European Rugby Champions Cup: Saracens can complete clean sweep with Toulouse win
Simon Mail thinks Saracens can seal their sixth consecutive win in the competition with a victory in the final pool game...
"There is often a question mark labelled at French teams when they have little to play for and it would be no surprise if Toulouse downed tools and produced a feeble effort against group winners Saracens."
Toulouse v Saracens
Saturday January 23, 13:00
Live on Sky Sports 3
Saracens have been one of the most impressive sides in Europe this season and the Premiership champions have brushed aside their pool opponents. The Men in Black are one of just two teams to have won all five matches in this year's competition and Mark McCall's side have the chance to complete the clean sweep with a closing win in France.
It has been a wretched season in the Champions Cup for Toulouse. The French giants came into the campaign with lofty expectations as four-time winners but it has gone horribly wrong since being thumped by Saracens in the opener. Only a home win over domestic counterparts Oyonnax has spared them from losing all their games with Toulouse propping up their group.
There is often a question mark labelled at French teams when they have little to play for and it would be no surprise if Toulouse downed tools and produced a feeble effort against group winners Saracens. Toulouse showed little appetite for the fight when thrashed 32-7 at Sarries and 38-0 in Ulster. Conversely the visitors have unwavering determination and all the momentum which can help them seal the double over their beleaguered opponents.
Back Saracens to win at [2.1]
Bath v Toulon
Saturday January 23, 15:15
Live on BT Sport Europe
Toulon have failed to match the heights of their previous three trophy winning seasons but the defending champions are still on track to reach the last eight. The holders have struggled for fluency and error strewn performances have seen them lose heavily at Wasps before needing the last move of the match to snatch a 15-11 home win in the return fixture.
It is the end of the road for Bath and the Premiership side will have to focus on improving their ragged domestic form after this weekend's final game. There have been signs of the undoubted ability in this Bath team but three defeats, including the late loss in France, have ended Mike Ford's side's hopes of a place in the quarter-finals.
Top spot will be fought out between leaders Toulon and a Wasps side just one point below them. This means the pressure is still on the pre-tournament favourites and they cannot afford to drop their guard at the Rec. Toulon were pushed all the way earlier this month in their fortunate 12-9 home win and it could be another match of fine margins. The champions should get the job done but it is worth backing a win by no more than 12 points.
Back Toulon to win by under 12.5 points at [2.3]
Wasps v Leinster
Saturday January 23, 15:15
Live on BT Sport 2
Wasps have given themselves a great opportunity to reach the quarter-finals despite their agonising defeat at the death in Toulon last weekend. The Premiership side were seconds away from sealing their place in the next round before Drew Mitchell scored with the final attack. But Wasps are still well placed to qualify after a superb campaign which has seen comprehensive wins over Toulon and Leinster.
This weekend's opponents have been a major disappointment with Leinster failing to replicate the feats of the teams which captured three of the last seven European trophies. The Pro12 side at least salvaged some pride in their last game after claiming a 25-11 victory at home to Bath but the side remain bottom of their pool.
Wasps dismantled Leinster after a 33-6 away win back in November and Dai Young's side are fancied to complete the double. Wasps are just one point behind Toulon and a bonus-point victory could help them leapfrog the champions. This could inspire the hosts to another high-scoring success and Wasps are worth backing to run away with this one and clinch a hard-earned last-eight spot.
Back Wasps to win by over 12.5 points at [2.4]
Scarlets v Northampton
Saturday January 23, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports 2
Northampton left it late to keep their hopes of reaching the next stage intact after a dramatic try snatched a 19-15 home victory over Glasgow last weekend. It looked like the Saints were heading out but this sprint finish means they travel to Wales needing a win to have any chance. Northampton's only defeat came at runaway group winners Racing Metro in the third round of matches.
There is little for the hosts to play for after a dismal run of five successive defeats. The Scarlets have been out of their depth and were thrashed 64-14 in Racing Metro last weekend. Only pride is at stake for the home side but they will look to reproduce some of their Pro12 form which has seen them top the table.
The Saints may need a big win but a lack of points has hampered them this season. The Premiership side defeated the Scarlets 15-11 back in November with the scoreline indicative of their problems. Northampton's last six wins have all been by 12 points or less and it looks worth backing this trend to continue at Parc y Scarlets.
Back Northampton to win by under 12.5 points at [2.4]
Stade Francais v Leicester
Sunday January 24, 13:00
Live on BT Sport Europe
Leicester have already clinched a home quarter-final after breezing into the next round following five successive wins. Richard Cockerill's side have been mightily impressive and not looked back since their opening win over Stade Francais. The Tigers are the only side that can match Sarries with a 100 per cent record in the pool stage.
Stade Francais have it all to play for with only a win enough to give them a chance of qualifying as one of the best runner-ups. The French side have won three of their five games but a defeat at Munster in the last round left them with an uphill struggle. Stade Francais will be desperate to extend their European campaign as they languish 11th in the Top 14.
This match could easily come down to motivation and the fact is Leicester are already safely through and may opt to rest some of their first choice players. Stade Francais have one last chance and they have picked up convincing wins in their two home games. A third could be enough to reach the last-eight and the hosts are backed to give themselves a decent shot by ending Leicester's winning run.
Back Stade Francais to win at [2.1]
Exeter v Ospreys
Sunday January 24, 15:15
Live on BT Sport Europe
Exeter come into the final pool match with only a slim chance of progressing. Rob Baxter shuffled his pack last week in France and their 34-27 defeat to Bordeaux could ultimately prove costly. The Chiefs have been excellent in the Premiership but have not had this consistency in Europe with the exception of their superb home win over Clermont last month.
The Ospreys have suffered years of disappointment in Europe but are on the brink of achieving a place in the quarter-finals. The Welsh side head into the final round with a two-point advantage over Clermont. This was secured after a 21-13 home win over their French opponents which left their fate in their own hands.
But winning at Sandy Park will certainly not be easy. Exeter have won all seven of their home games this season while the Ospreys are without an away win in the competition since 2009. The first match finished 25-13 to the Ospreys but the tables could be turned in England this weekend. The Chiefs probably won't go through but can dent the visitors' hopes with a closing win.
Back Exeter to win at [2.0]
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