Connacht V Saracens
Saracens are hot favourites to win this game and they have huge ambitions in Europe. Connacht will be looking to cause an upset and are always capable of springing a surprise at home. But it’s not Mark McCall’s first trip to the Sportsground and he will be well aware of what’s required to win there. To date Saracens have been a try-scoring machine in the Aviva. A positive start to the campaign is vital to Saracens ambitions, so they are very unlikely to slip up on the first at bat.
Ulster v Leicester
Leicester have always put their best foot forward in the Heineken and they have the record to prove it. But Ulster are always extremely difficult to beat on a Heineken night in Ravenhill. The last time Ulster met Leicester at Ravenhill they inflicted a record defeat on Leicester (41-7). Ulster know a home loss could suffocate their Heineken ambitions on the first day of the tournament. It won’t be a blowout like last year, but there’s too much at stake here for Ulster to even contemplate losing.
Toulouse V Zebre
There is only one possible outcome in this fixture. Toulouse’s record in the competition, the quality of their squad and playing at home makes it the lock of the weekend. This could be an eighty-minute train wreck for Zebre.
Edinburgh V Munster
Edinburgh’s form in the Pro 12 has been extremely poor. Munster’s confidence will be high after last weekend’s victory over Leinster. With Edinburgh’s experience in the Heineken, they will target this home game to kick-start their season. But despite the game being in Murrayfield and Munster being without their captain, Peter O’Mahony, a Munster defeat would put a huge dent in their Heineken campaign. No pressure, but Munster will have to underperform to lose this one.
Treviso V Montpellier
Treviso have become a tough nut to crack at home and the French hate playing away. But Montpellier are currently one of the form teams in the Top 14. At this stage of the Heineken, Montpellier will want to make a statement of intent for the tournament. Whether that intent remains will depend on future results within the pool. Despite Treviso’s improvement in recent seasons, Montpellier are just too strong and will look to set out their Heineken stall.
Harlequins V Llanelli
Harlequins’ form has been below par in the Aviva Premiership. They will look to use the Heineken to build confidence and momentum before the return to domestic competition. They will also quietly harbour ambitions to qualify from their Heineken pool. Llanelli have not set the world alight in the Pro 12 and have a limited depth in their squad. Also, Harlequins have home advantage.
Castres V Northampton
Castres, like any French team, are very difficult to beat at home. But with their struggles in the Top 14, Castres’ heart will not be in the Heineken this season. On the other hand Northampton are hungry for European success and will want to bag an away win from the off. Castres won’t go down easily. But Northampton have the physicality and power to dig out a result and an away win would ignite their Heineken campaign.
Ospreys V Leinster
On recent Heineken history Leinster should win this game. But the Ospreys have been Leinster’s bogey team in previous Pro 12 meetings. This year the Ospreys have stated their intention to make a splash in Europe. Still Leinster should have enough of experience and firepower to win this. But like last week, in Thomond Park, Brian O’Driscoll will be missing. We saw the effect that had on their performance and again that could be the undoing of Leinster.
Gloucester V Perpignan:
Perpignan are another French team travelling away from home with their priorities in the Top 14. Gloucester under Nigel Davies are capable of some great rugby. But after a surprisingly poor start to the Aviva Premiership, Gloucester need to get back to winning ways in order to boost confidence. Perpignan will not like Kingsholm, few teams do, and in particular a French team on the road who concerns reside in their domestic competition.
Exeter V Cardiff:
Under Rob Baxter, Exeter have become a no-nonsense, hard nosed premiership team who are difficult to beat at home. Their priority is definitely the Aviva Premiership and they are relative rookies to the Heineken Cup. Despite being a long shot to qualify from Pool 2, they certainly won’t roll over and play dead in front of the home crowd at Sandy Park. On the other hand Cardiff, although no strangers to Heineken Cup, have shown pretty average form so far in the Pro 12. Exeter will want to keep the locals happy.
Toulon V Glasgow:
Despite Glasgow’s perfect record of five wins in the Pro 12, they face a monumental task in the south of France. Following their victory in last year’s Heineken, Toulon’s appetite for European success has only become more pronounced. A shock is always possible, but should it happen, it would be the biggest one of the weekend. This one should go to form.
Racing Metro V Clermont
As far as French teams go, both these teams have strong European ambitions. At this moment in time form isn’t of much assistance, as both teams have been patchy, each having lost four matches in the Top 14. But the Racing coach, Laurent Labit, threw his teddy out of the pram after losing at home to Grenoble last weekend. This is likely to wake some of the Racing superstars from their slumber. If Racing lose at home, for a second week in a row, it would be grounds for a full blown crisis. This will lift racing for a big performance.
Win: Racing Metro