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Crunch games in Heineken Cup
Bath and Irish playing for European survival
Posted Dec 17, 2010 by Jeff Dawson
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It’s the final round of games before the Christmas break and this weekend we see more Heineken Cup action including the top rugby union clubs from England.
Bath have a crunch game against Ulster in Pool Four on Saturday and both sides need to win it if they are to give themselves a chance of topping their group. It was an intriguing battle at Ravenhill last weekend where the Northern Irish side came out on top with a 22-18 victory.
Bath had played well and defended superbly throughout but possession told in the end and the more attacking team came away with the points. This weekend, that will have to be Bath. They will have to take on the attacking mantle and take the game to Ulster. It will be a fascinating match and I think Bath will take the points this weekend to end a disappointing run of results and throw themselves back into contention in Europe.
Tonight, Saracens, bottom of their group and without a win in the competition travel to Racing Metro 92 and I can only see more disappointment for the visitors. Their European adventure is over for the season and I see another loss in this game.
London Irish have a do-or-die fixture at Toulon on Saturday in Pool Three. The Exiles are currently bottom of their group but a healthy win will put them back in the hunt for qualification to the knockout stages. However, it will be a tough fixture. On Sunday, Toulon took a 13-19 win at the Madejski Stadium, Reading, and Irish will need to find the form they demonstrated in the early part of the Aviva Premiership season if they are to walk away with anything from this fixture.
Unfortunately, I can only see this going one way and that is a victory for Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon on their home patch. And I see it being a convincing win for the French side.
On Sunday, Northampton Saints travel to Cardiff Blues in Pool One and the Premiership leaders will be hoping to extend their advantage and winning streak in Europe. They have won all three of their games so far and are looking like one of the teams to beat in the whole competition.
Their hosts, however, are struggling for form and have only one win from their three outings and I think this stat will remain the same this weekend. The Saints are clear favourites for this match and I can only see a victory for them. Expect it to be a reasonably comfortable afternoon for them too. Saints to win.
Leicester Tigers are at home to Perpignan in Pool Five, the most entertaining and closely fought group in the competition. They top the table with 11 points with Scarlets in second on 10 and Perpignan third, also on 10.
Perpignan won the reverse fixture on Saturday 24-19 to show just how close these teams are and I expect similar this weekend. The Tigers will hope that Welford Road, a ground that has been a fortress for them in recent years, will again see them come away with the win and I expect this to be the case. I think the Tigers will get the win but it will be a hard fought, close encounter that could be won late on.
And finally, we have Wasps against Newport-Gwent Dragons. Wasps will be expected to ease past the Welsh side, who currently sit without a win and bottom of Pool Six. And I expect the same. Wasps will want to keep the pressure on Toulouse and anything else but a win won’t be good enough. Wasps to win and win comfortably.