Predictions: Champions Cup, Challenge Cup

Date published: December 16 2016

European futures hang in the balance this weekend as the Round 4 of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup take place across the continent.

Northampton and Leicester will have been waiting hungrily for a chance to avenge their efforts from last weekend, Clermont too, before tournament takes a break until mid-January.

With a number of blockbuster fixtures across the slate there should be a number of close games.

Here’s who we are backing.

CHAMPIONS CUP

First things first, make sure you sign up for our excellent Champions Cup Fantasy game with our friends over at SuperBru.

Leicester Tigers v Munster

38-0. Sorry Tigers fans, we know you have been trying to scrub that scoreline off your brain for the last few days since Leicester return from Thomond Park with their tails between their legs. Saturday serves up a shot at redemption after a tumultuous week for a club so used to success, with speculation surrounding Richard Cockerill’s future with the club and an sick ward full of backs who the two-time winners desperately need back on the field.

Munster by contrast are building up momentum, enough for pre-tournament predictions about their progress in this season’s Champions Cup to be re-examined. CJ Stander and Conor Murray – both picked in our Team of the Year – are in flying form but they are not alone with youngsters Rory Scannell and Darren Sweetnam stepping up, and Jaco Taute playing the best rugby of his career in that famous red shirt at outside centre.

Leicester have bounced back in the past and Welford Road can be imposing, but, after the way Munster performed last weekend there is no way we’re backing against them seven days later. Munster by nine.

Connacht v Wasps

Interesting match-up at the Sportsground, where Wasps travel to fresh from last weekend’s win. Connacht’s fortress has become a tricky place for opposing sides to visit – we’re looking at you, Toulouse – but Pat Lam and his squad have been hit by the injury bug, with exciting back Cian Kelleher absent for a month after he was injured last weekend at the Ricoh Arena.

Connacht need to win to stay in touch with Wasps at the top of Pool 2, not to mention with Toulouse at home to struggling Zebre, and another performance like last Sunday’s from Kieran Marmion certainly wouldn’t go amiss. For Wasps meanwhile this feels like an acid test of their credentials.

Win in Galway and they take control of the group heading into the final two rounds. Very tough to call. Wasps to sneak it by five.

Clermont Auvergne v Ulster

If the second bout between these two is as good as the first, we are in for a treat. Both teams were outstanding in Belfast last Saturday, serving up one of the matches of the year thanks to the creativity of Paddy Jackson and Camille Lopez. It felt like a statement game from Jackson who is oozing confidence right now, be it how he attacked the gain line or put his pack in the right areas of the field off the boot.

Lopez and his France team-mate Wesley Fofana, not forgetting Rémi Lamerat at outside centre, are a highly impressive midfield combination getting the best out of Clermont’s wide men. David Strettle will not be one of those this week though, after he was ruled out for four weeks.

A reaction is expected from les Jaunards and they should deliver, not that Ulster aren’t capable of a famous win on the road in France. A win could put Clermont clear at the top. Clermont by eight.

Other Champions Cup predictions:

Glasgow Warriors v Racing 92: Glasgow by 6
Bordeaux-Bègles v Exeter Chiefs: UBB by 9
Toulouse v Zebre: Toulouse by 30
Leinster v Northampton: Leinster by 12
Castres v Montpellier: Montpellier by 11
Scarlets v Toulon: Toulon by 9
Sale Sharks v Saracens: Saracens by 15


CHALLENGE CUP

Brive v Enisey-STM: Brive by 30
Pau v Bristol: Pau by 6
Newport Gwent Dragons v Worcester Warriors: Dragons by 5
Treviso v Bayonne: Treviso by 8
Harlequins v Timisoara Saracens: Quins by 40
Ospreys v Grenoble: Ospreys by 25
La Rochelle v Gloucester: La Rochelle by 7
Newcastle Falcons v Lyon: Falcons by 12

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