Friday, April 26, 2013

Leinster work on the 'boutique' Amlin Challenge Cup (think Electric Picnic v Oxegen Heineken Cup)

Even has blue ribbons!

I was going to cover the BIG competition first, but at the risk of looking partisan, I suppose I should glance over the Heineken Cup.

It’s only heavyweights left at this stage of the competition – is it a coincidence that the four remaining teams would be well known for their physicality ?

First up is the tournament favorites Clermont  taking on a resurgent Munster side. There have been some impressive battles between the teams in the last 5 years or so – battle generally being the operative word. I can remember a Munster/Clermont match at Thomond where Jamie Cudmore was red carded for punching Paul O’Connell (I’m sayin’ nothing!) and even with 14 men proceeded to push Munster right down to the wire. The key of course is whether Munster can stand up and fight like they did against Quins. It’s absolutely the approach that Clermont will be expecting, and one I think they’re looking forward to the physical challenge Munster will present.  Then if the Clermont forwards can get an upper hand – their backs will ram home the advantage. This is probably the hardest one to call this weekend – I think Clermont really mean business this year, and I’m going with them, even if they do look a bit iffy at fly half with James and Skrela in doubt. And if they do win, it will probably be by a bit.

Saracens Toulon is going to be a total slugfest. Flair, finesse, running rugby – are words unlikely to be spoken on Sunday. It’s going to be a last man standing matching, and a shoot out between Owen Farell and Johnny Wilkinson. Toulon have the biggest club rugby budget in the world I’d say, so man for man they are bigger, and probably more skilled. They are away, which doesn’t suit them, but nothing I’ve seen from Saracens suggest they’ll be able to beat someone they can’t bully. So I’m going Toulon and an all French final.

In the boutique club tournament, the Amlin Challenge Cup  (think Electric Picnic to Oxegen) Perpignan and Stade get it going on Friday. That is likely to be a classic French derby ie pretty bonkers- lots of physical stuff up front, and a bit of insane throwing the ball around at the back. Perpignan should take it with home advantage.

Leinster look to be able to pick nearly from a full squad this weekend, which has been a relative rarity for this season. They won’t have many players without international caps in the team, and if Sexton, BOD D’Arcy, Nacewa and Kearney bring their a game that wil probably decide it. Biarritz Olympique coach Didier Faugeron said  "If you want to beat Leinster you must be well in the head ". You can’ argue with that! Even if Biarritz aren’t a top team anymore, they have awesone depth, but if  their away form is as brutal as normal, Leinster should grab this one.

Heineken Cup
Saturday , April 27
Clermont Auvergne vs Munster 18:00
Sunday , April 28
Saracens vs Toulon 15:00
Amlin Challenge Cup
Friday , April 26
Perpignan vs Stade Francais 
Saturday , April 27
Leinster vs Biarritz

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