There are a few shoot-outs in this weekend’s action. Delicious ones.
Technically only Toulon, 7/4 tournament favourites, have thus far assured themselves of a quarter-final slot, while Northampton v Racing should offer another two. Racing’s visit to Saints will decide Pool 5 and, almost certainly, the fate of one of the runner-up slots. Saints will win at 1/4; Racing to finish inside the nine-point handicap.
The real gunslinging matchups are at Wasps and Bath with both home sides having a very real chance of becoming the first sides ever to qualify for a quarter final having lost their first two pool games. Both could go through as pool winners or runners up, with the former a little neater in terms of the history books due to the extra runner-up slot this season.
Winner takes the pool, with the latter having the smallest of aces up the sleeve as two match points could suffice to win the pool and a losing bonus point would still give them a good shout of taking a playoff slot. Leinster (evens) might have led the tournament in passes and rucks, but more meaningful is their excellent 97 per cent retention rate at those rucks and their zero yellow cards conceded so far in the competition.
Wasps, -1pt favourites, have averaged 147 tackles per game including a colossal 225 attempts in their away victory at Harlequins last weekend. It was the same story in the round 1 game at the RDS when they were called upon to make 209 attempts. You can do that when you’ve the firepower to score from deep, as Wasps certainly do.
Wasps to take the win at 5/6 and rewrite the competition’s history books; Leinster to pick up a losing bonus point and put themselves in a decent position to go through as a runner-up.
Another duel. Back in October Glasgow stunned many English observers by beating Bath 37-10. After crushing Toulouse away from home last week, however, Bath enter as 14 point favourites. Much is rightly made of the exciting Bath backline, particularly centres Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph, but when Glasgow get into full flow they have a zesty spring in their game.
The Scottish side rank near the top of the offloading charts in the compeition with much of this down to Fijian forward Leone Nakarawa. Selected at blind side flanker to face Bath, Nakarawa has played just 233 minutes in his five appearances but leads the competition with 22 offloads. He’s made more offloads by himself than the entire Treviso (21) and Munster (18) teams.
There’s a lot on the line for both Bath and Glasgow on Sunday which could dampen some of that natural attacking enthusiasm but if either gets into an “In Emergency, Break Glass” situation, watch out. Bath to win (1/10) and get a try bonus point. Don’t like that handicap though, given the chaos Glasgow can introduce when in the mood.
More pistols at dawn. Between losses and bonus points left a-begging, neither side is assured of a QF slot unless they win the pool outright.
It’s not unusual to see Clermont leading the metres carried charts and Saracens will need to continue their success in allowing the fewest clean breaks in the competition (3.6 per game; competition average 6.8).
Saracens to finish inside the +7 handicap but Clermont to take the win at 4/11.
* Playing stats courtesy of Opta
Andy’s Predicted Quarter Finalists
• Racing Metro