Saturday 20 October
Castres (+3) v Exeter Chiefs (-4)
Kick-off 1.00pm (BT Sport 3)
Exeter’s ambitions took a slight knock when Munster took a draw from them at Sandy Park and life could be about to get more difficult for them against Castres. Exeter didn’t lose anything in drawing with the Red Army but they found a side that was willing and able to match their physical carrying game plan, and that could well be the same case this weekend.
Castres were helped significantly by the rain and some questionable refereeing when they took a losing bonus point from their encounter with Gloucester, but they overperformed considering their away record in Europe and are now on home turf. It should be remembered that they are Top 14 Champions and have already beaten Montpellier (away), Lyon and Toulouse so far this weekend whilst they should have beaten Toulon at the Stade Mayol.
Motivation will be no issue with victory potentially giving them a shot at qualifying after their bonus point on home grounds, and we could also see a stronger pack, making this look like a very tricky assignment for the Chiefs. Exeter are very strong travellers who won at Montpellier and played even better in defeat at Leinster, but this is going to be one of the stiffest tests they’ve had all season and it would be no surprise if this came down to the wire. With that in mind, a three-point start for Castres could be the bet in what is a vital game.
Advice: 1 pt Castres +3 (10/11 general)
Munster (-14) v Gloucester Rugby (15+)
1.00pm, BT Sport 2 and Channel 4
Munster pulled off a terrific result when they took a draw from Sandy Park last week and they can put themselves in the driving seat of this pool with victory over Gloucester. Johan Van Grann’s men faced down a fearsome task at Sandy Park last week with exceptional intensity and composure, led by an excellent performance from halfbacks Duncan Williams and Joey Carberry.
In the winds of Storm Callum, they managed to keep Exeter within reach whilst playing into the wind during the first half, before CJ Stander’s try with just 15 minutes to go. In a team effort they also managed to steal 6 lineouts – much of this thanks to Tadhg Beirne – before turning the screw when they had the wind in the second half.
Gloucester showed grit and intelligence to get past Castres last weekend, with the filthy weather that affected most Champions Cup games favouring the visitors’ heavy hitting pack. Danny Cipriani was instrumental to Gloucester’s success, pivoting his team expertly in dire conditions and landing four vital penalties. The victory would have been easier had Tom Marshall’s try not been harshly ruled out for obstruction, but they navigated a tricky European test with aplomb.
This will be a far more severe test, however. At home Munster have smashed the Cheetahs (38-0), Ospreys (49-13), and Ulster (64-7); Gloucester will bring a much stronger team than those three did but Munster onto put up a strong showing against Leinster in a 30-22 defeat when they dominated possession and territory.
Their performance at Sandy Park at least equalled that and they have the physical game and defence to close down the Gloucester backline even in what should be ideal conditions and they have the power to put Gloucester to the sword.
Advice: 3 pts Munster -14 (10/11 general)
Edinburgh (-3) v Toulon (+4)
BT Sport 3, 3:15 pm
Edinburgh will have been reasonably pleased with his return to the Champions Cup with a losing bonus point in Paris last week and they could kick on by putting Toulon in serious trouble at Murrayfield.
They found Montpellier quicker out of the blocks last week but the way in which they managed to build possession and territory was hugely encouraging at the ALtrad and Stuart McInally’s try was superbly worked with Villaume Mata and Grant Gilchrist kicking off a multi-phase move.
It will frustrate them that they didn’t manage to make the most of a completely dominant second half when they had 74% of possession and 77% of territory, but on another day they may well have edged a result and a similar performance will give them a strong chance against an out of form Toulon side.
Toulon failed to capitalise on a great start when lock Romain Taofifenua charged down a clearing kick with only 21 seconds on the clock, with a lack of discipline seeing prop Jean-Baptiste Gros, full-back Daniel Ikpefan and winger Julian Savea all go to the bin.
They will refind winning ways at some point and are going through a bad fixture list right now but a lack of stability at the club is perhaps taking its toll against top quality opposition and they look vulnerable travelling to a side that performed better than they did when facing Montpellier. The hosts can put themselves in the thick of a qualification battle.
Advice: 4 pts Edinburgh -3 (10/11 Bet365)
Wasps (-8) v Bath Rugby (+8)
3.15pm, BT Sport 2
The less second about these’ teams opening weekend, the better. Wasps managed just one break into the 22 as Leinster put eight tries and 52 points on them; Bath gave Toulouse an away win last week thanks to Freddie Burns’ missed penalty in front of the posts, ahead of a dropped try.
That makes this an essential knockout game with Leinster in the pool and it’s hard to argue with Wasps’ position as favourites with the home advantage of the Ricoh Arena and more options to choose from – both sides have suffered with injuries but Bath are missing Taulupe Faletau, Jamie Roberts, Kahn Fotuali’i and Aled Brew, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson, a longer list than Dan Robson, Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes for Wasps.
Overs on any points line looks to be the best bet. Bath’s last five since September read 41-35 (v Leicester), 31-13 (v Wasps), 22-23 (v Newcastle), 21-25 (v Gloucester) before their 52-3 battering last week.
Bath have been in similarly high scoring scrapes: Their last five reads 37-32 (v Bath), 17-15 (v Saints), 50-27 (v Saracens), 24-39 (v Exeter) and then their 20-22 loss last week which should have had at least seven more points to boot. The two met in the pool stages in 2015 and their games ended up with final scores of 23-25 and 10-36.
Advice: 3 pts Over 51.5 points (5/6 Paddy Power)
Saracens (-24) v Lyon (+24)
5.30pm (BT Sport 2)
Saracens made a winning start to their Champions Cup campaign, but at n extremely heavy price,. A gruelling 80 minutes ended up with Billy Vunipola out for 12 weeks thanks to a broken arm, Jamie George and Maro Itoje both suffering broken noses, Owen Farrell picking up a knock and forward Nick Isiekwe being forced off injured, whilst Alex Lozowski is banned following a citation.
Despite that, they ought to have too much for a Lyon side who were run off their feet by Cardiff last week at the Stade Gerland. Pierre Mignoni’s side made a perfect start against the Blues but once the visitors managed to grab hold of the ball- and they didn’t need much of it – they wreaked havoc, with Tomos Williams and Gareth Anscombe running riot whilst Lyon were outmanoeuvred at the breakdown.
There’s not one of those things that Saracens can’t do and despite their injuries, they should have the strength to put the visitors to the sword here, with a high number of home tries looking likely.
Advice: 1 pt Over 55.5 points (5/6 Paddy Power)
Racing 92 (-14) v Ulster (+14)
BT Sport 3, 5:30pm
Both sides will be delighted with their opening weekend’s performances, Racing having managed to take a precious win at the Scarlets whilst UIster comprehensively beat Leicester in the second half of their encounter last week, denying them a bonus point.
It’s no surprise that Racing are strong favourites at the La Défense Arena with its closed roof allowing their backline to become as involved as their tremendous pack were last week, when they were hit twice by Racing in quick succession but forced the win through a huge drive and penalty try. The likes of Wenceslas Lauret, Leone Nakarawa, Donnacha Ryan, Cedate Gomes Sa, and Camille Chat earned the win last week but better weather will also allow Finn Russell, Juan Imhoff, Henry Chavancy, Simon Zebo, and Joe Rokocoko.
They must be wary, however; Ulster were ruthless in the second half of their comprehensive win against Leicester, with very well worked tries coming from Alan O’Connor, Will Addison and Jacob Stockdale, and the province have been in a new lease of life after the legal hang ups of last season have been put into the past.
Michael Lowry was superb in filthy conditions at fullback after an early spill and will face Simon Zebo with no fear whilst Stuart McCloskey was assured with Will Addison in midfield; In the pack, a lot counts on Ian Henderson and Marcel Coetzee but they do have the players to go head to head with Racing.
A 16-point handicap reflects Racing’s strength in depth but Lyon and Clermont have won there this season and Ulster might fancy their chances of staying within reach.
Advice: 2 pt Ulster +16 (10/11 general)