by Andy McGeady | Heineken Cup Semi-Finals Preview
This year’s Heineken Cup semis see the same four teams as last season, just jumbled up a bit. In 2013 Munster had been twelve point underdogs to Clermont who escaped as six point winners, a winning margin that the Paddy Power archivists note some lucky punter had at 22/1. At Twickenham, one bettor had Toulon to win by 12 which came in a very decent 40/1. So what of 2014?
Toulon v Munster (Sunday, 3.30pm)
In the quarter finals Munster and Toulon each had resounding wins over heavyweights Toulouse and Leinster respectively. Munster lost their first Heineken Cup game this season in a Murrayfield debacle but have come roaring back with six wins on the bounce, scoring 185 points while conceding just 71. Defending champions Toulon are riding a 14 from 16 run, however, and they are deserving eight point favourites in Marseille.
Toulon dominated the breakdown against Leinster but Munster might seem well poised to challenge in that area, having won the most turnovers per game while conceding the fewest in the Heineken Cup this season according to Opta’s statistics. Munster also lead both the Heineken Cup and Rabodirect Pro 12 in ruck retention. To stand a chance of a famous win in France they’ll need to dominate this area again, hence the inclusion of Sean Dougall at seven to help make up for the absence of captain and breakdown artist Peter O’Mahony.
Whichever team you fancy to win on Sunday, an important thing to note is that Wayne Barnes will be the referee. Mr. Barnes is not shy of waving a card or two around and it’s 2/5 for him to show a yellow card in the game with a yellowless day at 7/4. It’s 4/7 on Nigel Owens to show a yellow card at Twickenham on Saturday.
Fill Your Boots
If proper kicking is your thing, perhaps a wager on the weekend’s marksmen?
Best kicking percentage:
Wilkinson 8/13 vs Keatley 11/10
According to Opta, in club competition this season Jonny Wilkinson, Owen Farrell and Morgan Parra have all kicked goals at a 77% clip with Ian Keatley a touch back at 73%.
Perfect kicking record:
Wilko Evens; Keatley 5/4
Kicking is a funny thing at the top level. Test kickers are now so good that the angle doesn’t matter as much as one might think, but distance from the posts is key. Based on research by All Blacks analyst Ken Quarrie, no matter who the kicker is the odds of making a kick reduce quite quickly the closer one gets to the half way line.