CASTRES, FRANCE – Picking the winners of the Amlin Cup semi-finals is an almost-impossible task. All four teams are in the top seven of the Aviva Premiership – Northampton Saints are second, Bath third, Harlequins fifth and London Wasps seventh.
And, it may be obvious but it bears repeating these are the semi finals… The match teams and fans dread. The match neutrals love. As often as not, they’re tension-fueled thrill-a-minute joyrides. There’s everything and nothing to lose – but get it right and the job’s not done. Get it wrong, and the job’s over before it even begins.
All four sides in the last four of this season’s Amlin Cup have reached this stage of before. All four sides have won it before. Three-time winners Harlequins head to 2009 champions Northampton, while 2003 winners Wasps entertain 2008 title holders Bath at Adams Park.
Here’s another cup rugby stat: Wasps, Bath and Northampton also boast Heineken Cup titles. The only other side to have lifted both trophies is Leinster.
It’s not, however, the first time that four English Premiership clubs have faced one another in the last four of the Amlin Cup. In 2008, eventual champions Bath beat Sale Sharks 36-14 and Worcester Warriors defeated Newcastle Falcons 31-16.
Home advantage may be on Northampton’s side in the first semi final on Friday evening – but history is with Harlequins. They have reached the last four of the Amlin Cup three times… and those of you with memories that stretch back three paragraphs will remember that they have won it three times.
Worse for Saints, as Rugby Wrap Up’s Premiership guru Nick Hall pointed out in his round up of last weekend’s action, no one will fancy taking on Conor O’Shea’s Londoners right now. It’s fair to say that, over the past two months, they have been freakishly good.
Not that Saints will be anything approaching a pushover. You don’t sit second in the Premiership without having had a good season, though they have shown plenty of chinks in their armour in the last few rounds. Their victory over London Irish at the weekend was their first win in five games – and even then they nearly let a 29-0 lead slip, eventually winning 29-21. With injury headaches plaguing their front row, this could be one for Quins – marshaled by the irrepressible Danny Care – to nick.
Tom Varndell made his long-awaited return for Wasps last weekend in the victory over Gloucester at Twickenham. Appropriately, he scored a try to show the faithful just what they have been missing since he ruptured a bicep in January – the second time this season he picked up this injury.
On top of that, Wasps are threatening to look like genuine contenders on all fronts after several seasons wallowing in almost-mediocrity. With Lorenzo Cittadini bolstering the scrum, their pack looks impressive. Joe Launchbury, Ashley Johnson and Jamie Haskell are the back row to fear right now, while Hughes has been a revelation. It would have been nice to see Christian Wade in action, too, but he has still not recovered from injury and is unlikely to play again this season.
Even without Wade adding another level of warp speed to the Wasps’ backline, this is a match too far for Bath. Yes, Chris Pennell is playing some pretty decent rugby, but it’s hard to see the West Country side picking up the all-important win away from home.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@ :RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.