Group 1 – Toulouse v Bath Rugby
Leinster may have shown Toulouse who is the real boss in this group last weekend but more worryingly it has put them in a bit of a sticky situation.
They will most likely finish second behind their conquerors from last weekend in this group despite potentially winning five out of their six games. More worryingly is that they haven’t picked up any bonus points along the way and could, even with a win, be knocked out of the competition.
The need for bonus points is so crucial at this level because there are is actually a side that have lost more games than them yet sit on the same amount of points. Montpellier being that club in question.
The group that Montpellier are in will probably save Toulouse should they not win with a bonus point due to the top two facing off but they must have tunnel vision for bonus points here.
Bath have nothing to lose and will probably field a largely experimental team but one face that you may see this weekend is Jonathan Joseph who is close to a return following an extended lay off.
This will be a fantastic sight for both club and country if he does make the weekend’s match as both are struggling to find a settled centre combination.
Bath won’t lie down and have their bellies tickled but there is more at stake for Toulouse and a bonus point victory leading to qualification is the most likely outcome.
TOULOUSE BY 22
Group 1 – Wasps v Leinster
Wasps have endured a terrible, winless run in the Champions Cup and this week it has been announced that Nathan Hughes and Willie le Roux will be leaving them at the end of the season.
It has since been announced that Malakai Fekitoa will be joining next season but with players like Elliot Daly’s future still uncertain it is apparent that Wasps isn’t a happy camp at the moment.
Nothing like the European Champions turning up to cheer you up then?
The club is in financial disarray and now it looks as though on the field the situation is about to get worse.
Wasps may be wise to put out a full-strength team against Leinster to avoid a cricket score as the men from across the Irish Sea still have plenty to play for and a group first place to secure.
The Dubliners simply need a win to guarantee a home quarter-final and there is no way on earth that Wasps are going to stop them achieving that.
Leinster humiliated them in the very first game of the competition and the last of the group stages may be a similar story.
LEINSTER BY 26
Group 2 – Castres v Gloucester Rugby
There’s nothing at stake here other than pride as both teams turned from contenders to pretenders last weekend.
Castres will blame their shocking ability to travel on their elimination as they have shipped 83 points in just those three matches alone.
At home they have beaten both Exeter and Munster in hard fought matches but they are a completely different team at the Stade Pierre-Fabres than on their travels so this should be a home victory.
Gloucester on the other hand may well be rueing their home form. A good win away to Exeter wasn’t back up at home and they were simply outclassed by Munster last time out.
They have already beaten Castres this season but the home side will take the spoils here.
Castres by 17
Group 2 – Munster v Exeter Chiefs
This could well be an absolute cracker jack at Thomond Park as Munster will look to rubber stamp their top place in the pool and hope that results else where go their way so they can secure a home quarter-final.
Last Friday against Gloucester they were exemplary in everything that they did and their international players showed just why they are adored nationwide when wearing the green of Ireland.
Peter O’Mahony is a serious injury doubt which would be a huge loss to Munster in their hour of need but there are others around him that will step up to the plate.
Joey Carbery’s form is also something to behold after a 26 point haul at Kingsholm and should he get the quick ball he enjoyed last weekend then the Chiefs could be in for a long afternoon in Limerick.
The Chiefs themselves continue to hang on to their European dreams by their finger nails. Last weekend’s victory against Castres was impressive to say the least and the return of Jack Nowell clearly inspired the rest of the group.
The diminutive Cornishman had the freedom of Sandy Park to grab hold of the game from fullback but he is unlikely to be afforded so much space this weekend.
Exeter’s only chance of qualification is to win and deny Munster any form of a bonus point. As simple as that.
I think that they may give Munster an early scare but the Thomond Park roar and the need for bonus try points will see Munster overpower their visitors.
MUNSTER BY 17
Group 3 – Saracens v Glasgow Warriors
5 from 5 for the Allianz Park outfit so far and worryingly for everyone else, they don’t seem to have got out of 2nd gear yet.
Every winning margin has been in double figures yet they’ve only collected two try bonus points in 5 matches.
This may have something to do with some of their big name players like Billy & Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje being out for portions of the season but they’ve adapted to every game and environment with such ease that they have made the group stage look like a bump in the road to success that they just slowed down and idled over effortlessly.
Glasgow have only lost the one game in that return and fraught encounter with Sarries. It was an extremely tight match that day and with them also being used to a 4G pitch, the Allianz will hold no fear for them.
They do need to come away with some form of points though as although they are currently the highest ranked 2nd team they have the hardest fixture. It could be a nervy wait for them over the weekend but even one bonus point may just be enough to see them through to the knockout stages.
A win and they could top the group. It’s going to be a very tense and nervy 80 minutes in Barnet but Sarries will want to top this group and lay down a marker to the rest of the competition that they are not to be messed with.
SARACENS BY 13
Group 3 – Cardiff Blues v Lyon
Cardiff started their campaign with a win in Lyon but since then they haven’t been able to get within a losing bonus of any of the teams they have faced in 4 straight losses.
They’ve had their moments against Saracens at home and Glasgow away but the reality is that there is some serious building work needed at The Arms Park to get them in contention to qualify for this tournament again.
Lyon have been embarrassing and haven’t got a solitary point to their name. There’s not really much else that needs to be said. Dour.
This won’t get much attention at the weekend but I can only assume that home advantage and a win earlier in the competition over the same opposition will give Cardiff the edge.
CARDIFF BY 13
Group 4 – Leicester Tigers v Ulster
Just when you think Leicester Tigers may have turned a corner with their form they decide to go and play the way they did last week at the Scarlets.
They’ve been frustrating to watch this season as consistency proves to be so elusive to them. You can argue that they had a weakened team last time out but no matter who starts on the park, it is the same old story.
A backline that could potentially include Ben Youngs, George Ford, Matt Toomua, Jonny May and Manu Tuilagi should not be losing games whilst only scoring 10 or 11 points.
Ulster are on the European charge and the result last week in Belfast against Racing 92 was more than impressive.
In Jacob Stockdale they have one of the form players in World Rugby right now and a pack that went toe to toe with the Parisian giants and managed a knock out blow on the day.
A win is a must for them to climb up the rankings of the second placed teams and it is a win that they will pick up with consummate ease.
ULSTER BY 17
Group 4 – Racing 92 v Scarlets
Racing are still in pole position to win the group and qualify with a home draw despite their loss to Ulster at Ravenhill last weekend.
After a slow start which saw them snatch a one-point victory at the Parc y Scarlets during the first round they haven’t ever looked backwards.
Hammering Ulster in that fantastic arena of theirs essentially won them this group and I have no doubt bonus points will be collected quite early on this Saturday.
Scarlets finally registered a win last weekend but their biggest concern this week for the players will be that none of them that have been selected in the Wales squad get injured just before the Six Nations during a match that means very little to them.
Racing 92 by 23
Group 5 – Newcastle Falcons v Toulon
Newcastle started their campaign so brightly with a historic victory over their esteemed opponents of this weekend and an even more impressive one over Montpellier.
Since then it has all been downhill and their challenge has disappeared into the distance whilst a Premiership relegation scrap has ensued.
That said, this will be a big game for the club and they will be seeing the chance to do the double over the three-time European Champions as a real scalp.
Toulon go from bad to worse and they were humiliated last week at home to a very impressive Edinburgh performance.
I don’t expect them to travel with a full squad to this dead rubber and for that reason their interests will probably be elsewhere. The sooner this competition finishes the better for them.
NEWCASTLE BY 3
Group 5 – Edinburgh v Montpellier
Edinburgh need to think carefully about how they approach this game because the connotations of losing could be catastrophic.
Trying to hold on for losing bonus points or sneaking a try scoring point in defeat is a gamble, so hopefully they won’t change their mind set from last week or the previous 3 matches before that and will only target the win they need to top the group.
Last week in Toulon they played a brand of rugby so easy on the eye and hard to defend that reciprocating this week will leave them top of the group.
Montpellier’s job is simple. Win and win at all costs. They have to go home victorious or they are out. There are already two second placed teams with more points than them and with Toulouse at home to Bath they are extremely likely to pick up some form of points.
The men in blue’s biggest issue has been on the road this year though as they have lost away to both Newcastle and Toulon so with a strong crowd at Murrayfield and form on their side, I expect Edinburgh to finish the job and send Montpellier home with nothing left to play for.
EDINBURGH BY 7
Photo Credit: Pierre-Selim via creativecommons.org