Some match days are more equal than others in the Heineken Cup and so it goes with this weekend’s slate of games. This column is going to work backwards from Sunday evening. Trust me, it’s better that way.
Toulouse host Saracens in the final game of this Heineken Cup round five weekend. It’s the surf and turf of contests, sullied only by the fact it’s occurring in round 5 and not on the final day of the pool stage. The two are tied with 15 points and Sunday’s winner will have put themselves in prime position to secure a home quarter final.
The French side might be five point favourites over the tournament’s top scorers, but les Toulousains have been iffy from the kicking tee making just 56% of their efforts at goal.
Toulouse Kickers in the 2013/14 Heineken Cup
- Jean Marc Doussain – 3 of 3
- Lionel Beauxis – 6 of 10
- Sebastien Bezy – 3 of 5
- Jean Pascal Barraque – 2 of 4
- Luke McAlister – 0 of 3
Total – 14 of 25
Saracens in contrast have kicked at an 86% rate (Owen Farrell 19 of 22; Charlie Hodgson 5 of 6). In what could be a very tight game that goal kicking edge might tempt some to give Saracens the nod to at least finish inside that spread.
Sunday’s other two games will go a long way to sorting out Pool 1 once and for all as Leinster travel to Castres while Ospreys welcome Northampton. Leinster are overwhelming 1/33 favourites to win the pool but if they slip up in France, the Saints could tie them on points with a win in Wales. Oddly for a side containing Devin Toner, a man who could pass for an NBA center, Leinster haven’t offered much in the way of lineout defence, allowing opposition hookers to throw for a Heineken Cup best 92% success rate.
Castres are +6 and without Rory Kockott but with Leinster minus Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy in the loose l like them to finish inside that handicap.
And now a short break to discuss this try-scorer Money-Back Special. There’s a catch, right? Well, let’s have a look. Excluding penalty tries there have been 185 tries over the first four rounds of this season’s Heineken Cup.
Tries by Backs: 125 tries scored by 90 players
Tries by Forwards: 60 tries scored by 57 players
It’s expected that more tries are scored by the piano players rather than the piano shifters, but based on just the raw try numbers that’s a one in three chance of getting money back on a first-try-scorer punt. Not bad. Call it the piano-shifters’ present.
In Pool 6, all four teams are still in with some sort of a chance if Munster lose in Gloucester. Munster’s last Pro 12 game in Ravenhill saw a strangely muted first half performance in which they went 20-0 down before launching a strong comeback in which they were unlucky not to emerge with a bonus point. Gloucester’s last game? A 29-8 loss at home to Saracens despite their opponents having just thirteen men for eight second half minutes. Munster, with a home quarter final in the back of their minds, should have enough to both win and cover their six-point handicap.
Toulon, back as tournament favourites at 11/4 after Leinster’s home loss to Northampton, are a frankly unbackable 1/80 to qualify for a quarter final place. Accordingly Cardiff, sitting just two points behind Toulon before the final two rounds, are at 14/1 a long shot to win the pool but it’s worth considering that this weekend’s game is not in the Stade Majol but rather, for the first time, in the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice. Like putting tartare sauce with fishfingers, that just might be enough to make the day’s 21 point handicap interesting.
Harlequins have provided much fun in Pool 3, losing entertaining games to both Scarlets and Clermont before twice beating Racing Metro. They’re now 7/1 to become the first team to reach a Heineken Cup quarter final after losing both of their opening two matches.
The Londoners might be just +2 underdogs at home to Clermont on Saturday but realistically they’ll need to not only win the game but also stop the visitors from claiming any sort of a bonus point. It’s a tall order but should be an entertaining one.
On Friday night Racing Metro lost 13-19 to Scarlets in Paris while Ulster beat Montpellier 27-16 at Ravenhill.