Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hope is all that’s left for the Non-Irish Pro12

Round 3 of the Heineken Cup was one to forget, writes Liam Sinclair…

non Irish Pro12

Another bleak week for the Non-Irish Pro12 teams. No wins again despite four eminently winnable fixtures leaving the win count stuck on a maddening 1. Once again there are opportunities but optimism is increasingly tough to conjure up…let’s just have a look.

Castres v Glasgow;  A very disappointing result. There was a real opportunity here for Glasgow to get some points on the board and they gave them up with barely a whimper. The Castres coaching team are making all the right noises regarding their desire to progress in this competition but we all know it’s just talk and the Top14 is the real goal for most of these teams. Yep, opportunity lost. The Warriors take this result over to France where it’s always more difficult and will find it hard to turn things around. Given that Castres are still in the running they might even bring it. Won’t take much to overturn a demoralised Glasgow side, Home win.

Exeter v Scarlets; The weekend’s defeat signals the end to whatever slim hopes the Llanelli men had for progression in this competition. Even if elimination was a foregone conclusion it is disappointing that they haven’t recorded a home win for the fans. Their last chance to win in Parc Y Scarlets comes against the yellow fury of the tournament’s joint favourites. A lot to ask. There were questions, in my mind at least, over the ability of this squad to mount any real assault on two fronts and results so far have borne this out. The return trip in this round of matches will see them travel to Exeter. Low on spirit, confidence and other such intangibles it will be a long day for them. In a lot of cases what they might have going for them is that debutant teams have a goal of one win and might take their foot off the gas once achieved. Not Exeter. One thing I’ve admired in them during our short acquaintance is the steel and doggedness they bring every time they play so don’t expect them to roll over here. A defeat for the Welsh province and a refocus back to their promising Pro12 campaign.

Ospreys v Toulouse; Toulouse did what was required, 5 points and in the pool’s driving seat. They will still want to win here to give themselves the best cushion possible heading into the final fixtures with a trip to Welford Road an intimidating prospect. Any slim qualification chances the Spreys have will have to start with a win here. They’ll go for it no doubt but Toulouse are the masters of doing enough. They’ll soak up any attack, keep the scoreboard ticking over going forward and emerge victorious.

Harlequins v Zebre; Why break the habit of a lifetime? Zebre surprised no-one with the continuation of a losing streak which must be, at least nearing, a record for this level of competition and looks to have the momentum to continue indefinitely. Conceding 57 points in the process, as if an exclamation point was needed. A double header against the struggling Italian franchise is a gift from heaven for a team with ambition and Quins, thanks partially to results elsewhere in their pool, should have qualification wrapped up after their next 80 minutes. If they feel the need to challenge themselves beating the points total from the weekend gone is doable.

Edinburgh v Racing Metro; Edinburgh were frustrating and left a lot of points on the pitch. Hard to be motivated in the circumstances to be fair but they should take some small heart from the continuation of their general improvement. A major plus was the actual scoring of points. Bravo. Racing’s biggest enemy is the general French lack of interest in the Heineken Cup. If they have any sense they will look at the table, look at a video of Munster v Sarries and sense opportunity. A win would put them right in contention but it’s a tough one to call. A lot depends on which team motivates themselves the best for the day. When undecided go for the home team. Edinburgh to win but not by much.

Montpellier v Cardiff; Did the red card change the game? Cardiff stayed competitive up to, and even past the hour mark though Montpellier were comfortable. No-one can ever know what would’ve happened had it been 15 against 15 for the duration and the French could only play what was in front of them. With an outside chance of qualification and home advantage I can’t see past a Montpellier victory.

Treviso v Leicester; Not the greatest compliment in the world but Treviso are probably the strongest contenders for ‘’least bad team in defeat of the weekend’’. Not the catchiest title but the good names are saved for actual winners. It’s more of the same platitudes regarding doggedness and improvement etc. but their performance when so far behind was impressive. For the sake of perspective we’ll ask the question, did Leicester relax a bit once the five points were secured? Maybe a little but that doesn’t need to take too much away from the display. Treviso have home advantage in this leg and may be a factor. The romantic in me wants a Treviso win here and an Ospreys win in the pool’s other fixture making the group tight and creating a great finale. Don’t think Treviso have it in them. Leicester know what they have to do and will get the win. Don’t see a BP win though.

As I said not much to look forward to for us at the Non-Irish Pro12 but we live in hope. Should be a good weekend overall though. Happy watching.

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

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