European Rugby Champions Cup: Saracens to maintain winning start with Ulster victory
Simon Mail previews the second round of the Champions Cup where Saracens are fancied to maintain their excellent start in the competition...
"Saracens edged to a 17-15 victory at Ulster in their quarter-final tie two seasons ago and in their current form the Premiership side will fancy their chances of a repeat success."
Ulster v Saracens
Friday November 20, 19:45
Live on BT Sport Europe
Saracens have been consistently competing in the latter stages of the competition in recent seasons but the Premiership champions could go all the way this year. The Men in Black, who were beaten finalists in 2014, have started the campaign superbly with a 100 per cent record in their domestic league. Sarries took this form into Europe as they dominated Toulouse in their opener last weekend running out 32-7 winners at Allianz Park.
Ulster are playing catch up after their scheduled fixture in Oyonnax was postponed and they will be looking to get off the mark in front of the lights at the Kingspan Stadium this weekend. Ulster will know their task of getting out of the pool is dependent on success at home with trips to Saracens and Toulouse still to come.
Saracens edged to a 17-15 victory at Ulster in their quarter-final tie two seasons ago and in their current form the Premiership side will fancy their chances of a repeat success. Mark McCall's side also beat them 27-16 at the same stage the previous year so the visitors will have the belief they have Ulster's number. Sarries are worth backing to edge to the win and maintain their unblemished start to the season.
Treviso v Leicester
Saturday November 21, 13:00
Live on Sky Sports 2
Leicester got their European campaign off to a promising start after beating French champions Stade Francais 33-20 at Welford Road. The Tigers secured a bonus-point victory after scoring four tries in a display which emphasised the improved attacking ability of the side following the arrival of new coach Aaron Mauger this season. Their enhanced backline could be the key to helping the Premiership side qualify for the knockout stages.
Treviso are likely to be the whipping boys of this pool and the Italians have lost all of their matches this season. Their opening game in the tournament saw them beaten 32-7 at Munster and it is likely to be an almighty struggle for them. Treviso have lost their last 21 games against English opponents and there could be more misery in store this weekend.
After such an encouraging first match, Leicester will be expecting to build on this with a confident victory in Italy. The Tigers have beaten Treviso eight times in the competition averaging 40 points per game against them. Leicester, who defeated their opponents 34-19 away last year, will be sniffing another bonus-point haul and are backed to achieve a comfortable win.
Bath v Leinster
Saturday November 21, 15:15
Live on BT Sport Europe
Bath begin their Champions Cup season, following their postponed clash with Toulon, against Leinster at the Rec. Last year's Premiership finalists reached the quarter-finals of the competition last season where they bowed out against this weekend's opponents. Mike Ford's side are packed with ability but will need to demonstrate consistency to progress from a group featuring the defending champions and Wasps.
Leinster come into this contest as wounded opponents after their humiliating 33-6 defeat at home to Wasps. It was a record home loss for the club and the biggest surprise of the opening weekend in the competition. Leinster were well below par and their mistakes were exposed by extremely impressive opponents to leave their hopes of getting through the pool in severe jeopardy.
It does, however, seem like there has been an over-reaction to Leinster's shock defeat. Bath come into this match as favourites but it looks like too much has been read into an extreme off day by Leo Cullen's side. The three-time champions have won six of their seven clashes with Bath, including 18-15 last season, so look worth backing with a handicap advantage.
Back Leinster +5.5 to win in the Sportsbook at [1.8]
Glasgow v Northampton
Saturday November 21, 17:15
Live on Sky Sports 5
Glasgow Warriors get their European campaign under way a week after their opener in Racing Metro was postponed. Gregor Townsend's side come into the competition confident of making an impact after landing the Pro 12 title last season. Glasgow narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout stages last year but have to be considered realistic contenders to advance this time.
Northampton have yet to approach top gear this season although the Saints did manage to claim a scrappy 15-11 win at home to the Scarlets in their first Champions Cup match. It was a welcome relief for Northampton after a stuttering start in the Premiership which has seen Jim Mallinder's side lose three of their first four games.
This clash could go a long way to determining which of these sides will challenge for a last-eight spot. Glasgow need to make a fast start while the Saints will know the significance of claiming a second consecutive win. The Warriors have home advantage and could punish a Northampton side which has lost both away games this season so are taken to edge to the points.
Back Glasgow to win by 1 to 12 points in the Sportsbook at [2.5]
Exeter v Bordeaux
Saturday November 21, 19:45
Live on BT Sport Europe
Exeter started the competition with a disappointing defeat to the Ospreys which has left them facing an uphill task to progress. The Chiefs failed to take their excellent domestic form into their European opener as they struggled to a 25-13 loss. But Rob Baxter's side have shown enough quality in the Premiership to suggest the side can get back on track at Sandy Park.
Bordeaux are something of an unknown quantity in the Champions Cup having not featured in the elite European tournament since 1999. The French side qualified for the competition after beating Gloucester 23-22 at Kingsholm in their play-off back in May which shows Bordeaux are capable of winning on English soil.
Exeter will be determined to show the form which helped them beat Leicester recently to move second in the Premiership. Back in front of their own fans, the Chiefs should have enough to get off the mark. Exeter should not take their opponents lightly, with their win at Gloucester a warning, but the hosts can claim a victory by 12 points or less.
Back Exeter to win by 1 to 12 points in the Sportsbook at [2.5]
Wasps v Toulon
Sunday November 22, 17:15
Live on BT Sport Europe
The second round of matches concludes with a cracking contest between Wasps and the holders Toulon. The hosts come into their first home game with great belief and confidence following their stunning 33-6 win in Leinster. Their performance has put down a marker and suggested Wasps certainly should not be written off as also-rans in this devilish group.
Toulon's opener was postponed but the defending champions can carry on from last season when they travel to Coventry to face Wasps. The French giants have dominated this tournament, winning it for the last three seasons although their trophy defence looks harder this year after being drawn in a pool also featuring Bath and Leinster.
This is a fascinating battle between a Wasps side coming off the back of their best European win since their final triumph eight years ago and a Toulon team which has maintained a stranglehold on the competition since 2013. The visitors are deemed slight favourites for the clash which looks just about right but this could easily be settled by a matter of points. Toulon are backed to edge to victory at the Ricoh Arena.
Back Toulon to win by 1 to 12 points in the Sportsbook at [2.63]
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