NEW YORK, NY – The Champions Cup is now beyond the official midway point of pool play. Round 4 is the second part of a home-home series. So there is now added spice to the big match-ups from last weekend. On top of the fixtures, we recap Round 3 and Preview Round 4. And of course we have picks from our esteemed Expert Panel.
Just to review, the Panel is comprised of the Irish-American werewolf in California 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. All must pick the winners of each match and a Pick Of The Week, for which they must also provide the margin of victory.
After Round 3, James is tied for the lead with Declan with Junoir, just a game behind. JWB and Jonny Lewis are still within touching distance while Jeff and Paul are bringing up the rear. This places greater pressure on how this weekend plays out for all of the panel.
Munster v Leicester – In the first leg, Munster crushed Leicester in Thormond Park, 38-0. After dominating in every facet of the game, Munster will be ready to continue their streak. Leicester are looking for some home-cooking in front of their fans at Welford Road. If the Tigers are going to sneak it they need to get out to a hot start to build confidence then slowly strangle the game and any Munster momentum.
Racing 92 v Glasgow Warriors – Last weekend, Racing were disappointing at home and were upset by Glasgow 24-13. After such a disappointing performance, it will be interesting how Racing bounce back on the road. They are more than talented enough to win on the road and they showed that in their run to the final last year. If Glasgow can dig deep and find another big performance, which is more than possible in front of their home fans, then Glasgow will be poised to make into the quarters for the first time ever.
Zebre v Toulouse – This was the least anticipated match of the weekend as Toulouse won comfortably 36-6. After such a dominating performance on the road against a clearly outclassed Zebre side, the return leg will be even uglier. The Italian sides remain the cannon fodder of the Champions Cup.
Wasps v Connacht – The first leg was expected to be a clash of the titans type affair but ended up with Wasps looking clearly like the better side in front of their home fans in Coventry, winning 32-17. The return leg is in Ireland’s west country. With Connacht Head Coach Pat Lam set to leave at the end of the season and this being the first home game since he announced it, this match will be a real humdinger and one for the ages.
Saracens v Sale – Saracens were unstoppable last weekend in winning 50-3. It is unlikely that much will change in a week. We want to be positive, though, because Sale is led by USA Eagle fly-half AJ MacGinty – but they have small chance of winning at home.
Toulon v Scarlets – Toulon looked good but not completely dominant at home, as they won 31-20 last week. However, though they never got into 5th gear, Toulon have a lot of class to spare and the Scarlets probably wish they could get some of that extra class. The Scarlets will be a cagey proposition at home so, don’t completely write them off.
Northampton Saints v Leinster – Leinster went into Northampton and looking fully resurgent as they won 37-10. Now with the wind at their back, Northampton and England captain, Dylan Hartley unavailable because of his red card last week, the boys in blue are looking dangerous. There is not much hope for a huge Northampton upset based on their league form and their disappointing performance last week.
Montpellier v Castres – It was a surprise to on-lookers as Montpellier’s attack kicked into high gear as they won 32-14 at home. In a Top 14 clash, where the two sides knew each other well, a tighter affair was expect. That makes it harder to predict this weekend’s clash. However, it has to favor Castres since they will be more desperate for the win.
Ulster v Clermont Auvergne – Ulster survived a stern test at home 39-32, last weekend from Clermont. It was arguably the match of the weekend. This weekend brings us round two and it will be tough to tell who will win it. Whoever does, it won’t be decided until late.
Exeter Chiefs v Bordeaux-Begles – Bordeaux got a huge upset, winning at Exeter, 13-7. The game was one for traditionalists, as it was ugly but physical and not a meter was given either way. This second leg in Bordeaux is likely to be another tight contest. Exeter must win to have any hope of advancing out of this very difficult group.
Okay… Now on to our Expert Panel and their European Champions Cup Picks!
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.