NEW YORK, NY – The Champions Cup has reached round 5. Eight of the 20 teams know there is no chance of them moving on to the quarterfinals. It now comes down to a two – sometimes three – team battle for the five pool winners and three pool runner-up spots. But enough of the boring stuff… Let’s On top of a preview of the fixtures, we the picks of our esteemed Expert Panel. With that, let’s look at the match-ups for the weekend.
Glasgow Warriors – Munster – This will be a crucial return fixture. Unfortunately for Glasgow, in the first match were the first opponents for Munster following the death of Munster’s head coach Axel Foley and as expected Munster lashed out at them in front of their fans. Without the extra emotion and at home, Glasgow has a good chance of winning this game getting back into the fight for a runner-up spot.
Racing 92 – Leicester Tigers – This will be an interesting match-up. Racing have no chance of making the quarters and are playing for pride. The French are notorious for not showing up once playoffs are impossible. However, Racing are at home and they are last year’s runners-up. Leicester are experiencing a change in coach/director of rugby with Aaron Mauger in his second game as head coach.
Wasps – Toulouse – Last time these two teams faced-off, they fought to a standstill. It will once again be a battle between Wasps much vaunted firepower in the backline and open against the fierce Toulouse defense and brute force attack. When the two side previously met in Toulouse, the home team wasn’t able to turn the support of their rabid fans into a strength so there is no guarantee that the Wasps fans that usually half fill the 30K Coventry stadium will be able to the same for their team. Considering this is one of the pools that will have three teams battling for two spots, this maybe the match of the weekend.
Connacht – Zebre – There is not much to say about this match-up. Despite having enough injuries to fill out a whole new 23 man squad and considering using the head coach, Pat Lam’s, 17 year old son as an option, Connacht will get extended training run as they will likely thump Zebre.
Scarlets – Saracens – Though they have somewhat of a mounting injury the Saracens will still be a tough out as they go on the road against Scarlets. Scarlets fought well despite the lost the last time the sides met so it is more than possible they can pull the upset with the support of their fans.
Toulon – Sale Sharks – Sale lost a very hard fought match the first time these two sides met. Since then Toulon have fired head coach Diego Dominguez, promoted assistant coach Mike Ford to head coach and adding the recently dismissed as director of rugby by Leicester, Richard Cockerill as Forwards consultant. Add all of that to the fact that they are at home and the odds favor Toulon.
Leinster – Montpellier – This is a match-up that is in Leinster’s favor. Montpellier have taken their eye of the European Cup and started focusing on the Top 14. Leinster are at home with a chance to lock up the pool and qualify for the quarters. All signs point to Leinster putting Montpellier to the sword.
Northampton Saints – Castres – In a desperate bid to save face, Northampton head coach Jim Mallinder has put out a competitive line-up despite the fact that his side have already been eliminated from a playoff place. It has answered some fans even more considering the line-up put out in previous matches. Meanwhile Castres have put out a competitive side of their own as they do not seem to have given up the ghost, as they say, just yet.
Bordeaux-Bègles – Clermont Auvergne – Clermont are once again in rampaging form. They seem to be looking to fight on two fronts and will be focused on putting away Bordeaux and securing a first place ticket. Bordeaux seemed prepared for a big match themselves and are of afraid of Clermont. It will be a lively affair and don’t rule out a big win for the hometown team.
Exeter Chiefs – Ulster – This has the feel of being like the first time these two teams played each other. Expect the two sides to try and batter each other into submission before the backs get a chance to strike the killer blow.
Okay… Now on to our Expert Panel and their European Champions Cup Picks for this round.
Just to review, the Panel is comprised of Le Wolfman Ronan Nelson, contrived Kiwi Johnathan Wicklow Barberie, RWU’s French connection James Harrington of Jamesonrugby, West Ghana’s Rugby Rain Man Junoir Blaber, Paul Bains of DrivingMaul.com, the infamous Ireland National, Declan Yeats, Film expert and Wales Rugby connoisseur Jonny Lewis, and Jeff Pagano of Harpinonrugby.net . They all must pick the winners of each match and a Pick Of The Week, for which they must also provide the margin of victory.
Shockingly, the mad Irishman Declan Yeats is having his best season in ages… coincidentally so are the Irish sides. Yeats is chased by Harrington and Blaber with JWB the dark horse. Unfortunately, Wolfman, Ronan Nelson is bringing up the rear, but a lot can change this weekend… so stay tuned.
That’s all for now, please feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: @RugbyWrapUp, @Junoir Blaber, @Ronan Nelson, @JamesOnRugby, @JonnyLewisFilms, @HarpinOnRugby, @DrivingMaul, @MeetTheMatts, @Luke Bienstock, @Ronan Nelson, @Brian C Cole and @Declan Yeats.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.