European Champions Cup: Unstoppable Leinster to complete Northampton double

Leinster in action at Northampton
Leinster outplayed Northampton to win comfortably at Franklin's Gardens

Simon Mail previews the fourth round of pool games in the Champions Cup including unbeaten Leinster against Northampton and Saracens v Munster...

"Leinster have won all of their matches this season and their run of successive home victories in the competition stands at 14."

Harlequins v Ulster
Friday, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 2

Tight battle likely at the Stoop

Ulster are on course for a Champions Cup quarter-final place, after winning their three pool games, although the side have been pushed close in all the games. Harlequins were left reeling after John Cooney's late penalty snatched a 25-24 home win for Ulster last weekend. It was harsh on the Premiership side but leaves them with an uphill task after losing two of their three matches.

This is the last chance realistically for Harlequins but Ulster have made a habit of winning tight contests. All three of their European victories this season have been by no more than five points and another slender success could be in store at the Stoop. With wins in their last four clashes against Harlequins, Ulster are backed to continue their charge towards the knockout stage by maintaining their 100 per cent record.

Gloucester to trouble hosts

Connacht v Gloucester
Saturday, 12:45
Live on BT Sport 2

Toulouse are in control of Pool 5, winning their first three games, but Gloucester climbed into second spot after their 26-16 victory against Connacht at Kingsholm last weekend. The Cherry and Whites secured a much-needed result, ending a run of five successive defeats, to give them an outside chance of qualifying for the last-eight.

Connacht slipped to the bottom of the group and realistically are not going to secure one of the best runners-up spots needed to reach the quarter-finals. Their home record is strong but Gloucester have beaten Connacht in all five previous European meetings. The Premiership visitors are handed a three-point handicap and the slight outsiders look worth siding with.

Saracens to see off Munster

Saracens v Munster
Saturday, 15:00
Live on BT Sport 2

Saracens' grip on the Champions Cup is slipping away and the holders must beat Munster to keep their European defence alive. Mark McCall's side lost 10-3 in Munster last weekend, with their second defeat in three pool games leaving them five points adrift of their second-placed opponents. Racing 92 lead the way and Saracens need to win their remaining games to stand a chance.

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Their fight against relegation from the Premiership, following their 35-point penalty, has understandably distracted them but Saracens are expected to recall many of their leading internationals including Owen Farrell for this weekend's game. A bonus point win is needed but Munster have the quality to keep it close and a Saracens victory by no more than 12 points is the most tempting bet.

Favourites Leinster to underline status

Leinster v Northampton
Saturday, 17:15
Live on BT Sport 2 and Channel 4

Leinster produced a dominant performance last weekend at Northampton to take control of their pool. Last season's finalists scored seven tries as they clinched a 43-16 win at Franklin's Gardens. Leo Cullen's side have won their opening three matches to take a commanding five-point advantage over closest challengers Northampton.

The hosts' form during this campaign has been outstanding and another victory is likely this weekend. Leinster have won all of their matches this season and their run of successive home victories in the competition stands at 14. Northampton were beaten by 27 points last week and could be in for another tough day against the Pro14 Conference A leaders. Leinster are backed to cover a 19-point handicap in another comfortable win.

Sale handed generous handicap

Exeter v Sale
Sunday, 13:00
Live on BT Sport 2

Exeter's previous frustrations in Europe appear to be behind them and the Premiership club have opened up a six-point lead after victories in their first three group games. The Chiefs were given a severe test last week though as they withstood intense second-half pressure to win 22-20 at Sale. The Sharks could still finish as one of the best runners-up but will need to secure a positive result at Sandy Park.

Rob Baxter's Exeter are short-priced favourites to win at home but Sale are capable of keeping this match competitive. The Sharks have been handed a generous 17-point handicap and this looks within their capabilities. Steve Diamond's side have not lost by more than seven points this season and can stay within this sizeable handicap head start.

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Clermont to power past Bath

Clermont Auvergne v Bath
Sunday, 15:15
Live on BT Sport 2

Clermont Auvergne lifted the European Challenge Cup last season and the French side are determined to finally get their hands on the Champions Cup. Three defeats in the pool stage have ended Bath's hopes of qualification but Clermont are well placed only one point behind leaders Ulster. The Top 14 club claimed a 34-17 victory at Bath last week.

This looks a mismatch and Clermont should maintain their excellent record at Stade Marcel-Michelin. Bath have lost their last four matches, in all competitions, with an away victory extremely difficult to fancy. Clermont thrashed Harlequins 53-21 in their first home game in the pool stage and the hosts can cover a 22-point handicap in a one-sided win.

Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

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