Rugby Union: Weekend Preview

As the top clubs in the UK, Ireland and France prepare for the next stage of the Heineken Cup, it makes sense to consider backing those teams who’ve already qualified.

In Pool A, Racing 92, Ulster and La Rochelle are through and waiting to see who they play next, and in Pool B, Harlequins, Leicester Tigers, Munster and Bristol are in the last 16, so the emphasis this weekend is on those clubs who have a realistic chance of reaching the stage where the competition gets exceptionally tough and where you have to think a bit about whom you are going to put money on.

Once again, the top Irish teams are doing well and Leinster, who next meet Bath this Saturday at the Recreation Ground, should have no trouble at all in qualifying against the English club which has lost two matches out of three.

It’s also worth a few quid to gamble on Connacht to beat Stade Francais on Sunday..the Irish province have 8 points and take on a French team that’s yet to win a game in three outings, so Connacht should be favourites.

When it comes to a major English club who’re near to qualifying, Exeter Chiefs are in a good position with two victories from three matches, and in their next challenge they meet Montpellier who have no chance whatsoever of making the last 16.

Exeter, who thrashed Glasgow Warriors last weekend 52-17, have to travel to France, but should return as winners against opponents who’ve lost twice in the Heineken and have just five points.

Northampton Saints, who lost to Ulster by 24-20 in an entertaining contest on Sunday, are out of the competition, having been defeated in their three games, but still have one match to go. They’re in Paris against the leaders in Pool A, Racing 92 who’ve had a successful Cup run so far with three consecutive wins, so with home advantage, Racing ought to be a safe bet to win again.

Bristol may be struggling in the Gallagher Premiership, but are making solid progress in the Heineken fact, the Ashton Gate club are unbeaten, so that decent form should continue this Saturday at Llanelli where the West Country side have been drawn against Scarlets, bottom of Pool B on only two points.

After defeating Toulouse & Leicester can Wasps qualify?

A lot of media attention, and no doubt large sums of money, will be concentrated on the clash in Ireland between Munster, already through, and Wasps who once again were magnificent in the last round by beating..with 14 men only..the Cup holders by 30-22 in Coventry.

Wasps have a slim chance of progress, depending on their result and others, but bearing in mind their recent outstanding wins against top class teams, it would be daft to dismiss their chances.

However, before you back Wasps, just consider this: the Irish giants have won all their three games and are so confident playing in front of thousands at Thomond Park in Limerick.

Can Sale Sharks squeeze into the last 16?

The Manchester club on seven points must beat the Welsh regional side, Ospreys, in Pool A on Sunday to qualify. Sale, though, can be confident because they’re at home and the Swansea based team have lost all their three games and are bottom of the league with no points at all.

All sport is uncertain as regards results, but with so much at stake for the Sharks and coach Alex Sanderson, you’d think his side will beat their Welsh opposition.

European Challenge Cup

Friday – Lyon v Benetton, Edinburgh v Brive

Saturday – Parma v Worcester, Gloucester v Perpignan, Toulon v Newcastle