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PREVIEW: Champions Cup play-off scramble reaches crescendo

It’s do-or-die time for the big guns in the Heineken Champions Cup with the final set of round-robin fixtures heading punters’ way this weekend. Darry Worthington previews.

Siya Kolisi of the Sharks
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

It’s do-or-die time for the big guns in the Heineken Champions Cup with the final set of round-robin fixtures heading punters’ way this weekend. Darry Worthington previews.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

From a South African standpoint, there’s loads of interest this weekend with the Sharks looking to secure a high-table finish while the Bulls and Stormers are still fighting for a spot in the knock-out phase.

Friday 20 January

Lyon 76/100 | Draw 20/1 | Bulls 23/20 (22:00)

Lyon (-2.5) 17/20 | Bulls (+2.5) 17/20

Lyon and the Bulls will go head-to-head at the Stade Gerland on Friday evening. The Bulls sit pretty on the Pool A standings with 10 log points while Lyon are seven points behind them in 10th spot. Lyon will be desperate to claim the full points haul here as they are staring down dropping into the Challenge Cup play-offs come the knock-out phase of both tournaments.

The two sides had contrasting third rounds with the Bulls avenging their mammoth defeat to Exeter at Sandy Park by beating the English outfit 39-28 at Loftus, while Lyon went down to Exeter’s domestic rivals Saracens 48-28 in North London.

I reckon this one will be a close-run affair but one I can see the Bulls edging a win. I’ll be playing it safe, however, and will back the Pretoria outfit on the (+2.5) handicap. 

Saturday 21 January

Harlequins 6/10 | Draw 20/1 | Sharks 29/20 (15:00)

Harlequins (-3.5) 17/20 | Sharks (+3.5) 17/20

We head to England for our next selected fixture which will see Harlequins take on the Sharks at the Twickenham Stoop. The two sides played out an absolute epic when they met in Durban with the Sharks holding off a late charge from Harlequins to register a 39-31 victory.

While the visitors are assured of knock-out Champions Cup rugby, the hosts are fighting for survival in the competition as they currently sit seventh on the Pool A log with seven log points to their names.

Both sides gave good accounts of themselves in the previous round with the Sharks putting in a clinical performance as they beat a second-string Bordeaux side 32-3, while Harlequins put in a mammoth effort but ultimately only walked away with a losing bonus point as they went down 30-29 to Racing 92 in Paris.

This should be a very entertaining fixture with both sides possessing some talented rugby players. With so much more to play for, I reckon ‘Quns will just manage to take the spoils here.

Stormers 1/11 |  Draw 33/1 | Clermont 13/20 (19:30)

Stormers (-15.5) 17/20 |  Clermont (+15.5) 17/20

We close things out at the Cape Town Stadium where the Stormers will lock horns with Top 14 outfit, Clermont.

The hosts need to currently sit fourth on the Pool B standings with 10  points to their name and a win here would give them a handy draw for the knock-out phase.

Clermont, on the other hand, lie in eighth on the Pool B standings with just seven log points and run the risk of dropping down to the Challenge Cup knock-out phase should they not bag at least a couple of bonus points from this one.

In terms of last weekend’s results, the Stormers registered a solid win in England as they beat London Irish 14-28, while Clermont went down 29-44 to the Leicester Tigers in France.

Home-ground advantage will be huge for the Stormers as they play against a Clermont side that really struggles on the road. Small play on the Cape side to clear the cap here. 

Rapid Fire Tips

Leicester to beat Ospreys @ 2/11
Northampton to beat La Rochelle @ 13/2
Gloucester to beat Bordeaux @ 2/1
Leinster to beat Racing @ 1/33
Exeter to beat Castres
Sale to beat Ulster @ 2/1
Montpellier to beat London Irish @ 1/33
Toulouse to beat Munster @ 1/12
Saracens to beat Edinburgh @ 2/1

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