In fact we know who’s winning all the pools. Knowing that I headed into my predictions thinking it might be a boring round of games. However the matchups and fight for the runners-up places mean it looks like a really good round of games.
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Lyon v Northampton Saints – Northampton Saints by 5
Saints are one of the teams in the logjam that are fighting to join Ulster as one of the best runners-up. Up against Lyon who have only ever won one game in the Heineken Champions Cup they should set the early pace. Clearly when it’s this close bonus points will be important but they need to make sure the get the win first.
Benetton Rugby v Leinster Rugby – Leinster Rugby by 15
This is just a matter of by how many. Leinster are currently top seed of the qualified teams and they will look to confirm that with a win. Leinster don’t even need the TBP however you can’t see Benetton stopping them from getting that really.
Ulster Rugby v Bath Rugby – Ulster Rugby by 5
Ulster are currently the best places runner-up. However their lack of bonus points shows that they aren’t winning games by much. Their two home wins so far have only been by 1 and 5 points.
Bath on the other hand are struggling. No wins so far and only bonus points showing they are better than Ospreys. They certainly have the talent to trouble Ulster but with nothing to get out of this game will they select them? Ulster should get at least the win to go through to the Quarter Finals.
Harlequins v ASM Clermont Auvergne – ASM Clermont Auvergne by 7
There’s not really much on the line in this game. Quins aren’t going to qualify and Clermont are already qualified. You might say they are still fighting for seeding. However as Clermont are last they might decide it’s better to rest players for future games.
Sale Sharks v Glasgow Warriors – Glasgow Warriors by 3
Ordinarily you’d think Glasgow were out of the reckoning for qualification. However when you see that two of the other runners-up are facing pool winners, suddenly it’s game on. Sure Glasgow’s destiny is in the hands of other teams so all they can do is get the win. They’ll want the bonus point too so that they stay ahead of Munster.
For Sale, this game really doesn’t matter and I think they’ll save their players for their Premiership playoffs Challenge.
Exeter Chiefs v La Rochelle – Exeter Chiefs by 10
La Rochelle might have won their last two games in this competition but they were resting players even then. I can’t see them changing that for an away trip.
For Exeter it’s all about seeding. That means they really need the bonus point. With qualification in the bag I think they’ll be going for tries right from the start rather than 3 points.
Munster Rugby v Ospreys – Munster Rugby by 15
Munster are effectively out of the competition. Sure there might be combinations of results that will get them through but it’s very unlikely to happen. However they are up against one of the worst teams in Europe this season. Even though there’s nothing much to play for I fully expect Munster to get a comfortable TBP win.
Saracens v Racing 92 – Saracens by 3
This is a cracker, it would be even without the whole “relegated team wins Europe” possibility. But that’s the question isn’t it? Will Saracens throw everything at this game or will they be saving players for the Premiership?
I think that we would all like them to go all guns blazing and that’s why I’m backing them to win. Is that a heart over head decision? Probably.
Toulouse v Gloucester Rugby – Toulouse by 3
Toulouse are in a battle with Exeter and Racing for that second seed position. At this point they’ll know what they need to do. THey’ll have been preparing all week that they not only need the TBP win but also to try and improve their points difference.
Gloucester on the other hand are fighting for that best runners-up spot so aren’t going to make it easy. In the end Toulouse are going to have to concentrate on the win not the seeding or they will trip up. Gloucester are a good side but I think will find this a step too far and might just miss out on the quarter finals.
Montpellier v Connacht Rugby – Montpellier by 3
This is one of the few really dead rubbers. There’s absolutely nothing on the line except pride and so you go with the home side. Neither side are interested in this game so are likely to rest players.
I’m 39 from 50 or 78% so far this season. Aside from round 1 I’m having a decent season with 8 or 9 correct in all the other rounds.
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