European Rugby Champions Cup: Wasps face crunch decider at home to Leinster

Wasps set up their pool decider with a superb away win at Harlequins
Wasps set up their pool decider with a superb away win at Harlequins

Simon Mail previews the final round of pool games which starts with a crucial decider between Wasps and Leinster...

"Leinster edged to a 25-20 win over Wasps in the home game and all the signs are it will be similarly tight."

Wasps v Leinster 
Saturday January 24, 13:00
Live on BT Sport 2

The final round of pool matches kicks off with a winner takes all showdown at the Ricoh Arena between Wasps and leaders Leinster. The hosts have overcome the disappointment of losing their opening two matches to surge back into contention for the knockout stages. Wasps claimed back-to-back wins over Castres but have earned their shot to qualify after a convincing 23-3 victory at Premiership rivals Harlequins last week.

Leinster may have thought a place in the last eight would be safe by now but this is far from the case as they prepare for a trip to Coventry. The Irish side won their first two games in the competition before losing narrowly at Harlequins. But a seven-try rout at home to Castres last weekend has given Leinster a slight advantage heading into this decider. 

Wasps have been hugely impressive since their move to the Ricoh Arena with comprehensive wins over London Irish and Sale. But this tie is set to be something very different against one of the European heavyweights. The three-time Heineken Cup winners have so much experience of success at this level compared to their opponents. Leinster edged to a 25-20 win over Wasps in the home game and all the signs are it will be similarly tight. But the visitors' winning mentality at this level can ensure a home quarter-final by edging to victory.

Recommended Bet:
Back Leinster to win at 2.245/4

Castres v Harlequins
Saturday January 24, 13:00
Live on BT Sport 1

It has been a campaign to forget for Castres both in France and in this tournament. The side sit second bottom in the Top 14 while the team are propping up this group after losing all five matches. Castres came closest to a result with a 21-16 home defeat to Leinster but have been on the end of some heavy losses including a 50-8 thumping in Dublin.

Harlequins looked on course for a quarter-final place after winning their first three matches but their hopes have since derailed. Conor O'Shea's side were edged out 14-13 in Leinster but the most damage was done in last weekend's home defeat to Wasps. It has mirrored the inconsistency which has frustrated Quins so far this season in the Premiership. 

Castres' motivation in this competition is long gone and the French side could be there for the taking again. O'Shea is likely to have his players fired up to finish strongly after their recent setbacks. It is not impossible Quins could qualify but only an unlikely set of results and a bonus-point win can save them. Harlequins are likely to take this game more seriously and the visitors are worth backing to end with a tight away win. 

Recommended Bet:
Back Harlequins to win by under 12.5 points at 2.47/5

Northampton v Racing Metro
Saturday January 24, 15:15
Live on BT Sport 1

Northampton Saints go into their clash with Racing Metro knowing a point will see them through to the last eight. But the Premiership champions have their sights set on the victory which will see them leapfrog their opponents and clinch a home knockout tie. The Saints have done well to recover from their opening 20-11 defeat in France with four wins putting them in this strong position.

Racing Metro have been one of the success stories of the competition so far and are the only unbeaten side after four wins and a draw. Sitting fourth in the Top 14, the French side have flourished in Europe. A 19-19 draw in the Ospreys aside, Racing Metro have been too strong for the opposition but face their toughest match yet.

Northampton have home advantage and this could give Jim Mallinder's side the edge as they chase the victory which will ensure they top the group. Racing Metro got the better of them in their first match but the tables could be turned at Franklin's Gardens. The French side have lost their last two domestic away matches by less than 13 points and a narrow Saints win is predicted in this pool decider.  

Recommended Bet:
Back Northampton to win by under 12.5 points at 2.47/5

Ulster v Leicester
Saturday January 24, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports 1

Leicester are in the last chance saloon with only a win and in all likelihood a bonus-point victory giving them any chance of qualifying as a runner-up. Richard Cockerill's side have it all to do with a trip to Ravenhill where they have struggled in recent years. The Tigers did beat champions Toulon at home but may rue the away defeat at the Scarlets if they miss out on the quarter-finals.

It has been a disappointing campaign in Europe for Ulster with four defeats from five games seeing them prop up their pool. The club have enjoyed success in the Heineken Cup in recent years although this season has not gone to plan. But Ulster have still proved very difficult to beat at home with Toulon the only winners at the Kingspan Stadium this season.

Leicester won the first meeting back in October after a 25-18 win but their recent history in Ulster is not favourable. The Premiership side lost 22-16 in the Heineken Cup last season and were thrashed 41-7 back in 2012. All the pressure is on the Tigers and Ulster, who have won all three home games against the Tigers, are capable of maintaining this record with a closing victory.

Recommended Bet:
Back Ulster to win at 2.447/5

Bath v Glasgow
Sunday January 25, 13:00
Live on BT Sport 2 

Bath revived their quarter-final hopes with a superb 35-18 win in Toulouse last weekend. It was a stunning display from the Premiership side which underlined their ability and growing maturity. It is all the more impressive considering Bath started their pool with back-to-back defeats including a crushing 37-10 loss in Glasgow. 

Glasgow still have their own chance of squeezing into the last eight but will have to complete the double over Bath. The Scots were rampant in their opening win over the Somerset side and held their own against Toulouse only losing by eight points or less twice. Gregor Townsend's side sit second in the Pro 12 and have been consistent performers throughout this season.

Both sides must win this match and it has the makings of a cracking attacking clash at the Rec. Glasgow dominated the first game between the teams but Bath have made exceptional progress since then, as demonstrated by their win in France. Home advantage favours the Premiership side having the edge but Glasgow have only lost by more than 12 points once this season. Take in-form Bath to clinch a tight victory.

Recommended Bet: 
Back Bath to win by under 12.5 points at 2.915/8

Clermont v Saracens
Sunday January 25, 15:15
Live on BT Sport 2

Clermont host last year's Heineken Cup finalists Saracens this weekend in the pool decider. The French giants have responded strongly after losing the opener at Sarries by winning their next four matches. The Top 14 leaders will certainly fancy their chances of finishing first with such an exceptional home record at Stade Marcel-Michelin.

Saracens know they will almost certainly need to come away with a result in France to progress past the group stage. Mark McCall's side rediscovered top form last weekend with a 33-10 home win over Munster but their failure to secure a try bonus-point could prove costly. Winning in Clermont is one of the toughest asks in club rugby so the Men in Black will have to be at their best. 

The first match back in October was a titanic tussle with Sarries edging to a 30-23 win at Allianz Park. Saracens also hammered Clermont 46-6 in last year's European semi-final at Twickenham but this is a totally different setting in France. The hosts will be determined to set the record straight after these two defeats and are fancied to grind out a hard-earned victory over Saracens to seal top spot. 

Recommended Bet:
Back Clermont to win by under 12.5 points at 2.68/5

Munster v Sale
Sunday January 25, 15:15
Live on Sky Sports 1

Munster are in the unusual position of already being out of Europe after just five games. Their third defeat in the pool stage, after losing at Saracens, ended Munster's hopes and ensured this campaign will not be remembered fondly. It has to be said this is arguably the toughest group in the competition but this will still be no consolation for them.

Sale may have lost all five pool matches but this doesn't do justice to the contribution they have made. The Sharks have been competitive in all of the games apart from the defeat in Clermont. The opening tie against Munster was a perfect example as Steve Diamond's side led for much of the match before a harsh 27-26 defeat.

With both sides already eliminated motivation is the most important factor at Thomond Park. Sale have rested many of the first choice players and the home side can take advantage of this. Munster, whose last two home victories over Sale have both been by more than 20 points, will want to sign off in style in front of their own supporters and can be expected to end a disappointing competition with a convincing win. 

Recommended Bet:
Back Munster -18.5 at 1.9110/11

Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

2014/15 Rugby P/L

Staked: 78pts
Returned: 79.74pts

P/L: +1.74pts

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