Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Exeter Chiefs v ASM Clermont Auvergne | Saturday 12 December | Sandy Park | 19:10
We're in for a classic at Sandy Park this weekend where two of Europe's form teams are set to go head to head. While Exeter are yet to reach the same heights in the European Rugby Championship as they have in their domestic league, they are still a force to be reckoned with. They will, however, have to produce a stellar performance this Saturday as they are coming up against a side who are firmly entrenched as one of the favourites to win the tournament.
With things so tightly poised at the top of the Pool 2 log, both teams will be going all out to ensure they claim the points this weekend.
To Win Match (80 Mins)
Exeter (+7.5) 9/10
Clermont (-7.5) 9/10
*Please note these are expected Handicaps
Exeter's performance against Wasps in the Aviva Premiership last weekend pretty much sums up what's great about this current crop of players. Wasps had been putting in some impressive displays prior to last weekend. Their ability to score from deep was starting to become the stuff of legend around pubs and rugby clubs in England. I personally felt that they we're going to upset the apple-cart last weekend by defeating the Chiefs. How wrong I was. A clinical display saw the Chiefs cruise to a 14 point victory at the Ricoh Arena.
The game demonstrated how effective the Exeter forwards are when it comes to the driving maul. Almost every visit to the opposition 22 led to the Chiefs scoring points. If their pack weren't shunting the Wasps forwards over their own in goal line, then eightman Thomas Waldrom was testing the opposition's fringe defence. The former Canterbury Crusaders man was in immaculate form and managed to cross the whitewash on three occasions - not a bad return for a forward who's been injured for the last few months.
There's a lot more to this Exeter team than just a dominant forward pack and an eigthman with a penchant for try scoring, though. They possess a well-balanced backline and an accurate goal kicker in Gareth Steenson. They also have arguably the most talented young English back in the form of Henry Slade. While I did question Rob Baxter's decision to play Slade at outside centre, after watching last week's match, I regret opening my big mouth. The youngster was brilliant in defence while he was on the field and played a key role in containing the threat that Frank Halai and Charles Pitau carry.
Unfortunately though for the Chiefs, Slade suffered a broken leg last week and will miss the majority of the season. Another man won't take to the field is flanker Dave Ewers. The barnstorming loosie was making a case for an England call-up but a medial ligament injury means he's going to miss a good portion of both the domestic and international season.
Slade's place in the side is likely to be taken by Michele Campagnaro. The Italian youngster is an exciting prospect but he has little experience at this level. He's going to need his centre partner, Sam Hill to guide him through this one.
The French club have suffered a bit of mixed bag of results in their domestic league recently. Victories over Castres and Brive have been coupled with defeats to Stade Francais and Toulon. While they lead the French Top 14, they have looked nothing like the all-conquering side many pundits had them down to be.
Their only game in the European Champions Cup illustrated their deficiencies. Having built up a commanding lead, Clermont were guilty of switching off for the final 15 minutes of the match. Their momentary lapse in concentration saw Ospreys come and back narrow the gap between the two sides to just five points and secure a vital losing bonus point. Clermont demonstrated the same sort of frailties when they took on Toulon in a French Top 14 fixture the following weekend. They made a solid enough start to the game but lax defending allowed Toulon to build up a commanding lead. The "Galacticos" of world rugby eventually ran out 9-35 winners.
Clermont will need to keep their heads in the game for the full 80 minutes as Exeter will be ready to take advantage of any slip-up. They will also have to be wary of the threat Waldrom carries. If you give the big man an inch he will take a mile.
In terms of injury news, talismanic fullback Nick Abbendanan will miss this clash as will Georgian prop Viktor Kolelishvili. The duo's absence may just swing this game in favour of the Chiefs.
Verdict: Exeter 13/10
This is honestly the best value you are going to find on a rugby match this weekend. Back Exeter to get the job done at the fantastic price of 13/10.
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