A 3-1 record for my first week on the job was promising and I am hopeful for more success this week. It’s worth noting that all the Irish provinces were victorious while all seven English teams were defeated in Round 3 of the European Champions Cup. History tells us that results can be turned on its head in these back to back fixtures and I can’t wait for the repeat clashes.
Leinster V Exeter Chiefs (Saturday KO 3:15) – Selection – Leinster (-8) @10/11
Leinster deserved their 8-18 win on Sunday evening against the Chiefs. The highflying Pool 3 leaders are sitting comfortably on 14 points and have been instilled as the bookies’ favourites to win the whole competition – currently 3/1. I was impressed in how Leinster managed their discipline (Only 5 penalties conceded) and kept errors to a minimum last week. A similar performance should see them cover the 8 point margin quite comfortably. Exeter will be gutted to have lost their 17 game unbeaten record at Sandy Park and are coming into the tie with injury woes. Phil Dollman and Ollie Devoto will both miss the trip to Dublin and I can see Leinster really putting the squeeze on in front of a packed Aviva Stadium. There are 10,000 ”Chieftans” expected to travel over which will make for a fantastic atmosphere.
Bath V Toulon (Saturday KO 5:30) – Selection – Bath (-3) @10/11
I have been impressed with Bath’s home form in the Aviva Premiership this season and I am confident they can take care of Toulon at the Recreational Ground. Toulon are very fortunate to be topping pool 5 as the three games they have won have been by a combined score of 6 points! Bookmakers are still partially pricing Toulon as the world beaters they were when they had players like Johnny Wilkinson, Bakkies Botha, Juan Smith and Bryan Habana. This is a more vulnerable outfit with a weaker front 5. I expect Bath to cover the 3 point spread and gain revenge for last week even though they are missing Taulupe Faletau. Rhys Priestland is one of the best goal-kickers in the tournament and will punish any Toulon ill-discipline.
Wasps V La Rochelle – (Sunday KO 1:00) Selection – Wasps (-2) @10/11
This is the clash I am most looking forward to at the weekend. La Rochelle are no longer ”dark horses” for the competition, being the only team to have achieved the maximum 15 points from their opening 3 games. Wasps are on 6 points and will need to right the wrongs of last week if they are to progress out of the pool. Both sides play fantastic brands of attacking rugby but I think that Wasps are deserved two-point favourites for this fixture at the Ricoh Arena. Last week, there were a couple of yellow cards and a couple of charge downs and against a quality side like La Rochelle it was always going to be an uphill battle for Dai Young’s men. Wasps are a better proposition at home and I am quite confident that they will cover the 2 point margin.
Leicester V Munster – (Sunday KO 5:30) Selection – Leicester Tigers (-1) @10/11
Pool 4 is the most open in the competition and it looks like we will have to wait until January to see who progresses. Munster are sitting cosily on 11 points, while a win at Welford Road on Sunday would be huge for their European dream. They will be desperate to rewrite history having lost this same fixture at Welford Road last season on the back of an impressive win at Thomond Park. I’m going for a Leicester win. They have only lost 2 games in their last 30 at home in the Champions Cup and I am expecting a ruthless performance. The Tigers came off second best in too many collisions at Thomond Park but the physical nature of players like Tatafu Polota-Nau (Australian Hooker), Matt Toomua and Manu Tuilagi will give the Tigers a significant boost.
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