Quick Note: Our Six Pack Panel of Experts are comprised of West Ghana’s Rugby Rain Man, Junoir Blaber, English-American Nick Hall, infamous Ireland National, Declan Yeats, Man-In-Castres, James Harrington, England’s Jamie Loy and contrived Kiwi Co-Host, Johnathan Wicklow Barberie, the defending champ.
BATH, ENGLAND – Few weekends in the European calendar are more exciting than the fourth round of the European Rugby Champions Cup. Effectively acting as home-and-home affairs, the match-ups offer a chance for immediate revenge that rarely exists in club rugby. This weekend features the same mouth-watering clashes as the last, but with the venues reversed. As such, some favorites from last week will now be underdogs, and for teams such as Leicester, repeating the heroics of round three will be a tall order.
Clermont and Munster will travel to the Parc de Michelin, which has been an impossible nut for visitors to crack over the past three years. Munster’s home winning streak was snapped at 23 by the Frenchmen last weekend, and Paul O’Connell will be trying to return the favor. Munster cannot afford another slow start after allowing a try in the first minute in the previous match. The teams put out their best sides last week, and will likely do so again in the match that has the chance to be decisive. If Clermont put up a bonus point win, they will likely be impossible to catch, with Saracens having to travel to the Parc de Michelin in the final round of fixtures.
Saracens and Sale are already intimately familiar, and this will mark the third of four scheduled match-ups between the teams this year. Sale’s Danny Cipriani has done more than enough to insert himself back into the conversation for an England place, and though the Sharks went down last weekend, they put forth a creditable performance. Things may take a turn for the worse in London. Saracens’ home form has been outstanding, and an offense that sputtered last weekend has continually put up bonus points on the artificial turf of the Allianz. Each point matters in Pool 1, with Clermont in front on 10 points, while Munster and Saracens both have 9.
Six Pack: In this tough group, it was a near unanimous that Clermont would beat Munster again – especially as they beat Munster in Thormond. So, it is even more likely that in semi-fortress Michelin, Clermont will get the win… The only holdout was Yeats, which is no surprise from Mr. “All Irish, all the time.” It was fully unanimous that Saracens would win at home against Sale.
Harlequins got some very unwelcome news after their starling win against giants Leinster. Chris Robshaw, who has been immense all season, will be out with a shoulder injury of undetermined severity. Nick Evans was forced to exit after 12 minutes and will also be unavailable, testing Quins’ depth severely. While any club would envy Leinster’s recent European record, they have not covered themselves in glory for the past three campaigns, exiting in the group stage in 2012-13 and at the quarterfinals last season. Quins can effectively clinch a spot in the quarterfinals with a victory, but the match will be at a packed Aviva Stadium, rendering it a difficult ask for the under-strength side.
Wasps will try to maintain their position on the fringes of the pool race with another victory against Castres. The Top 14 side’s season went from bad to worse last weekend, when they looked overmatched against Dai Young’s spirited charges. This will be the last match at Adams Park for the Wasps, who will move to Coventry in time for their next fixture against London Irish. Tom Varndell and Christian Wade will try to rampage down the flanks in Watford one last time, and a bonus point victory will be a real goal.
Six Pack: Mssr Blaber was the lone the holdout over a Leinster victory at home against Harlequins. Blaber has made his feelings know about how much he dislikes MOC Ball (Leinster Coach Matt O’Connor’s style of rugby)… Yeats couldn’t bring himself to vote for the English and as such went for the out form Castres on the road against Wasps.
The return match between Toulon and Leicester was given added spice by Martin Castrogiovanni’s extraordinary rant against Richard Cockerill following last weekend’s loss. Castro’s rant cannot be printed even in part on a family-friendly website, but you can find it here. Castro is being investigated by European authorities. The gist of the Italian prop’s complaint was that Cockerill had lied about the circumstances which caused him to leave Welford Road two years ago. True or not, the accusations have certainly introduced some bad blood to a compelling match-up between former champions. Leicester played a good game last weekend, but also made some mistakes which Toulon pounced on. Owen Williams and company cannot afford to be similarly careless this weekend, and both sides desperately need a win with the group still hanging in the balance.
Ulster took care of business against Scarlets last weekend, and will want to do so again on Sunday at the Parc y Scarlets. Scarlets will want to show off in the Sunday night slot, having been afforded a rare opportunity to play during a time not crowded with other fixtures. Last weekend was Ulster’s first victory in European competition this season, and the Northern Irish team needs to repeat the feat in order to stay in the running for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Six Pack: The fixtures in this group had the group in unanimous agreement on both games, which is a very rare feat. Toulon are everyone’s favorites in the big match of the weekend… The other match was an easy pick as there is no way Ulster will lose.
Toulouse showed that there was still life in the south of France, despite a very poor start to the season. Missing Toby Flood, the backs did not miss a beat when they dispatched Glasgow. The Scots have improved massively over the past three years, but it will be another wasted European outing if they cannot win at the Scotsun. Glasgow’s backline has benefitted from a great deal of continuity, but Finn Russell’s yellow card severely damaged his team’s hopes. Glasgow will need to stay disciplined in a raucous enviornment. Toulouse’s Samoan prop, Census Johnson announced his intention to “put the nail in [Glasgow’s] coffin this weekend.”
Sam Burgess makes his first start at home this weekend against Montpelier. Burgess did not make any real contributions of note last weekend, and his introduction actually saw Bath worryingly lose their offensive shape. That was more likely due to Mike Ford’s curious decision to introduce four substitutes at once, an experiment the head coach should not repeat. George Ford will again be the man to watch in the middle, with kicking from hand a particular pleasure to watch.
Six Pack: Montpellier are in a bad run of form and there is no way they should beat Bath in Bath. The only one that disagrees is of course Yeats, who would rather die a thousand deaths than vote for an English side… The most contentious decision was the Glasgow v Toulouse fixture. It was a 4-2 split with only the front runners Loyd and Harrington picking Toulouse. The rest went with Glasgow as JWB said, “Richie Gray called for a bounce-back against Toulouse and his height and a Scottish freezing rain will scare the French boys just enough to lose.”
Ospreys have to travel to Paris to face Racing Metro following a thrilling draw last weekend. Racing let an opportunity for four points slip through their fingers in the last five minutes. Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb will return as Osprey’s halfback pairing, continuing to develop a fruitful partnership that has blossomed this season in the Pro12. Dan Lydiate has completed his transfer following an unhappy year and a half at Racing, but he will be joining Ospreys rather than Dragons as first presumed. Lydiate has started training with the Ospreys, but he will play no part this weekend. Ospreys back row has been hugely impressive so far this season, and Lydiate’s introduction strengthens the unit and gives the coaching staff a selection headache.
Northampton rested George North for their trip to Treviso, and will likely give another batch of stars the chance to put their feet up at home against the hapless Italians. Five points should be on offer for the Saints; if you’re looking to bet your mortgage and can find decent odds, it’s the best bet on the board.
Six Pack: As tough as Pool 1 is, Pool 5 is pretty simple and straight forward. The Six Pack were in complete agreement that both Northampton and Racing would dispatch the two visiting sides with ease.
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