European Rugby Champions Cup Weekend Round-up
The Teams who have made it through to the European Championship Cup quarterfinals pairings:
(1) Racing Metro 92 v Saracens (8)
(2) RC Toulon v Wasps (7)
(3) ASM Clermont Auvergne v Northampton Saints (6)
(4) Leinster Rugby v Bath Rugby (5)
Before looking at the best rugby predictions let’s round-up some of the weekend’s talking points:
Racing Métro, who before this season had won only seven out of 24 matches in the European Cup, doubled the Premiership champions and leaders to finish at the top of the pool. French clubs have a reputation for being poor away from home, coming from a league where away victories are rare, but the resolve Clermont Auvergne showed in Munster and Toulouse’s victory in Bath suggested a change with Racing reinforcing that. Racing never released the early grip they had taken on the game. Their Wales centre Jamie Roberts had said after the opening-round victory over the Saints in Paris last October that the club was targeting the European Cup and when resources and resolve work together, they are difficult to stop.
There is a lot still wrong with Europe’s leading club tournament but there is so much right too, and none more so than the colour and verve that Clermont Auvergne bring to the party. They inspire fondness on the field because they are brilliant but far from infallible. Off it, though, the vibrancy of the club, set among its volcanoes, is a joy to experience and the Stade Marcel Michelin is intoxicating. The home fans may not travel in the numbers that Munster’s do but at their place they put on a show of noise and colour that is at least the equal of the Thomond Park experience.
There was a lot of talk when Wasps decided to move to the Ricoh stadium in Leicester, but seeing as if a large number of the 23,493 travelled from London, it was almost in vain. A few drivers looked a bit confused working out the ABCD of the car parks but in general everyone seemed to know where they were going, what they were watching and when they would be back next. What is called the match-day experience seemed already familiar and the rugby was excellent. From being a homeless spent force on the brink of financial ruin, Wasps seem reborn
Ulster continue to thwart Leicester. They have visited Belfast four times, only once coming within a sniff of troubling Ulster. Martin Johnson’s side started the trend in 2003, two season’s after Leicester’s back-to-back Heineken titles. He went down 33-0 and two days later announced the end of his Test career but the worst walloping came in 2012 when Tigers lost 41-7. On Saturday night they needed a bonus-point victory to keep hopes alive of going through to the quarterfinals but instead conceded four tries in under 50 minutes to a side which was already out of the competition
Mike Ford, Bath’s director of rugby, spoke afterwards of the fine margins involved at the top level. He also rated Glasgow an extremely well-coached side who made life very awkward for his team at times. He was right on both counts, the Warriors coming within a few centimetres of ruining Bath’s quarterfinal push. There was enough promise from Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett behind the scrum to suggest Scotland’s strike-rate will improve in this year’s Six Nations but perhaps the individual highlight of the game came from the Fijian Leone Nakarawa. His stunning one-handed line-out take in the second-half was the work of a gifted athlete whom Gregor Townsend, his coach, reckons has plenty more improvement in him. With Glasgow’s Bath-bound scrum-half Niko Matawalu also looking sharp, the pair could yet make Fiji dangerous opponents at this year’s World Cup.
The best rugby Tipster has chosen his 4 winning teams too:
Saracens, Toulon, Saints and Bath, anyone agree?