Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Harlequins v Montpellier | The Stoop, Twickenham | Thursday 12 November | 21:40
Harlequins and Montpellier will get the European Challenge Cup underway this Thursday evening. Both teams' poor 2014/15 domestic campaigns saw them drop out of the first tier of the competition (The European Rugby Championship Cup) which will have left somewhat of a bitter taste in their mouths.
To Win Match
Harlequins (-5.5) 9/10
Montpellier (+5.5) 9/10
The London-based club have enjoyed a fantastic start to their domestic campaign, winning three of their four Aviva premiership fixtures. Whether this will translate into European success is still to be seen, one thing is for sure,’ Quins will come into this game with their tails up.
‘Quins are likely to try and set a solid foundation through their pack come game day but with two of their formidable loose forwards ruled out through injury this may be easier said than done. Flanker Netani Latuai has been ruled out for the remainder of the year with a knee injury while eighthman Mat Lumanu is out for six weeks after undergoing an operation on a pectoral injury. While the absence of the duo is a massive loss for ‘Quins, they do have England skipper, Chris Robshaw, among their ranks. The big loosie is more than capable of filling the void left by the injured duo.
Another English international who could have a big say in this game is Mike Brown. The fullback was one of the few Englishmen to put in a decent showing at the World Cup. His ability to launch counter-attacks from deep inside his own half will be integral to nullifying the kicking game that Montpellier are likely to employ.
This will be the Londoners first involvement in the Challenge division of the European Rugby Championship. They played in the top tier last year (the European Cup) but we’re knockout at the pool stage.
Montpellier is becoming somewhat of a haven for South African rugby players. Whether it’s the du Plessis brothers, who are looking to swell their retirement funds, or the likes Demitri Catrakillis and Pat Cilliers who decided to leave South African shores in search of a new adventure, Montpellier is welcoming them all with open arms. The key figure in this influx of South African talent is Jake White. The former ‘Bok mentor has only been in charge of the French club for less than a year but he’s already making his mark.
His side have won five out of their eight domestic fixtures this season and occupy fifth spot on the Top 14 log. They did suffer a heavy defeat in their last outing, however, going down by 52 points to 8 against Toulon. The result may have dented the players' confidence levels somewhat but with White being such a great man-motivator, his team are likely to have forgotten about their failings come Thursday evening.
Any squad that has Bismark, Jannie, and Pat Cilliers is going to be lethal at scrum time. Despite possessing one of the meanest sets of front row forwards in the game, Montpellier's real strengths lie in the backline. Australian scrum-half Nick White will be a constant threat around the fringe of the ruck while his former Brumbies teammate Jessie Mogg will offer a counter-attacking option from the back. Mogg also has one of the biggest boots in the game and if the ‘Quins backs are foolish enough to get into a kicking duel with him come matchday they are definitely going to come off second best.
Whilst Mogg and White will be influential to Montpellier's cause, the man who is most likely to swing it in their favour is ex-Auckland Blue, Anthony Tuitavake. The centre come winger is an absolute wrecking ball. His low centre of gravity allows him to stay on his feet in even the most trying of circumstances.
Verdict: Montpellier 18/10
This fixture is extremely tough to call and I literally spent the majority of my day fixated on the team lists. The conclusion I drew from this, was that on paper the home side should claim the spoils, however, with Jake White’s charges desperate to make up for their shocking display against Toulon I have a feeling this game is going to go Montpellier’s way.
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