There were some great results for the URC sides in round 1 of the Champions Cup last week. Can the likes of Leinster, Ulster and Munster impress again in round 2? Darry Worthington previews.
The Heineken Champions Cup delivered the goods last weekend despite COVID having a heavy role to play in team selections and player availability.
Most of the fixtures went according to script but there were a couple of slight upsets in the opening round with Sale’s eight-point win over the Ospreys and Leicester’s three-point win over Bordeaux certainly catching the eye.
We’ve got another cracking fixtures list this weekend with Leicester Connacht and Toulouse versus Wasps likely to take centre stage.
Friday 17 December
Ulster 1/10 | Draw 28/1 | Northampton 6/1 (22:00)
Northampton will be looking to bounce back from their opening round hammering at the hands of Racing 92 when they take on an Ulster side that had far more success against a French outfit this past weekend.
The visitors were simply outclassed by a strong Racing side last weekend with their raggy defence no match for the talented French backline. Ulster, on the other hand, showed a lot of defensive grit which saw them edge past Clermont 23-29.
The Irish outfit are in solid touch at the minute and I can’t see them having any issues getting one over the Saints here.
Montpellier | Draw | Leinster (22:00) betting TBA
Next up we’ve got what should be a solid spectacle as a hot and cold Montpellier side take on Irish province Leinster.
The hosts had a tough old start to their campaign as they took on an Exeter Chiefs side that were looking for a fast start in the tournament having been sub-par thus far in the Gallagher Premiership. Exter did just this as they hammered Montpellier 42-6 at Sandy Park.
Leinster had a far more profitable opening round as they beat Bath 45-20. While it was a solid statement of intent by the URC side, there will be some worries as they were rather porous defensively against a Bath outfit that has been extremely blunt on attack this term domestically.
I really do fancy the hosts here. They have been good at home in the Top 14 this season and I reckon they’ve got enough about them to cause something of an upset here.
Saturday 18 December
Harlequins | Draw | Cardiff (15:00)
Next up it’s an Anglo-Welsh affair as Harlequins welcome Cardiff to the Twickenham Stoop.
‘Quins got their campaign off to a solid if not spectacular start as they beat Castres 18-20 in a bit of an arm wrestle. Despite it not being a vintage free-flowing Quins performance, the result is still a massive coup as it came away from home.
While Quins we’re edging French opposition, Cardiff we’re getting absolutely hammered by the Top 14 finest side, Toulouse. The star-studded Toulouse outfit gave this weekend’s visitors a massive rugby lesson and ended up running out 7-39 victors in Wales. It is worth noting, however, that many of the Blues’ first choice XV were unavailable because of Covid protocols.
I’m expecting ‘Quins to be a lot more clinical with ball in hand this weekend. If that happens, then Cardiff are in for another painful European tie.
Bath 54/100 | Draw 28/1 | La Rochelle 1/8 (15:00)
Next up we’ve got a woeful Bath side taking on a hit-and-miss La Rochelle outfit.
The two sides experienced contrasting fortunes in the opening round with Bath thoroughly outclassed by Leinster while La Rochelle secured a narrow win over a gritty Glasgow outfit.
Despite going down by more than 20 points to Leinster, Bath will take some positives from the fixture especially since they managed to score a couple of tries.
I’m going for a mammoth upset here. Bath have been extremely poor this term but there were signs of a revival last weekend. With La Rochelle not being the best travellers, this could well prove to be a prudent bet.
Sale 2/7 | Draw 22/1 | Clermont 29/10 (17:15)
We head for the AJ Bell next where Sale will take on Clermont in what should be a fiery old affair.
The hosts got their Heineken Champions Cup campaign off to a great start as they beat the Ospreys 13-21 in Swansea. The result was just the tonic for Sale as they have struggled in the Gallagher Premiership this season.
Clermont, on the other hand, had a rather poor start to their European season as they were beaten 23-29 by an excellent Ulster side.
The Sharks looked decent enough last week and home ground advantage should be enough to see them to a win here.
Glasgow Warriors 51/20 | Draw 22/1 | Exeter Chiefs 1/3 (19:30)
We’ve got another interesting fixture with a bit of history next up as the Glasgow Warriors square off against former golden boy Stuart Hogg and his Exter Chiefs colleagues.
The two sides experienced contrasting fortunes on the opening weekend with the Warriors, despite putting in a real gutsy display, going down 20-13 away to La Rochelle while Exter racked up a mammoth 42-6 win over Montpellier.
Special mention must go to Exeter’s Scotsman, Johnny Gray, who was in inspiring form and managed to score a hat-trick in the fixture.
The hosts are a far better side on home soil, and while I can’t see them claiming a win, I can see them running the Chiefs close.
Racing 92 | Draw 50/1 | Ospreys 14/1 (19:30)
We head to Paris for our next fixture which sees Racing 92 play host to the Ospreys.
The Parisians had a great start to their campaign as they put some patchy domestic form behind them to hammer Northampton 14-45 at Franklin’s Gardens. Scottish 10 Finn Russel had an absolute blinder out in Northampton and he’ll play an integral role in Paris this weekend.
The Ospreys were as gritty as ever last weekend but we’re ultimately outclassed by the Sale Sharks as they went down 13-21. I’m expecting another solid showing from Racing here. Get on the minus when it becomes available.
Munster | Draw | Castres betting TBA (22:00)
We head to Thomond Park for our next fixture which sees Munster take on Castres.
The Irish Province had a fantastic start to their campaign as they beat Wasps 14-35 at the Coventry Building Society Arena. And while Wasps were a man down for a quarter of the game, Munster will still cherish the victory especially considering they fielded a number of youngsters due to some of their elder statesmen still in quarantine.
Castres were heroic in defeat last weekend and can take a number of positives away from their 18-20 loss to Gallagher Premiership side, Harlequins with the biggest plus being their dogged defence.
I fear things will get ugly for Castres here. They are poor travellers and heavily reliant on their forwards, who are likely to be dominated by a very good Munster pack.
Sunday 19 December
Leicester 1/11 | Draw 33/1 | Connacht 13/2 (15:00)
We’ve got Gallagher Premiership leaders Leicester playing host to URC outfit Connacht in Sunday’s opener.
Both sides squared off with French opposition on the opening weekend, and both impressed with Leicester edging a solid Bordeaux Begles outfit 13-16 in France while Connacht hammered a Stade Francais side littered with talent 36-9.
The Tigers are yet to taste defeat this year in all competitions and can’t see them giving up that record at Welford Road this Sunday.
Scarlets | Draw | Bordeaux Begles (15:00) * betting TBA
We head to Wales for Sunday’s next instalment which will see the Scarlets take on Top 14 high-flyers, Bordeaux.
The hosts had to forfeit their game against Bristol last week as their players, who were returning from South Africa, had only been allowed out of quarantine a day before the fixture.
A fixture against a Bordeaux side that narrowly went down to Leicester and will be extremely fired up is hardly an ideal return to play scenario for the Welsh outfit.
I know they are extremely poor travellers but the Scarlets have struggled in the United Rugby Championship this term. I foresee Bordeaux edging what is sure to be a gritty fixture.
Toulouse | Draw | Wasps (17:15) * betting TBA
The penultimate game of the weekend should be a belter with a star-studded Toulouse side taking on an attack-minded Wasps outfit.
The hosts got their European season off to a flying start as they registered a 7-39 win over the Cardiff Blues last Friday evening. World Rugby’s Player of the Year, Antoine Dupont, was at his clinical best as he set up three tries and dotted down himself.
Wasps will be rueing their ill-discipline after a costly red card for former Wellington Hurricanes star Brad Shields swung the game in favour of Munster, who took full advantage of Wasps having 14 men on the field to build up a cushy lead that would ultimately lay the foundation for their 14-35 win.
While I fully expect the hosts to win this one at a canter, I reckon this will be a real spectacle that will feature some fantastic tries.
Stade Francais 26/10 | Draw 22/1 | Bristol 32/100 (19:30)
The Round 2 action will come to a close in Paris where the Bristol Bears will get their campaign underway with a clash against Stade. The visitors had their game against the Scarlets called off last week but were awarded the points as the Welsh side were unable to field a team due to their players having just got out of quarantine.
Stade will have been wishing their opener got called off as they were pumped 36-9 by Connacht in Ireland. They were extremely poor last weekend but this Stade side should not be taken lightly as they can go from putting in a dire display one week to looking a class act the next.
This should be another entertaining fixture with neither side afraid to run the ball. My money is on the hosts edging a high scoring affair.