LONDON, ENGLAND – After this weekend, every team will have faced their opponents in the inaugural version of the European Rugby Champions Cup. Consequently, we’ll have a much better idea of where some teams are, and the pools will begin to well and truly shake themselves out. At the moment, there have been some surprises, but the established order has not been totally upended. All that could change this weekend, with Glasgow facing off against Toulouse for control of Pool 4, while Leicester face a make-or-break match against Toulon at home. As always, our Six Pack has made their picks for the weekend’s matches. Laugh along as you read, for some members will look like fools on Monday.
Quick Note: The SIX PACK picks were compiled by Junoir Blaber, West Ghana’s Rugby Rain Man and a member of the Six Pack along with myself, England’s Jamie Loyd, the infamous Ireland National, Declan Yeats, our man-In-Castres, James Harrington and contrived Kiwi Co-Host, Johnathan Wicklow Barberie
Sale and Saracens will kick off Saturday morning in an all-Premiership clash. Danny Cipriani insists that he has not given up hope on yet another England recall. Making a big impact here would be a step in the right direction. Owen Farrell is another fly-half with a point to prove after being dropped. It will be an intriguing match-up between the 10’s, but Sarries have unquestionably been the stronger side in domestic competition so far this season. The sides met in September, and Saracens ran over the Sharks, 40-19. In one of the most glamorous fixtures of the weekend, Clermont face off against Munster at Thormond Park. Clermont did not look like the European juggernaut of years past when they lost to Saracens in the opening round, but they demolished Sale in reply. If the Frenchmen win, it throws the pool into chaos, with three teams likely at 2-1 heading into the back half of the pool stages.
Six Pack: In the Saracens v Sale match-up, there was a nearly unanimous vote for Saracens with Junoir being the only dissenting vote. The Munster v Clermont game saw the two guys how have resided in France, Harrington currently and Loyd briefly, go for Les Jaunards, while the rest went for the mighty men of Munster.
Harlequins are boosted by their returning England contingent, led by club captain Joe Marler and national captain Chris Robshaw. Both had outstanding autumn campaigns and will lift spirits immensely. They face off against Leinster, who have won each of their first two matches by five points. The back-to-back fixtures will likely decide the fate of the pool, bar a major upset in the fifth or sixth rounds, so all eyes will be on the Stoop on Sunday afternoon. At the other end of the pool Wasps face Castres. Much to James Harrington’s chagrin, Castres have remained rooted to the bottom of the Top 14 table, with only four wins from twelve matches. The Wasps have been frisky of late, despite a close, late loss to Leicester last weekend. Their vaunted wings will have a big impact, and if Andy Goode can spin the ball out wide, it might be a long day in France.
Six Pack: Castres would have a near sweep if not for Nick Hall standing firm for the soon to be “Coventry” Wasps. The Harlequins v Leinster is pro Harlequins with the Irishman Yeats holding out and inexplicably joined by Hall.
Scarlets picked up a huge win last round, and remain in the hunt for a knockout spot after two round. Toulon still dominate the group after winning their first two fixtures. However, the reigning European champions are suffering from a Leicesteresque injury list, giving the Tigers a ray of hope in their home fixture. Leigh Halfpenny, James O’Connor, and Matt Giteau are all unavailable thanks to injury. Controversial Toulon owner Mourad Boujellal has said that the possibility of mooting Halfpenny’s contract has been raised once more following the Welsh back’s injuries in the autumn internationals. Tom Croft may make a return for Leicester after missing the match last week for the birth of his child. Scarlets have been surprisingly potent this season, while Ulster have failed to reach their anticipated heights. However, the Northern Irishmen are clearly superior in the Pro12, sitting in fourth place, compared to Scarlets’ seventh. The two sides drew 32-32 in an entertaining opening round fixture earlier this season.
Six Pack: Ulster became the first unanimous vote of the weekend, while Leicester – Toulon became another 4-2 split in favor of Toulon with Junior siding with the proud Leicester fan Hall.
All eyes will be on Sam Burgess on Friday night when Bath head to France to play Montpellier. After an impressive cameo against Harlequins, his union test begins in earnest. Bath and Montpellier have both lost each of their first two matches, and the loser here is certainly eliminated from quarterfinal contention. In the other match, Glasgow lines up against Toulouse, attempting to assert their newfound European power. Glasgow’s back line will have been given confidence by their impressive displays in Scotland colors, while Toulouse have yet to hit their straps this season. If Glasgow win away from home, they would almost certainly go through to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1997-98, a different era in club rugby.
Six Pack: With Yeats consistently going non-English, he was the only hold out in the Bath v Montepellier match. Toulouse – Glasgow saw the now inescapable 4-2 split in favor of Toulouse with Yeats and Hall once again sharing a dissenting brain.
Competition whipping boys Treviso round out Pool Five. Their presence in the competition is likely to be fleeting. While the Italians have had good moments in years past (including playing Leicester closely two years ago), they have not been up to par in this year’s iteration of Europe’s premiere club competition following a player exodus. Northampton will send out a strong squad away from home, and will be massive and justified favorites. Elsewhere, Racing Metro face Ospreys. The Welsh side may not be Galaticos, but they play well together and have proven a formidable side in both the Pro12 and Champions Cup this year. Ospreys need to rebound after a loss to the Saints. The pool has three teams on one win, and will likely come down to point difference.
Pool 5: Surprisingly Northampton has a unanimous vote for a win. It is only a surprise because Yeats voted for an English side. He explains “it’s only because I like Allan Robson, the CEO.” However, always the rebel, Yeats couldn’t stomach Racing Metro and how they are over working his countrymen Johnny Sexton, so he was the only Ospreys vote as the rest of the 6 pack voted for Racing.
Thanks for your time and feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.