It is back to the normality of Europe’s domestic leagues this weekend with big clashes leading the way in the Premiership, PRO12 and Top 14.
A busy festive period already kicked off on Thursday with Grenoble’s win over Toulouse, but what about the rest of the weekend’s 18 top level matches?
Let’s take a look at the predicted outcomes.
Wasps v Bath
What an odd week for Dai Young’s side, putting on a brave face after the outcome of what happened in Connacht and the lineout that should never have been allowed. How their Champions Cup pool all pans out will be settled in mid-January but there are Premiership matters to attend to now for the in-form side, who have gladly welcomed the return to fitness of Kurtley Beale and have Joe Launchbury playing out of his skin in the second row.
Bath though are right on their heels, with two points separating second from third, as they make the trip up to the Ricoh Arena. Watching the return of Francois Louw, George Ford, Taulupe Faletau and Jonathan Joseph outlined just how much quality Todd Blackadder has to play with – but the key man might be Ben Tapuai, signed to strengthen the Bath midfield and making himself at home so far on attack and defence. A fit Robbie Fruean will be worth watching when his time comes too. Even with those star names, Wasps at home this season and last have been a tough nut to crack. Wasps by six.
Other Premiership predictions:
Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks: Saints by 8
Saracens v Newcastle Falcons: Saracens by 15
Exeter Chiefs v Leicester Tigers: Chiefs by 6
Bristol v Worcester Warriors: Bristol by 3
Harlequins v Gloucester: Harlequins by 8
Munster v Leinster
Arguably the game of the weekend on the continent when second travels to play first in the PRO12 on December 26, although don’t be fooled, all that is keeping these two apart at the top of the table is points difference. Munster’s complaints about one or two refereeing calls at Welford Road were not completely out of line but that said, it was a poor performance from Rassie Erasmus’s group, failing to follow up on the astonishing 38-0 whipping they gave to Leicester the week before. A response therefore is expected, particularly at home.
Equally, suggestions that the 60-point drubbing Leinster handed out to Northampton Saints last week flattered the boys in blue somewhat are not outlandish. Ross Byrne however handled things well at fly-half, Josh van der Flier is currently sensational at openside flanker, and in Adam Byrne the side appear to have found an excellent finisher. Going to Thomond is never easy, but, the last team to travel there and win in the PRO12? You guessed it, Leinster, this time last year. Not this time though… Munster by five.
Other PRO12 predictions:
Treviso v Zebre: Treviso by 6
Ulster v Connacht: Ulster by 3
Cardiff Blues v Newport Gwent Dragons: Blues by 12
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors: Glasgow by 8
Ospreys v Scarlets: Ospreys by 5
Montpellier v Toulon
Second against third at the Altrad Stadium, which says something considering that Clermont and Toulon are yet to hit their respective peaks thus far in a mixed season. Jake White’s group are tough to take down on their own patch, having not lost in the league since August when Clermont came to town. Pierre Spies is a very welcome returnee this week, although Benjamin Fall has been lost for three months. The recipe as ever for success for Montpol? Bully your opponent upfront.
That was the area where Toulon were a little soft last season, and it was a surprise to see their giant tight five undone last Sunday on the road against a Scarlets pack who were quick at the breakdown and in defence. Leigh Halfpenny doesn’t miss many clutch kicks so don’t be surprised to see him step up a week on from his miss at Parc y Scarlets by landing the winner this time around. Winning here would certainly help Mike Ford’s prospects of staying on as Toulon boss beyond this season. As ever in France though, advantage favours the hosts. Montpellier by five.
Other Top 14 predictions:
Brive v Lyon: Brive by 6
Bayonne v La Rochelle: La Rochelle by 9
Bordeaux-Bègles v Pau: UBB by 7
Clermont Auvergne v Stade Français: Clermont by 12
Racing 92 v Castres: Castres by 3