It is that time of the week when we put our head on the chopping block with Planet Rugby’s weekend predictions.
Amid the wind and cold weather currently battering Europe, temperatures are set to rise in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup this weekend.
Just two rounds remain in the group stages so expect no quarter to be given as teams hope to cement or sneak into Europe’s knockout matches.
Toulouse currently lead the points standings on sixteen after four wins from four but they remain a 6/1 outsider according to the bookies. Toulon are the 21/10 favourites ahead of Clermont (7/2), Northampton (5/1) and Toulouse, while Leinster and Saracens are outsiders at 12/1.
But that’s the tournament betting and we’re all about the here and now this week as we use Paddy Powers’ rugby odds to pick out the best of the possible money makers in the upcoming round. It promises to be an outstanding few days of rugby so let’s kick on, starting with Friday.
Leicester v Scarlets
It’s not often a team is worse off on the injury front than Leicester has been this term but that is the case for the Scarlets at the moment as they head to Welford Road for a pivotal pool game without Liam Williams, Samson Lee, Ken Owens, Emyr Phillips, Kirby Myhill, Phil John and Rhodri Jones.
Surely they won’t cause a shock and although the -15 handicap on Leicester is pretty high, one look at the respective matchday 23s leaves enough confidence that the Tigers will produce the goods – if Freddie Burns puts in a performance. Elsewhere we expect the points line of 43.5 to be beaten as both sides desperately need a five-point return from Friday to give themselves any hope of qualification.
Toulon v Ulster
Almost the entire Toulon backline has been in bed this week battling the flu, but the defending champions’ record at Stade Felix Mayol speaks for itself. They’re unbeaten there in 13 games. An all-international starting XV for RCT makes for impressive reading. Toulon by 10 points.
Saracens v Munster
Do Munster have the attacking game needed to unlock the ever-tight Sarries defence? We’re not sure. With the travelling Red Army set to be in full voice, Munster are sure to put up a fight but the absence of Conor Murray is a real blow.Saracens by six points.
Sale Sharks v Clermont
In years gone by you would mark this fixture down as foregone conclusion but Sale have proven to be a very difficult side to break down this season. And despite having no hope of qualifying for the knockout stages, Steve Diamond has named his strongest side. Munster and Sarries scraped to narrow wins in Salford but – like many French clubs – Clermont are notoriously inconsistent on the road. Considering what is at stake, les Jaunards should have no lack of motivation though and the 35-3 scoreline from the last time these sides met highlights the gulf in resources between them. Clermont by seven points.
Leinster v Castres
Fair play to Castres for naming strong team despite having nothing to play for, but their form this season leaves little doubt as to who the favourites are here. Jamie Heaslip is back for the hosts, who rarely lose in Dublin. Leinster by 20 points.
Harlequins v Wasps
Plenty to play for between two sides who like to take the game to the opposition, so it should be an entertaining clash at the Stoop. Quins’ big win over Leicester last week suggests they’re coming good and with top spot in Pool 2 on the line, they have every reason to put their best foot forward. Look to Nick Evans to come off the bench and play an influential role in what is likely to be close game. Harlequins by less than five points.
Toulouse v Bath
Arguably the highlight of the weekend considering Toulouse’s patchy form in the Top 14 and Bath’s impressive displays in recent weeks. Unbeaten Toulouse will qualify for the quarter-finals with another win but last week’s narrow success over La Rochelle was far from convincing. The four-time champs always find an extra gear in Europe though, and Guy Nov