It's prediction time again ahead of round five of the Heineken Cup. Here are my previews and predictions for this weekend's fixtures:
Treviso v Munster
A trip for table toppers Munster to bottom of the pile Treviso will probably be a jaunt that men in red won't mind, especially as they thumped Treviso 41-10 at Thomond Park in October. With Munster leading the group by two points over Northampton they will be hoping to dish up more of the same and snaffle another try scoring bonus point.
My prediction: Munster to win by 12.
Northampton v Perpignan
When these two met in the south of France, the buoyant Saints were taught a lesson by a physical Perpignan team who went on to beat them 29-13. (Remember Henry Tuilagi's shoulder charge on Ben Foden? Crunch). The Saints are enjoying a purple patch of form in the Guinness Premiership, although they only narrowly won their last Heineken Cup game away at Treviso by 21-18. With Perpignan currently lying third in the pool behind Northampton, they need a win to stand any chance of remaining in the competition. I think it's going to be close.
My prediction: Northampton to win by 4.
Gloucester v Biarritz
Top of the table Biarritz are unbeaten in the Heineken Cup and are proudly perched at the top of the group with a magnificent 18 points. Gloucester lie in second place, a whole ten points behind them after their victory over Glasgow in the previous round. I know that Gloucester have home advantage and I know that traditionally French teams don't play well on their travels, but I think Biarittz will take the stuttering Gloucester to the cleaners.
My prediction: Biarritz to win by 10.
Glasgow v Newport-Gwent Dragons
These two sides are currently locked on five points with both teams having secured one win and one bonus point so far in the competition. Glasgow are top of the Magners league with seven wins from ten games, whilst the Dragons have won five of their matches in the domestic league. Looking at their recent Magners league form the Dragons come into this game on the back of two defeats, whilst Glasgow notched up two festive wins over rivals Edinburgh. I think home advantage will be the deciding factor in this fixture, with Glasgow coming out on top.
My prediction: Glasgow to win by 6.
Clermont Auvergne v Ospreys
The Ospreys are somewhat surprisingly top of Pool 3 given the quality of rugby shown by Clermont and the grit and determination displayed by Leicester in previous rounds. Clermont lost 20-15 at Welford Road in the round four in a game that the Tigers had to win in order to keep their Heineken Cup dreams alive. This came after their sensational 40-30 winning battle against the Tigers in the previous round. The Ospreys trounced Viadana in their back to back fixtures which leaves them with a couple of much tougher games to wind up the group stages. With everything to play for in Pool 3 both teams will come out firing, but I think the French will have the edge.
My prediction: Clermont to win by 9.
Leicester v Viadana
When the Tigers travelled to Viadana in October they ran in six tries, added a seventh in the form of a penalty try and came out 46-11 victors. With Leicester tied on twelve points with Clermont Auvergne, nothing less than a bonus point win will do. Easy peasy.
My prediction: Leicester to win by at least 20.
Stade Francais v Bath
Who would bet against top of the pool and Heineken Cup supremos Stade when they take on bottom of the pool Bath who have been luke warm at best this season? Bath have one Heineken Cup scalp which came in the scrappy 16-9 win over Edinburgh at the Rec on a cold December day. I wouldn't bet against Stade at home, even though they are facing a Bath side whose confidence is starting to grow after a terrible first half of the season.
My prediction: Stade to win by 14.
Ulster v Edinburgh
Last weekend Edinburgh beat Cardiff Blues 21-12 in the only Magners league game that survived the snow, which will have been cold comfort after their back to back losses against Glasgow. Ulster beat Munster 15-10 at home in their last Magners league game, with their last two games in the Heineken Cup against Stade Francais being won by the home side on the day. Edinburgh achieved the same feat against Bath, but this isn't quite as impressive an achievement. Add all this with home advantage and I think Ulster will walk off the pitch victorious.
My prediction: Ulster to win by 7.
Cardiff Blues v Sale
Sale have it all to play for as they are a mere one point behind pool 5 leaders Toulouse with three wins from their four matches. Cardiff Blues aren't just making up the numbers, as a home win would propel them into second place with a game against bottom placed Harlequins still to come. Sale won both of their back to back fixtures against Harlequins whilst the Blues beat Toulouse at home 15-9 but lost 23-7 in the reverse fixture. The Blues have lost their last two games in the Magners league whilst Sale beat Harlequins for the third time in twenty one days, this time in the Guinness Premiership, after losing 15-13 at table toppers Saracens.
My prediction: Sale to win by 3.
Toulouse v Harlequins
Harlequins crashed out of this competition a couple of rounds ago, but when Toulouse ventured to west London in round two the Quins had them rattled when they led them 14-0 at half time. A dogged Toulouse came back and grasped a 23-19 victory so the French will know that Quins aren't a push over. The question is whether Harlequins will field a strong side and put up a fight or if they will save their stars for the Guinness Premiership now that they're out of the cup. Either way I think that table toppers Toulouse will be too strong for them again.
My prediction: Toulouse to win by 9.
Leinster v Brive
Top plays bottom in what I envisage will be a Leinster rout of winless Brive. The only question really is how many tries will Leinster run in past their Gallic guests? I think it will be at least six or seven.
My prediction: Leinster to win comfortably by 35.
Scarlets v London Irish
If the Scarlets are to progress in the Heineken Cup this season then they will have to secure second spot in the pool and hope they make the cut as one of the two best runners up. It's tough ask for them to beat London Irish but they did a job over the Exiles at the Madejski Stadium in their 27-25 win last October. Since then they've faltered in the Magners League and suffered back to back Heineken Cup trouncings from last year's winners Leinster.
My prediction: London Irish to win by 10
So what do you think? Are my predictions correct this week?
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