It’s only round two of the European Champions Cup but in this year’s leaner format that means some teams are already up against it in their bid to reach the knockout stage.
One defeat, especially at home, can almost spell the end in a four-game pool stage, so a few teams are likely to be less focused than usual and to rotate their squads heavily, leading to a few big handicaps.
Favourites Leinster in Strong Position
Leinster put European success at the top of their priorities, and while they aren’t above ringing the changes in their selection, they look set for a big home win against Northampton.
These two teams have been drawn in the same pool twice in the last five seasons and Leinster have won all four meetings by margins of 29, 27, 47 and 27 points. Factor in that Northampton lost at home to Bordeaux last week and are without Wales international fly-half Dan Biggar, and the upshot is that the Saints are
50/57 to cover a handicap of 33.5 points.
There’s no Johnny Sexton in the home line-up though – Harry Byrne makes his first European start at fly-half for Leinster – and the Irish outfit went through the gears in beating Montpellier 35-14 last week rather than cutting loose. A winning margin of 26-30 points at
11/2 could therefore appeal more than a handicap bet.
Ulster Not Giving Up
Ulster were one of the teams to suffer an opening home defeat, beaten by old stagers Toulouse, but they have the chance to bounce back at Gloucester, who showed their hand early by sending a young side to Lyon last week and getting beaten 55-10.
A few old hands are recalled for this home clash but Ulster look stronger and are 6.5-point favourites at
The Irish province are generally far stronger at home than on their travels but they overcame Premiership sides Bath and Harlequins in last season’s pool stage and look worth an interest for a narrow win. A victory by one to 12 points is a
Heavyweight Showdown in France
Clermont against Munster looks the game of the day on Saturday. Hosts Clermont showed up in their usual swashbuckling style at Bristol last week to win a 12-try contest 51-38.
Clermont’s four home games last season ended with totals of 63, 42, 78 and 74 points – Munster are given a nine-point start and rarely get thumped on their travels, although their last trip to France ended with a 37-22 defeat to Racing.
Hard Work for Harlequins
It doesn’t get any easier for Harlequins as last week’s defeat to Munster at fortress Thomond is followed by a visit from star-studded Racing 92 on Sunday.
The Parisian outfit include Simon Zebo, Teddy Thomas and Kurtley Beale in their line-up with Scotland international Finn Russell at fly-half and are
50/57 to cover the -5.5 handicap. But Quins name a strong team too and given they have scored ten and shipped 12 tries in their three Premiership games this season, this could turn into an open, high-scoring contest.
*All odds correct at time of writing.