Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Double trouble ahead?

Are the Non-Irish Pro12 teams playing for Heineken Cup pride or is there still hope? asks Liam Sinclair

non Irish Pro12

The double headers. Excitement, intrigue, delight and disappointment. While Leinster, Munster and Ulster are hogging the best headline matches and the world watches a scarily good Toulon’s next step, we of the Non-Irish Pro12 are just hoping we can add to the one win we’ve clocked up so far. Some toughies but there’s potential…..

Glasgow v Castres; Glasgow head into the European weekend in the desperate throes of a blip. They had been on a six game run domestically but consecutive losses to fellow top 4 contenders Leinster and Munster have seen them drop out of those positions. They don’t really have much to fight for, being bottom with 0 points but after the Heineken Cup fixtures it’s derby time so some good form would be welcome. Coming to visit are an in-form Castres team. Unbeaten in France in their last five, 1/2 in Europe they enter the game with every right to be looking up. The flipside of this is the French middles indifference to the European competition. Castres might have more interest in protecting their 4th place in the Top14 and this will dilute their focus especially away from home. A lot to ponder but I think at home to French opposition is doable for Glasgow.

Scarlets v Exeter; Seen by many as a battle for higher also-ran status. Scarlets won’t be in this mind set and will see these matches as the beginning of their path to redemption. 9 points is the minimum needed if they are to go into their last two matches with a chance of qualifying and they probably need Leinster and Clermont to beat each other as well. A lot to ask and this is before taking the return matches against Leinster and Clermont into consideration. Exhausting, daunting….. Impossible? First things first, Exeter. Solid and hardworking Exeter are doing well in their second season in the Premiership. Not a bad team they will want to get at least one victory in their maiden H-Cup campaign and Scarlets are the most likely to give it to them. Not this week though. Scarlets won’t get the five points they need but they will win this.

Toulouse v Ospreys; The Non-Irish Pro12 match of the weekend. Ospreys can, on their day, beat anyone in Europe. Four results against big guns Leicester and Toulouse were probably out of their reach. Starting out with a standard home victory against Italians and standard away defeat to European royalty leaves them in a respectable 2nd but it’s more European royalty next. Toulouse prepared for this fixture by beating Clermont and will be ready for the visiting Welsh pretenders. They will do their usual Toulouse trick of doing just enough. A home victory.

Zebre v Harlequins; Not much analysis to be done here. Harlequins have been patchy of late with their last 6 matches reading W3, L3. They’ve conceded losing BP in all 3 wins so the swashbuckling Quins have been in hiding of late. But……. It’s Zebre. They were thrown together and they’ve never ever, ever won. Ever. Quins have shown already that they learned from last year’s trip-up in Connacht and will take Zebre apart like some sort of Serengeti simile.

Racing Metro v Edinburgh; Edinburgh are slightly ahead of favourites Zebre in the contest for the coveted ‘Aironi award for awfulness’. They’ve lost both their games to nil and are rock bottom of a tough group. Domestically they seem to be turning things around having won their last 2 and ending a 5 game losing streak. A lot will depend on the attitude they bring to the game. Will they want to win to keep things rolling or will they lose heart knowing it’s not leading anywhere? Racing Metro are in a similar situation in the Top14 having ended their own losing streak by beating city rivals Stade Francais but they are in better condition in this competition. If they are serious about advancing this match is must win. At home I think they have them. Racing to win but not by much.

Cardiff Blues v Montpellier; Probably the least intriguing group in this year’s competition. Toulon are 4/1 favourites to lift the cup and a ridiculous 1/80 to qualify from the group. Makes this fixture a bit of a dead rubber. It doesn’t help that the scenario is very similar to the Glasgow v Castres match above. French team doing well at home and not wanting to endanger that visits Celtic team in need of a pre-derby lift. Once again I think home advantage will defeat French indifference. A rare occurrence but I think Soccerball’s Manc derby will have my attention while I wait for Clermont v Leinster.

Leicester v Treviso; Treviso are a team on the rise and seem to be making good on the promise shown last season. Domestically at least. They have a lot to do to improve on or even equal the respectable 7 points they got in last year’s contest in what was also a tough group. Next step is a trip to Leicester who made short work of The Ospreys last time out. It was a must win after a disappointing opening and showed they can bring it when they need to. Treviso will bring it and things will be close until half time. Quality will show through by the end and Leicester will get their win.

The double headers. Can’t wait.

Liam Sinclair (@liam_bs) – Guesses, generalisations and clichés.

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