It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to give his calls. Get ready for the Heineken Cup.
It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to reveal his calls. Get ready for the Heineken Cup semi-finals.
Remember you can contact Russ with all your comments and questions on Twitter – @rpetty80.
Clermont Auvergne vs Munster
The Vulcans have won fifteen of sixteen Heineken Cup games in France since last meeting Munster, by an average score of 32-14. In the Top 14, they've won the last 47 home games by a rate of 33-13 and twelve games this season by 39-15. The French cannot call upon the intimidating atmosphere of the Marcel Michelin however on Saturday. A look at this season's statistics for the competition so far reveals they have made 144 offloads to Munster's 47, scored 28 tries to 14, 883 carries to 689, made 3896 metres to 2487, beaten 153 defenders to 99 and fashioned 66 clean breaks to 29. Munster may have only won one of their last seven PRO12 games and lost seven of ten league away trips this season, but they will point to that second-half performance against Harlequins as evidence that there is huge difference between domestic matches and the tense contests in Europe. The win at the Stoop was their tenth quarter-final success (from fourteen attempts). Munster have only been beaten by more than eleven points in two Heineken Cup knockout games away from home and just three times in their last 32 away games at all stages in the tournament going back to 2005/6. Just seven of 34 previous semi-finals have been won by a greater margin than the twelve-point handicap available and the hosts are without their influential captain AurÃ©lien Rougerie and flanker Gerhard Vosloo, who are also two of the main sources of offloads. Clermont have won 5/7 home games against Irish opposition by an average score of 20-17, with all seven games seeing a margin of seven points or less. That all suggests that backing the Irish side with the points available is a wise idea, however I have to confess that I've gone against all those logical arguments this time and pounced on Clermont -11 a few weeks ago. They have too much power and backline threats to ignore and there has possibly been a slight overreaction to Munster's victory over Harlequins at the Stoop.
Saracens vs Toulon
Despite Mourad Boudjellal's recent best attempts to compare Toulon's budget unfavourably with “monster” Clermont recently, a quick check of the famous names in the squad is enough to dissuade any views that this is a plucky underdog heading to Twickenham. However RCT have just been replaced by Clermont at the head of the Top 14 table and have won one of their last four league matches and three of the previous nine league away matches (having started the season with four straight away wins). They've won 3/7 away games in this competition by an average score of 17-23 and whilst the Stade Mayol has seen some heavy defeats handed out, the same cannot be said on their travels. The sight of Matt Giteau trucking it up against Leicester should dispel any accusations that this is a side of mercenaries, just looking to earn a final pay day in the French sun. The high wages do increase expectation levels though and defeats in high profile elimination games in recent seasons will have piled on the pressure. Playing at different venues at the start of the season did little to distract Saracens and they've won sixteen of 21 league games by an average score of 24-15. Since January they've averaged 29 points a game, with the move to a new stadium a big factor in that scoring increase. Sarries have totalled 172 points in the five games there and only conceded 66. The defence or 'wolfpack' has been as mean as ever, only allowing 20 points in seven of 28 matches this season while there has been a real dominance after half-time. The hosts have only been outscored twice in 21 league games in the second-half and average an advantage of +7 points then and +12 in the last seven games. In Europe, that jumps to +11. A dominant line-out bossed by Steve Borthwick, powerful driving maul, highly efficient kick-chase game and accurate goal-kicking saw off Ulster while they also have the ability to switch to an offloading game – with centre Joel Tomkins contributing 43 in 20 league games. Saracens have scored 6/38 Premiership tries in the opening 20 minutes and conceded 4/23 in that quarter. Combined with 2/17 tries scored in Europe in that period – it points to backing time of first try after 20 minutes and I like the look of no try at 15.0 and a drop-goal (from you know who) at 1.73. I agree with the bookies that this could be close but I'm not sure that an empty stadium or facing the 'Pilou-Pilou' will bother Sarries one bit. They thrive off suffocating teams and have shown at Welford Road they also have the ability to chase down a lead if required. I think there's a case to take the hosts with the +1 point and I also like the look of the 1-10 winning margin.