European Rugby Champions Cup: Leicester Tigers to claim home win over Scarlets
Simon Mail previews the resumption in European competition with Leicester Tigers expected to gain a vital win at Welford Road over the Scarlets...
"This is a match hosts Leicester must win to have a chance of earning a place in the quarter-finals and home advantage should make the difference."
Leicester v Scarlets
Friday January 16, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports 3
Leicester Tigers cannot afford to slip up this weekend when the Champions Cup resumes with the fifth round of matches. Richard Cockerill's side have picked up two wins including the memorable scalp of champions Toulon. But the Premiership side lost the return game in France and also suffered a disappointing 15-3 defeat to the Scarlets in October.
Inconsistent form in the Pro12 has seen the Scarlets down in eighth position with six defeats from 13 matches. The Welsh side did however overcome Leicester back in the autumn and this result has helped put them marginally ahead of their English opponents. But the Scarlets' away form is very poor this season with eight consecutive defeats on their travels.
This is a match hosts Leicester must win to have a chance of earning a place in the quarter-finals and home advantage should make the difference. The Tigers were too strong for Bath at Welford Road in their last match so are expected to overcome the Scarlets. But the visitors kept within ten points in Toulon and can restrict Leicester to a tight victory.
Back Leicester to win by under 12.5 points at [2.8]
Saracens v Munster
Saturday January 17, 13:00
Live on BT Sport 1
Arguably the strongest pool in the tournament hosts another pivotal clash this weekend with last year's finalists Saracens taking on Munster. The Men in Black are three points in front of Munster but must surely avoid defeat with a daunting trip to group leaders Clermont ahead in the final round of matches. Sarries have won three of their four matches so far to keep them on course for the last-eight.
Munster will have a double over Saracens in their sights after grinding out a 14-3 home win over them back in October. Since then, the side have found it harder going with back-to-back defeats to Clermont. But losing bonus-points have still kept them in touch with their rivals going into this showdown.
This crucial European clash looks destined to be decided by small margins but home advantage at Allianz Park could swing this Saracens' way. Mark McCall's side, who have lost just once at their ground this season, have already managed to overcome Clermont 30-23 in front of their own supporters and a sell-out crowd can spur them onto victory. Expect this to go the distance and a slender Sarries success looks a likely outcome.
Back Saracens to win by under 12.5 points at [2.4]
Sale v Clermont
Saturday January 17, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports 2 Red Button
Sale's European hopes are long gone, after four successive defeats, but the Sharks are more than capable of making life difficult for their opponents in the remaining two games. After all, Steve Diamond's side came exceptionally close to beating Munster in the opening match, leading 23-7, before losing by one point. The Sharks also only lost 19-15 at home to Saracens so are clearly no pushovers.
Clermont remain in pole position to top the group with three wins from their four matches. The French giants lost their opener to Saracens but have responded strongly, especially after winning home and away against Munster. Top 14 leaders Clermont can effectively wrap up qualification with a victory over the Premiership side at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Pride is all that is at stake for the hosts but don't expect them to roll over against their classy opponents. Sale toppled Premiership champions Northampton in their last home match and the side are capable of causing another upset. But with so much incentive for Clermont to stay top, in such a demanding group, the visitors are taken to clinch a tight win over the Sharks.
Back Clermont to win by under 12.5 points at [2.4]
Harlequins v Wasps
Saturday January 17, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 2
This all Premiership clash throws up two sides separated by just two points in their league. Although Wasps are three points ahead of them, it is Quins that have enjoyed a much better campaign in Europe. Conor O'Shea's side are currently top of their pool, with three wins from four games, but Leinster and Wasps are both within a point in an extremely tight group.
Wasps have been impressive during the domestic season with Dai Young's team carrying momentum to their new home in Coventry. It has understandably been tougher competing in Europe but back-to-back wins over Castres have kept Wasps in contention for the knockout stages. Five successive victories in all competitions was ended by defeat at in-form Bath last weekend.
Harlequins have the edge in the two meetings this season although both have been tight. A 26-23 home league victory in September was followed by a 23-16 win at Adams Park in the first European encounter against Wasps the following month. Quins also won last season's matches, both by one point, so you can see how fine the margins have been. Back the hosts to maintain this trend with a narrow success at the Stoop.
Back Harlequins to win by under 12.5 points at [2.3]
Toulouse v Bath
Sunday January 18, 15:15
Live on BT Sport 2
Toulouse have been exceptionally consistent in the competition this season with wins in all four matches. The French giants have not battered any of their opponents though with the eight-point victory over Glasgow the biggest margin so far. Toulouse's European results have been in contrast to their struggles in the Top 14 where eight wins and as many defeats have left them down in seventh place.
Bath have been in superb form in the Premiership with ten victories leaving them one point behind leaders and champions Northampton. Their attacking flair was on full display last weekend as Bath ran in five tries during their win over Wasps. A couple of defeats in Europe have left them with an uphill task to qualify but the Somerset side are not a forlorn hope.
The first meeting between the sides resulted in Toulouse edging to a 21-19 win and there is every reason to think it could be similarly close again. The French side are not in great domestic form whereas Bath have been turning on the style. That said, the four-time Heineken Cup winners should be able to seal qualification with a fifth win but, like their previous ones, it is likely to be decided by 12 points or less.
Back Toulouse to win by under 12.5 points at [2.3]
Ospreys v Northampton
Sunday January 18, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 2
The Ospreys' European hopes appear to be over for another year after managing just one win from their opening four matches. Making up six or seven points on Racing Metro and this weekend's opponents Northampton looks a step too far for the Welsh side. The Pro12 leaders have not been able to translate this form to the competition and were well beaten at Franklin's Gardens.
Northampton are going well both domestically and in this tournament, sitting top of the Premiership and their European pool. The Saints lost their opening game to Racing Metro but responded strongly by winning their next three group fixtures. Jim Mallinder's side lost their last match at Sale but the English champions can be expected to improve this weekend.
The Ospreys got a real beating at Northampton after losing 34-6 back in October which ended their unbeaten start to the season. The scars from this hammering could still be present in Swansea and their motivation could be dwindling with qualification looking bleak. The Saints have won their last four games in Wales including a 29-17 win over the Ospreys one year ago. Northampton are still fighting out for top spot with Racing Metro and the visitors are fancied to grind out a victory at the Liberty Stadium.
Back Northampton to win by under 12.5 points at [2.3]
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