Heineken Cup Betting: Leinster set for a tough clash in Clermont

The Ulster Front Row

The four Irish provinces face crucial European ties as the Heineken Cup returns after a seven-week break. Cormac O' Keeffe previews the action...

"Leinster will struggle to cope with the power of the French side and the accurate kicking of Morgan Parra."

Back Northampton by under 12.5 points 1.814/5
Back Munster 1.538/15
Back Clermont by under 12.5 points
Back Biarritz by under 12.5 points

Northampton v Ulster

The standout tie of the third round of fixtures sees in form Ulster travel to Franklin's Gardens to take on Northampton. There should be enough running rugby to keep the purists happy. However, it is fans of the dark arts of scrummaging that will be licking their lips to a greater degree as the battle of the front rows should be intriguing, with Afoa, Best and Court likely to square up to Tonga'uiha, Hartley, and Mujati.

Ulster maintained their winning start to the season largely thanks to an intercept try by Andrew Trimble and an appalling kicking display by the Scarlets' second-choice fly-half Aled Thomas. The Saints are a mere two points off the leaders in the Aviva Premiership. However, they have lost three of their last five matches and most of their victories have been over relatively weak sides. They have come undone when facing the likes of Leicester and Saracens and have one win and one loss in the pool.

It really is a tough game to call but I think the Saints will edge it and I'll be backing them to win by under 12.5 points. The English side tend to score relatively freely but Ulster's defence is one of the best in the competition and although they will have two days less rest than many of the Northampton players I think they'll push the Saints close.


Munster v Saracens

Munster were impressive in securing a bonus-point win over Glasgow on Saturday but they will face a much tougher task in a game that they need a win to keep their Heineken-Cup dream alive for this season. They won their last match 33-0 win at home to Edinburgh following on from a disappointing defeat in France to Racing where Simon Zebo's try looked to have secured victory. CJ Stander joins a growing list of injured back row forwards in Munster's ranks after breaking his hand against Glasgow. The South African was the outstanding performer last week with two tries on his full debut.

Saracens have won both of their pool games so far and sit one point off the summit of the premiership, having only lost two of their ten league games this season. They thrashed Edinburgh in their own back yard 45-0 and also recorded an impressive home win against a strong Racing side. Munster's European record at Thomond Park is outstanding. Visiting English teams have had some joy in recent years but Munster should have enough to record a crucial win on Saturday.


Clermont Auvergne v Leinster

Leinster enter the cauldron of the Stade Marcel Michelin on Sunday to face a Clermont side that are in top form. Leinster have won both of their matches but have been far from the impressive form that helped them defend their European crown last season. They have only managed one try in their two games but their defence has been as solid as always with only one try conceded. They are starting to hit form in the Pro12, as evidenced by their weekend thrashing of Zebre that brings their winning tally to four in the last five league games. They have no fresh injury concerns and have a relatively good record in France, having only lost one of their last four pool games in France.

Clermont have scored 12 tries in their two European games to date, scoring 49 and 46 points against the Scarlets and Exeter respectively. They have only conceded one try and they have also won three-quarters of their top 14 games and are almost unbeatable at home. Although Leinster's defence is one of their strong points I feel that they'll struggle to cope with the power of the French side and the accurate kicking of Morgan Parra.


Connacht v Biarritz

Connacht typically rely heavily on their home form but they have lost four of the six games at the Sportsground this season. Biarritz are not the European force that they once were, as evidenced by the thrashing they suffered at the hands of Harlequins in round one. They lie in mid-table in the top 14 and may thus prioritise this competition. They have often shown less than complete interest in away games but I think they'll have too much for Connacht.

The Irish side have a number of injuries, while Biarritz welcome back their two star players, Imanol Harinordoquy and Dimitri Yachvili. The French side don't tend to score heavily on the road and the conditions may not suit free-flowing rugby and I'll be backing them to win by under 12.5 points.


Recommended Bets

Back Northampton by under 12.5 points 1.814/5
Back Munster 1.538/15
Back Clermont by under 12.5 points
Back Biarritz by under 12.5 points


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