The competition resumes after the Autumn International Break with the first of the back to back games where teams meet each other home and away in successive weeks
Friday 8th December:
7.45pm Glasgow v Montpellier
Both sides have lost their first two games in the competition which is likely to prevent their progress to the knock-out stages in what is one of the most competitive pools. Glasgow lost 34-15 at Exeter then 18-34 at home to Leinster whilst Montpellier lost 24-17 at Leinster then surprisingly 27-24 at home to Exeter
Glasgow have been installed as 4/11 favourites and -7 on the handicap at 10/11. At first glance -7 looks a high quote and is probably informed by the poor record of French sides away from home. However Montpellier are second in the French top 14,one of the stronger sides from France and should stay within 7 points here at 10-11.
Saturday 9th December:
1pm Scarlets v Benetton
Both sides are played two, lost two. That might be expected for Italian side Benetton who very nearly pulled off one of the shock results when only losing 30-29 in Toulon in round 2 but it is a disappointment for an exciting Scarlets side with plenty of firepower. They only lost 21-20 in Toulon and then lost 13-18 at home to Bath in terrible conditions
No bet here,the handicapline is high against the weakest team in the competition
4.15pm Toulon v Bath
Two unbeaten sides meet in the South of France with Toulon, three times champions in the last five years -9 to go three out of three having crept past Scarlets and Benetton 21-20 and 30-29 respectively in the first two rounds
Bath who beat Benetton 23-0 then won 18-13 at Scarlets should be competitive here and I will be backing them +9 at 10/11
5.30pm Saints v Ospreys
Two winless teams meet. The Saints were thrashed 13-57 at home by double defending champions Saracens then lost 7-23 at Clermont in an improved performance
The Ospreys have had two close losses, 21-26 at home to Clermont and 34-36 at Saracens and I think it is likely that they are the better of the two teams here despite their poor Pro14 form. Northampton are 10th of 12 teams in their domestic league with only four wins in ten games.
Markets here have the Saints strong favourites, with the Ospreys 100/30 outsiders and +9 on the handicap. I will be supporting them outright and on the handicap
6.30pm Castres v Racing92
An all-French pool game in the South West on Saturday evening.Castres drew 17-17 at home to Munster, which given their typical strong home advantage has to be seen as a disappointing result then lost 29-54 at Leicester.
Racing meanwhile beat Leicester 22-18 at home before losing 7-14 at Munster.
League form has both sides in the top five of the Top 14 with identical records of seven wins and five losses.
A close game is likely, with home advantage crucial and this is reflected in the quote of Castres -4. Again I like the underdog here, a more marginal preference than some of the games above, and will be backing Racing +4 at 10/11
7.45pm Munster v Leicester Tigers
The two teams at the top of Pool 4 meet in Limerick, Leicester top by virtue of two bonus points gained in losing 22-18 to Racing in round 1 and in thrashing Castres at home in round 2 54-29.
Munster meanwhile drew at Castres 17-17 in round 1 then ground out a 14-7 win at home to Racing in Round 2
In groups with only six games and the five group winners and three best placed runners up only making the knock out stages winning home games is vital and here Munster, roared on a passionate crowd often in inhospitable weather have had a n advantage stretching back many years and this is a key game in the group where it is likely that only one team will progress.
Munster’s core, based around O’Mahoney and Stander in the back row and Conor Murray at scrum half, is very strong and allows them to play an attritional style when conditions demand. They’ve only scored 31 points in their two ERCC games so far, which speaks to a strong defence. In the Pro 14 though, where they are second in their conference with seven wins out of ten, they average over 30 points a game.
Leicester are emerging from a transitional phase that has seen two coaching changes and a turnover of marquee players including the recruitment of England’s George Ford and Jonny May in the off-season. They have firepower, sticking 54 points on Castres (albeit the worst travellers of any of the French teams) was impressive but their domestic record in the Aviva Premiership is mixed, sitting 6th with four defeats already. In terms of being the finished article they aren’t at the level of Exeter and Saracens especially in the middle and back row.
Munster are 2/5 favourites here and -7 on the handicap at 10/11. Unfortunately -7 doesn’t leave much room for manouevre so no bet
Sunday 10th December:
1pm Harlequins v Ulster
Harlequins lost in both of the first two rounds, 27-34 at home to Pool and Top 14 leaders La Rochelle and then at Wasps 41-10 which leaves it unlikely that they will make it out of this pool. They did have a great domestic win over Saracens last weekend.
Ulster beat Wasps 19-9in round 1 before being heavily beaten 17-41 at La Rochelle in round 2.
Ulster are 9/5 outright and +4 handicap underdogs here. I like Harlequins +4
2pm La Rochelle v Wasps
La Rochelle lead the pool and the French Tp 14 playing a scintillating brand of rugby that has seen them stick 34 point on Harlequins and 41 on Ulster on the first two rounds
Wasps meanwhile are the most exciting of the English teams playing a vibrant brand of rugby, so this could be an exciting and high scoring game but it is going to be tough to keep up with La Rochelle at home
All this accounts for Wasps being 7/2 underdogs and +10 on the handicap. Expect La Rochelle to cover this given the high likelihood of a heavy scoring game and their firepower.
3.15pm Saracens v Clermont
One of the standout contests of the pool stages sees a repeat of the ERCC final over the past two seasons and likely to be the key game in deciding which team wins the group.
Both teams are played two won two against the other sides in the group.
Saracens have been installed as 9 point handicap favourites here, and Clermont 7/2 underdogs. This is probably related to Clermont’s indifferent form domestically where they are mid-table and have lost five games already this season. Saracens have lost four games too, but we know they peak for the European games. However -9 looks too aggressive to me with Clermont +9 the value
5.30pm Exeter Chiefs v Leinster
The two unbeaten teams in this group meet and they have both beaten Montpellier and Glasgow in the first two rounds. The Chiefs lead the Aviva Premiership and Leinster. This is expected to be one of the closest games of the weekend, with Exeter8/11, Leinster 6/5 and Exeter -2 on the handicap. A tight one, but Exeter -2 for me.
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