the Toulon -9. Then the other French heavyweight Toulouse barely scraped over the handicap line ( and burned a fair few punters) with McCallister looking like a backrower kicking from the tee; missing six or seven kicks to leave us needing a lucky last minute penalty to take the -14’s and -15’s into bliss, but leaving those who left it late on -16 cursing Toulouse’s nerves and McCallister’s yips. Neither of these games should have been so close.

Then the Munster game came along. There’s a few of us who watched this game thinking something was a little off. Munster were penalised 18 times, at least half of which were innocuous penalties, and most of the other half should have gone the other way. On 76 and 77 minutes Saracens were given two penalties that were dubious at best, and shocking at worst, and that led to them getting a bonus point that they simply did not deserve ( do try to pick up the replay of those last five minutes). Just another bad refereeing performance? Maybe. But Sky and the ERC will be quite happy at referee Pascal Gauzere’s complete incompetence and (I’m sorry, we tell it like we see it), it may as well have been Premiership football referees Mark Clattenburg or Howard Webb refereeing out there, havig never reffed a rugby match, for all the sense and accuracy of most of Gauzere’s decisions. As I said, the ERC and SKY TV will be happy campers at the result for a few reasons.

There is huge advertising/subscription money on the line for the Heineken Cup’s very existence right now(many many millions), with the proposed BT cup on the horizon, English club owners jockeying to get out of the contract, and English fans growing weary of the barren years that are stacking up for their clubs. How much more patience would they have if it were only Quins (with one of the smaller supporter bases of the big clubs) to only make it into the playoffs this year? Saracens picking up the late bonus point helps keep the possibility of two English clubs making it into the playoffs alive (with Leicester touch and go with some tough games to come), especially if they (Saracens) can deny Munster a bonus point next week. So it worked out well for Saracens, and by extension SKY and the ERC, who will have a better chance of keeping control of European rugby in the long run if more English sides make the playoffs in the next couple of years, and the money will keep on flowing. Munster will have an extra tough game away at Saracens next week, and i’m not sure i’d take 10/1 on them to win if it was offered, let alone the 2/1 they’ll probably start at.

So onto tomorrow and we’re all over the place to be honest after watching that game. How many more strange things are going to happen this weekend? General opinions on the games tomorrow are below but the enthusiasm is gone for the Heineken cup this weekend after watching that Gauzere-led shambles last night; it really put a sour taste in the mouth.

Starting with Cardiff v Montpellier, and both these sides are more or less out of the competition. Cardiff will want this more than Montpellier who have rested a number of their better players. Monty are doing well in the TOP14 and you can be sure their one and only goal is to stay fit and stay in the top six for the French playoffs. If Cardiff were a better side you could back them, but despite having a few Welsh internationals back you couldn’t invest money in their pack holding it together. If you must have a bet here in the early game, back Cuthbert 17/10 in Paddypower for an anytime try. He’s big, he’s not the greatest defender, but he can score tries and with the expectation that Montpellier won’t be that bothered tomorrow, it would be a surprise to see him not touch down.

Leicester v Treviso was flagged up on Thursday and Friday in the forum as being value at -22, with Treviso resting a number of their better players. Leicester have a strong side out and they have to get a bonus point or they really are in the shit in this pool. Interestingly despite Pascal Gauzere being pencilled in to referee this one, he was subbed in for the Munster game last night in place of Munster’s other favourite referee, Roman Poite. George Clancy takes Gauzere’s place here and it’s rare that George does anything to upset our English applecart, indeed he pinged the All Blacks for everything (correctly so in our opinion) in the recent test so he’s a good man to have for Leicester backers. One minor problem may be George Ford at ten having a wobbly boot. With most bookies out to 24 there’s still 22 in Bluesquare. I wouldn’t go bigger than medium stakes but they should manage four tries and a few pens.

And lastly onto the big one. Clermont v Leinster will be watchable without a bet but we’re going to have a one. Leinster are being written off by many people before this game but Clermont are not totally dominant in any one area. For me the Leinster pack shades this Clermont pack which isn’t the awesome force it’s made out to be. Particularly in the lineout Hines (36) and Cudmore haven’t impressed me at all this season for Clermont and Cudmore is always a big liability, as I often point out!

Boss at scrum half is on better form than Reddan and he has been picked here because he’s like an extra back row forward. Boss was one of the leaders in the Leinster team two years ago that went down there and came away with a bonus point that qualified them, and they went on to win the cup. His opposite number Parra has been patchy of late in the TOP14, and Brock James always gets the yips against Leinster. So that’s 1-10 sorted out, what about the rest?

Left wing- Nalaga and Nacewa – Nalaga on his day is unstoppable but Nacewa is possibly the most consistent player in Europe of the past three or four years. His intelligence trumps Nalaga for me.

Full Back – Byrne v Madigan- I don’t rate Byrne and he’s prone to brain farts, but he has a slight edge on Madigan here, simply because Madigan is still working his way into this position.

From 12-14 it gets dicey for Leinster. Fofana, Rougerie (who is back on form) and Sivivatu ( who can blow hot and cold) against an untried Leinster combo of Darcy and import Goodman. Darcy will last 50/60 minutes and has been brilliant lately, but how he’ll work with Goodman is anyone’s guess. MacFadden has also been excellent lately, offensively and defensively, so I can’t write Leinster of too much here.

When you break it down it doesn’t look as bleak as people are making out, and there’s a clear gameplan here from Leinster – smother them, roll with the early punches, and the then make them doubt and fear the champs that have had the Indian sign over them the past few years. Leinster won’t fear Clermont and Clermont WILL fear them. They have a home record at stake that should be gone months ago, when a callow Stade Francais side lost at the death to a drop goal after dominating a full Clermont side for 75 minutes. There will be doubt, there will be fear, and there will be Nigel Owens, the best ref in world rugby to referee this epic in the making.

If you must have a bet back Leinster +7.5 (no draw handicap) at 5/6 in Ladbrokes.,we’ve kept it to medium stakes. The draw also has merit for small money at biggest 22/1 in Paddypower . And having backed Cian Healy last year for first tryscorer at 40/1, and winning ( another life on another rugby forum) I’ll be backing the same again here. 40/1 in Ladbrokes and skybet that Clermont still haven’t learned their lesson.

Leinster can win this if they can stay with them for the first 20 and slow down their ball. Rougerie and Fofana look great lately, but without much ball they can’t do much damage. IT’s been boggy of late in this part of France and despite clear fine weather this pitch shuold shurn up and that’ll suit Leinster more than Clermont.
The Clermont yips will come, Leinster just have to strike when they do.

Head over to the forum for discussion, and we’ll have a speculative small money 30/1 shot for you at about 12 noon