It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits down in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to give you his calls. Brace yourself for the Heineken Cup.
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Biarritz vs Harlequins
Bar the absence of Nick Easter, Quins have opted to send their strongest XV over to France, suggesting that despite already having a home tie guaranteed, they want to keep the momentum going and also desire top seeding. His absence will likely be significant though. He has carried 65 times so far with 12 offloads and has been the 'go-to' forward for making the tough yards. There is also a great understanding with Danny Care and as a rule, any disruption of a successful 8-9-10 combination needs attention. Quins have now won 9 of their last 11 Heineken Cup matches by an average of 32-14 and 4/5 games away by 31-16. You can split Biarritz's domestic season into 3 parts. Rounds 1-4 saw them win all 4 games by an average of 27-14, rounds 5-10 were all defeats by an average of 14-24 and saw the tries completely dry up, while rounds 11-15 saw 4 wins and a loss by a rate of 20-18. To add some context, 'sections' 1 and 3 saw mostly home games (6/9) and 'section' 2 was predominantly away (4/6 away). So rather than a drastic swing in form, perhaps it should be taken that like the majority of their league, Biarritz can be expected to win most of their home games and lose the away matches. BO have also beaten English opponents in 11/12 matches by 25-15. Rain seems to be likely, hopefully not as torrential as in the Connacht game but that, home advantage and the fact that Quins don't have to win have me leaning towards a Biarritz victory at 1.91. Imanol Harinordoquy to score anytime at 10.0, Care at 5.5 and Chris Robshaw at 17.0 may prove useful prices if the weather is poor and the game is tight. Referee John Lacey was quiet last week, but has given 6 cards in his 5 HEC games this season and with 12 cards in 8 Biarritz home league matches / 5 in 4 HEC games there, I'll be punting on 2 or more cards at 3.0.
Montpellier vs Toulon
A losing bonus-point would secure a home quarter-final for Toulon and a win would see Montpellier through to the latter stages, which begs the question - is it too obvious to simply bet on that outcome? Montpellier have won 7/8 home games in the Top 14 by 28-16, with the only loss being a 25-32 defeat by Toulon. Mourad Boudjellal's all-star team have proved to be away day specialists in the league so far, winning 7/9 trips by 24-17. That's no mean feat, given how much significance a home win holds to a French side. The hosts are unbeaten on their own turf in their short Heineken Cup history, drawing 2 and winning 3 games by a rate of 24-18. Toulon have won 3/6 away games by an average of 20-23 in this competition and despite carrying for over half a kilometre when visiting Sale and Cardiff, only scored 1 try in each game. With Eric Bechu passing away this week, there will be an emotional response from the hosts and I see them winning by the 1-10 point margin. There have been no cards in the last 3 meetings between the pair at this ground, but Alain Rolland has given out 7 in his 4 matches so far, so I'd be looking to back at least 1 sin-binning. Toulon have only scored 1 of their 23 tries in the first quarter of games and both sides get approximately 2/3 of their tries after the break, so the 2nd half to be highest scoring tempts.
Exeter vs Leinster
Much like last week, Leinster have to both win and score as many tries as possible to stand a chance of progressing. The frantic, direct method they used last week brought criticism from some, especially as the gap between the 4th and 5th tries being scored amounted to a period of 37 minutes. It should prove an even trickier proposition to rack up the tries at Sandy Park. The Chiefs have won 6/13 Premiership games at home by 23-20 and 5/7 at home by 28-17. The 2 most recent home results have been a draw and loss to Bath and Saints, however their combined record against those sides is 10 losses from 12 so they are very much their 'bogey teams'. A look at Exeter's home league record since joining the top flight, reveals they concede an average of 15 points and kept opposition teams under 20 points in 23/29 games. There is a distinct lack of teams scoring 4 tries or more against them too. Leinster have won 9/13 PRO12 games so far by 25-19 and 3/7 away by 16-22. They have beaten 26/50 opponents away in group stage games in this competition, by an average of 22-23, with a more recent record of 6 wins from 10 games by 21-15. The last 6 trips have all been low scoring with less than 40 total match points and try bonus points have been rare. Now Leinster would rightly argue that in most of those games they weren't looking for the 4 tries, as a win was enough and can also point to Clermont putting 46 points on the Chiefs home and away. Even with that in mind, conditions aren't likely to be conducive to running rugby down in the South-West and I think Exeter may frustrate the champions. I will be backing Leinster to win this one, but to also score under 4 tries.
Munster vs Racing Metro
Playing on Sunday means Munster will know exactly what is required and while the plan is unlikely to deviate too much from needing a four tries, there may be an indication of exactly how many have to be scored. Munster have won 8/13 PRO12 games by an average of 20-15 this season and 5/7 matches at home by 21-9. The Irish side have also won a dominant 48/50 home group stage games by a rate of 30-13 and the last 17 by 26-13. Racing have also lost 6/9 away games in the competition by a rate of 25-29 and their defeat by Saracens last week means focus will be back on domestic matters, with key players rested. Were this 'old' Munster, there would be few doubts that they would get the job done, especially against a possibly disinterested travelling team that played as individuals and without discipline last week. However 'new' or 'in-transition' Munster aren't as sure a bet and there may a move to traditional tactics later on, much like the home game against Edinburgh. It