I can’t believe it has been a week already, as such we are approaching another action packed weekend of European rugby where there are several permutations with regards which clubs can progress to the knockout stages.
Toulouse vs Saracens
Saracens have this group wrapped up and come into this game with an unbeaten record and they won’t want to loose that record and it is unlikely that they will with Toulouse having been awful this year. The key match up will be Louis Picamoles vs Billy Vunipola and I predict a Saracens win by at least 10 points.
Ulster vs Oyonnax
Ulster still have a chance of qualifying by through the highest runners up spot. I think Ulster will have the support of Ireland behind them as they are the emerald isles only hopes of qualification for the knock outs. Oyonnax haven’t traveled particularly well so I think Ulster will bag a bonus point win and go through to the next round.
This pool could go any which way with regards qualification. It is unbelievably tight at the top with there being the possibility of all teams winning this group.
Clermont vs Bordeaux
A battle of the French sides. Clermont have an incredible record at home and history with this competition. Very few sides go to the Stade Marcel Michelin and get a result. So I think Adam Ashley-Cooper and co will find it tough going. I expect a Clermont win by 15 points.
Exeter vs Ospreys
Exeter have really grown in stature during this campaign and despite getting beaten by Bordeaux last week they are still in with a chance of making the knock out stages. I think their chances depend on which side Rob Baxter picks. If he goes for the seasoned campaigners I expect a tight Exeter win, if not Ospreys being led by Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Sam Underhill will win and go through. For me this is too tight to call but I am going to get off the fence and go for an Ospreys away win.
Glasgow vs Racing
Glasgow were really hindered by losing Tim Swinson to the bin last week against Northampton, but there were glimpses of their offloading game clicking into gear. However, they are coming up against the form side of Europe in Racing and frankly I can only see a Racing win by 10 points.
Scarlets vs Northampton
Scarlets were stuffed away to Racing last week so I anticipate a response in front of their home crowd at Parc y Scarlets. Northampton have been patchy this season and seem to be missing a bit of ball carrying ability after Samu Manoa left at the end of last season,despite Harrison trying to fill the gap. This game has an extra bit of niggle with Scarlets being the club George North left to join Saints. I think Northampton might just have enough to sneak a win by less than 7.
Treviso vs Munster
One one winner from this game and that has to be Mnuster. Treviso were awful against the tigers last week and Munster are on a high after beating Stade Francais at home last week. Munster by 25 points
Stade Francais vs Leicester
Leicester have already qualified for the next stages but would want to win here to improve their seeding to try and make the quarter final a bit easier for themselves. Stade now seem to be up to speed after their understandable slow start so I am going to go for a Stade Francais win by 5-10 points.
Bath vs Toulon
Bath are blowing hot and cold, with being fantastic against Toulon a few weeks ago and then not so great against Leinster away. so who knows how they are going to perform. Toulon have not been playing great but have pulled out wins despite this against this weekends opposition as well as Wasps last week, but with the experience in their side I think they will win at the Rec by 10 points.
Wasps vs Leinster
What a performance from Wasps last week. The question this week is can they pick themselves back up to that level for the game against Leinster. I think that they can as they will want to make sure they have the best chance of qualifying after such a whirlwind start to their European campaign. Couple this with Leinster unable to qualify and blooding some youngsters I will go for a home win by 15 points. Keep an eye on the competition between Daly and Ringrose, this could be one replicated at international level for years to come.
So based on my predictions the teams that will qualify for the quarter finals are:
Saracens, Leicester Tigers, Racing 92, Toulon, Ospreys, Clermont, Wasps, Ulster.
This should be an enthralling weekend of top class rugby.
(All images taken from the BBC Sport website http://www.bbc.com/sport/rugby-union/european-cup/table)