Thursday, April 5, 2012

This weekend - mainly through Sky+ - I'm running with Toulouse, Leinster, Ulster and Saracens. Controversial!

I should be massively looking forward to this weekend, and I am of course, but family arrangements have been made for me with scant regard for the important things in life – Heineken Cup rugby! I might weasel my way to seeing the Leinster match, but Munster Ulster is going to have to go on Sky+ as it’s bang in the middle of a big Sunday lunch, where I am the head chef.

Starting off with Leinster, and I guess the focus is really on Cardiff at the moment, and whether they can get their act together. The news from their camp reads like a Shakespearian tragedy. They are in limbo in terms of a home venue, big cutbacks  in budgets are on the way for all the Welsh provinces next year, they have a raft of injury worries including Jamie Roberts and Sam Warburton, and are on a big losing streak in the Pro 12. Then add the Gavin Henson debacle, contributing little on the pitch, and making the headlines and causing disruptions with his off pitch antics. It was probably a good opportunity to shift him if budgets are going to be tight anyway. Having said all that – I’ve seen Cardiff put in some terrific performances in the last year, and most impressive, even if not recently, is their never say die attitude. If they can channel all their frustrations  in a positive manner on Saturday, they’ll be in with a shout.

For Leinster, they had the perfect warm up, spanking Munster at Thomond. They have the beef up front ( god am I not looking forward to the scrums though), the firepower behind, and scrum halves and fly halves to set the perfect tempo for the match. Add in Rob Kearney in the form of his life, superstar Isa Nacewa, home advantage, and you surely have the winning formula. O’Brien and Heaslip have been pretty quiet all the Six Nations – I want them to be noisy now! So Leinster to win.

Munster Ulster is an all Ireland affair at Thomond, with the pubs to open early in honour of the match – scandalous! Munster are going to be welcoming back some of their big names, which is great news. This is a huge match for Munster, after their uncharacteristically poor performance against Leinster last week, and there is a hungriness about Ulster they had better watch out for. Looks like Ferris is out for the match, which is a blow for the Ulstermen as he’s being playing really well. Very very hard to call this match – Munster’s home advantage will count for a lot, but if Ulster put in the type of performance that saw them monster the Tigers, they will win this. Before last weekend, I would have gone with Munster all the way, Pauly will make a huge difference, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ulster squeezed this one.

Toulouse are missing a few big names for their trip to Edinburgh, but big names is what they possess in  abundance, and it’s not likely to affect their performance. I would love to see the Scots steal this one, just to shake things up a bit, but it’s hard to look past Toulouse.

Finally, the last match will pit Saracens against Clermont. Saracens are a top team these days, but as their defeat to Quins last week shows, they are still a bit inconsistent.  Clermont have a ridiculous amount of talent to call on, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost, actually, nothing they do would surprise me, they could also give Sarries a good thrashing.  I think Saracens should be able to bludgeon them into submission though.

Enjoy the rugby!

Heineken Cup
Saturday , April 7
Edinburgh vs Toulouse 15:00
Leinster vs Cardiff Blues 17:45
Sunday , April 8
Munster vs Ulster 13:45
Saracens vs Clermont Auvergne 16:30

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