Heineken Champions Cup 2018/19 – Saturday 15th December

Toulouse (-17) v Wasps (+17)

BT Sport 2, kick-off 3.15pm

The glory days appear to be coming back for Toulouse, who are unbeaten in eight since the start of October and unbeaten in three Champions Cup games to boot. Ugo Mola has managed to rejuvenate a side that has had a tough for years of transition with the academy now paying off as players such as Romain Ntamack (19 years old), Antoine Dupont (22 years old) and Thomas Ramos (23 years old) take the lead on both on the domestic and European stage.

They were impressive and clinical in taking victory away from Coventry last week, when Cheslin Kolbe and Sofiane Guitoune capped off impressive performances with tries. The Frenchmen improved notably after the break last week, and it is notable that their performance was much improved compared to their lucky victory against Bath when 10 points gifted from Freddie Burns proved to be the difference between victory and defeat, and they should feel confident about doubling up against Wasps here.

They have struggled to find their best form this season and they were dealt a hefty old blow when Nathan Hughes was forced off early in the first half and this is likely to be a baptism of fire for flyhalf Billy Searle who will be starting alongside Craig Hampson too.

Wasps have managed to pick up a great deal of forward injuries, with Brad Sheids and Joe Launchbury also joining Hughes on the sidelines, and that has hurt them not only in attack but also defensively. In nine Premiership matches they have shipped 31 tries whilst Leinster put 52 points past them, so Toulouse clearly have gaps they can attack and it’s no surprise to see a handicap in the high teens. Perhaps the best way to play this encounter is to go high on points. There is rain set for the game but the wind is a fair 4mph – much better than most of the games this week – and a line of 44.5 looks fair.

Advice: 3 pts Over 44.5 points (10/11 general), 1 pt Toulouse -16 (10/11 SkyBet, Bet365)

Leinster (-20) v Bath (+20)

BT Sport 2, 5.30pm

Leinster made it two wins from three in the pool as they won the reverse fixture 17-10 at The Rec last weekend, but they were pushed hard and perhaps lucky to escape with the four points. Jordan Larmour’s brilliant intercept try was a game changing moment with Bath looking menacing 10 minutes into the second half but eventually the European champions managed to find a way thanks to an excellent forward performance.

Bookmakers expect things to be easier this time around at the Aviva, but that looks to be a premature calculation. Firstly, playing any sort of rugby will be tricky; Storm Deidre has hit the British Isles and in Ireland there is a status orange warning in place for the country until midnight with rain and winds of up to 130km/h expected. Dublin is in the thick of it and whilst the game still goes ahead, conditions are not likely to be helpful.

Bath competed excellently at the backrow with standout performances from Tom Ellis, Sam Underhill and Francois Louw, who are once again reunited, and they will once again hope to not only jackal Leinster ball but also stop the hard carries of the Leinster pack. Jack Conan, Dean Leavy, Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and man of the match James Ryan were all not quite as effective as usual last week in a game when forwards shone and this could once again be the case here.

The sheer strength in depth and quality of Leinster is likely to get them over the line again, but a start of 20 points looks extreme in the circumstances and Bath can make this difficult once again.

Advice: 5 pts Bath +20 (10/11 general)

 

Castres (+4) v Munster (-4)

BT Sport 3, 5.30pm

Munster probably met their expectations with a second half onslaught to overpower Castres last week at Thomond Park but they ought to find things much more difficult at the Stade Pierre-Faber.

 

Castres offered precious little last week but Christophe Urios has made wholesale changes to bring his a-team back into the fold and we should see a great deal of improvement, especially in the front row when Marc Clerc, Kevin Firmin, and Paea Fa’anunu start after being on the bench last week.

 

The return of Rory Kockott to scrum-half is a major statement of intent and there is quality in the back three thanks to the trio of Scott Spedding, Martin Laveau and Taylor Paris.

 

 

Johann van Grann has the significant boost of being able to call upon Joey Carberry again, who will need to use all his skill to navigate an extremely testing away trip. Castres are unbeaten in their last seven home pool matches and held Munster to a 17-17 draw last season before the Redmen reached the semi-finals.

 

Munster, and Carberry in particular, took a fine draw from Sandy Park but Castres beat Exeter Chiefs earlier in the pool stages and will be very competitive with a four point start.

 

Advice: 2 pts Castres +4 (10/11 general)