After the Christmas period, the European Champions Cup returns and although some groups are already sewn up with two rounds of fixtures to go, others are tight heading into the final rounds of group games.
With some British teams facing tough fixtures, our Rugby Union expert guides you through the best bets from the weekend’s action.
Gloucester v Munster
Gloucester enter Round 5 bottom of their group, but only one point off second place. They need to generate some momentum if they are to progress to the knockout rounds in Europe, but Munster provide a stern challenge.
Much will depend on if talismanic fly-half Danny Cipriani is fit, and if Gloucester can cut out the sloppy mistakes that plagued them against Leicester last weekend. Munster have been imperious, and with Joey Carberry pulling the strings at 10, they are a formidable opponent for any team. Munster are just 4/9 heading into Friday’s game.
This being said, Gloucester is a strange place, and The Shed under Friday night lights is an intimidating place. If Gloucester can get off to a good start, apply some pressure to Munster’s pack, and keep the scoreboard ticking over then the crowd will get right behind them, and this could make all the difference. I am backing Gloucester to win at 7/4.
Leinster v Toulouse
This group has unfortunately already seen both Bath and Wasps knocked out, so Toulouse and Leinster can look forward to knockout rugby in the near future.
This doesn’t mean that this fascinating fixture is a dead rubber, as both sides will be eager to top the group. Toulouse have well and truly announced their return on the European stage with a bang this year, playing some excellent rugby and winning all four of their group games so far, including against Leinster. Cheslin Kolbe has been a star for them, and the backline have played some magnificent flowing rugby at times.
Leinster at the RDS Arena are incredibly difficult to beat, and the odds reflect that, with Leinster a staggering 1/5 to win on Saturday. Toulouse have already beaten Leinster this season, and they will know what to expect. I am very happy to take Toulouse on the handicap (+11.5) at 4/5 in this fixture, which could well be the tie of the weekend.
Ulster v Racing 92
A surprising pool, with last year’s semi-finalists Scarlets bottom and already sent packing, whilst losing finalists Racing 92 deservedly top the group. Leicester aren’t eliminated yet, but need results to go their way, starting here at Ravenhill.
Ulster have talent all over the field, and Jacob Stockdale is one of the best in the world in his position, but their abilities pale in comparison to Racing 92. With a squad that reads like an all-star team, they have internationals in every position, and will be heavily fancied to win it all this season.