European Rugby Champions Cup: Saracens face tough challenge in Munster
Simon Mail previews the second weekend of the European Champions Cup with Saracens facing a difficult trip to Munster...
"Munster have won four of the five European clashes with Saracens and the last three games have been settled by six points or less."
Munster v Saracens
Friday October 24, 19:45
Live on BT Sports 2
The opening match of round two looks set to be another European cracker with second-favourites Saracens travelling to Munster. The hosts had it all to do last week before they completed a superb comeback from 23-7 down at half-time to triumph 27-26 at Sale. Ian Keatley's late drop goal rescued Munster but the hosts know that another sluggish start will be ruthlessly punished by their Premiership opponents.
Saracens reached last year's final and the Men in Black started this season in a promising manner after battling to a bonus-point win over Clermont. The fact Sarries managed to overcome their French opponents bodes well for coming through this tough pool. Saracens are the masters at grinding out results, especially away from home, but Mark McCall's side will do well to get a win at Thomond Park. Munster have won four of the five European clashes with Saracens and the last three games have been settled by six points or less. Expect another tight showdown with home advantage giving Munster a slight edge.
Back Munster to win by under 12.5 points at [2.54]
Bath v Toulouse
Saturday October 25, 15:15
Live on BT Sport 1
Bath got a rude awakening in the competition last weekend after suffering a thumping defeat in Glasgow. It was a far cry from their impressive Premiership form which has seen them overwhelm Leicester Tigers and Saracens at the Rec. Bath have won all of their home games this season and their pace and power in the backline should give their opponents plenty of problems.
Toulouse started positively last weekend after claiming a 30-23 home win over Montpellier. The French giants have been disappointing in the Top 14 so progressing in Europe will surely be seen as a priority for the four-time Heineken Cup winners. But Toulouse have frequently had trouble away from home and Bath are fancied to cause them trouble. If the English side get off to a fast start then their speed could startle the French side and get their European bid back on track this weekend.
Back Bath to win by under 12.5 points at [2.5]
Northampton v Ospreys
Saturday October 25, 17:15
Live on Sky Sports 2
Northampton Saints cannot afford to slip it at Franklin's Gardens this weekend after losing their opener in Racing Metro. A sloppy finish to the match cost them a bonus-point and Jim Mallinder's side need a convincing win in front of their own fans. The Premiership champions have been impressive this season on the whole though and have won all their home matches to date.
The Ospreys got off to the ideal start last week as they cruised to a bonus-point victory over Benetton Treviso but things get a lot tougher from here. The Welsh side certainly have to be respected after winning all of their matches this season. But the Pro12 leaders face their biggest test yet this weekend and with no margin for error, Northampton can get off the mark and send them to their first defeat. The Saints won both meetings in the Heineken Cup last year by 12 points or less so another narrow victory is on the cards.
Back Northampton to win by under 12.5 points at [2.7]
Scarlets v Leicester
Saturday October 25, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 2
Leicester Tigers boosted their chances of reaching the knockout stage with a hard-fought home win over Ulster in their opener. Richard Cockerill's team established a decent lead before the visitors made it a tense finish but the victory has given them something to build on. Injuries have hurt the Tigers this season and a recurrence of Manu Tuilagi's groin injury has ruled him out of their latest match.
The Scarlets gave a good account of themselves in France last week as they were beaten 28-18 by defending champions Toulon. The side are seventh in the Pro12 after an inconsistent start featuring just two wins from their first six matches. With Leicester having opened with a win, the motivation will be there for the Tigers to challenge for top spot. Six of the seven meetings in the Heineken Cup resulted in a win for the Premiership club so history is on Leicester's side. Only a win in Wales will do though with Toulon still to come and the visitors can edge to a narrow victory.
Back Leicester to win by under 12.5 points at [2.7]
Clermont v Sale
Sunday October 26, 15:15
Live on Sky Sports 3
Clermont are under pressure to pick up a bonus-point victory over Sale Sharks this weekend after losing their tight opener at Saracens. The French giants will know that this is a match they cannot afford to slip up in and there seems little chance of that with the hosts prohibitively short odds on favourites. Their exceptional record at Stade Marcel Michelin explains this while Sale have been poor travellers lately.
The Sharks have lost all of their away matches this season and the last two resulted in heavy defeats to Saracens and Northampton. Although Sale were unlucky to lose late on to Munster last weekend, this could be a punishing experience for them in France. Clermont will know the importance of scoring four tries in such a competitive group and the hosts can overcome a hefty handicap and claim a convincing win.
Back Clermont -20 in the Sportsbook at [1.91]
Wasps v Harlequins
Sunday October 26, 17:15
Live on BT Sport 2
There is an all Premiership clash this weekend as Wasps take on rivals Harlequins at Adams Park. The hosts were unlucky to lose narrowly at Leinster last week and will be in a confident mood with such decent home form this season. Wasps have already beaten Bath and Northampton in Wycombe so facing Quins will hold no fears.
Harlequins got off to a winning start in the competition after seeing off Castres on the opening night. Conor O'Shea's side have yet to find their best form this season but you sense that they are threatening to raise their game. Quins edged to a 26-23 win over Wasps last month which was their third successive victory over them. All have been by three points or less so there has been nothing between the sides. With the visitors deemed outsiders and given a handicap advantage, the value lies with them as opposed to Wasps.
Back Harlequins +4 in the Sportsbook at [1.95]
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