Munster vs Perpignan – Greg Garner
Munster had won 11of 13 league matches against Edinburgh and beat them twice in the pool stages last season, so that familiarity may have lowered the intensity when they met them in round 1.
As with the opening round away loss to Racing Metro last season, they went into the last quarter in a position to win the tie but didn’t close it out. Also in common with last year, there was a big media reaction to a round 1 away loss – despite it being a fairly common occurrence in Munster’s Heineken history.
They then dealt with Gloucester (who opted to rotate the squad for the match) by 16 points in round 2 and know that another home win over Perpignan this weekend is essential for their quarter-final chances.
The visitors lost at home to Clermont last weekend and have been beaten in 5/6 league away matches so far. They have travelled to Munster 4 times in this competition, losing by margins of 1,9,9 and 8 points. USAP’s 5 away wins from the last 6 campaigns have come at either Treviso or Dragons and they are yet to win an away game in round 3 (lost 7/7 so far).
Perpignan are missing their first choice tighthead Jgenti who is out for 6 weeks with a fractured wrist, lock Taofifenua for 4 weeks and number 8 Luke Narraway. In the backline winger Mjekevu, who scored the 2 tries against Edinburgh in the last round is also out while there was a distraction of Fijians Votu and Davetawalu – both involved in an incident with the police and awaiting disciplinary action.
Of those, Jgenti is the biggest loss – there are possibly off-field reasons for his continued absence from the Georgian team but he has a fearsome reputation in the Top 14. Ion and Taofifenua have both started just the 3 games in the Top 14 so far, while Vilaceca has only begun 6 league games in the past 3 seasons. There will therefore be a difference in experience and continuity there and with say the O’Connell / O’Callaghan partnership.
Tom Ecochard has only played 282 minutes for USAP in senior games (Amlin or Top 14) and is 20. Duvenage has been the first choice scrum-half this season but was on the bench for the Gloucester match too. Given the way USAP attacked Gloucester that match, it would be a mistake to say that this squad rotation signals they won’t be interested here, but it is still worth knowing.
Munster have won 50/52 home pool games by an average score of 29-13 and going back to the start of the 2011/12 season – the last 7 games by 24-10.
They’ve only allowed a miserly 12 combined points 2nd half in the last 6 home games in the competition too.
The hosts are 4 points clear at top of the Pro 12 log and have won 8/9 games so there should be confidence. I like the idea of that 2nd half dominance continuing and am on Munster -6 for that half. The away team to score under 7.5 points 2nd half would also have covered in the last 6 Munster home HCup games.
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Johne Murphy, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 James Cronin, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Billy Holland, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Cathal Sheridan, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Denis Hurley
Perpignan: 15 James Hook (c), 14 Joffrey Michel, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Watisoni Votu, 11 Sofiane Guitoune, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Tom Ecochard, 8 Justin Purll, 7 Al Strokosch, 6 Jean-Pierre Perez, 5 Guillaume Vilaceca, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Paulica Ion, 2 Romain Terrain, 1 Sébastien Taofifenua
Replacements: 16 Maxime Delonca, 17 Kisi Pulu, 18 Jean Baptiste Custoja, 19 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Tommy Allan, 22 Richard Haughton, 23 Dan Leo
Edinburgh vs Gloucester – Jerome Garces
Edinburgh reached the semi-final stage in the 2011/12 campaign, but followed it up with 6 losses in the pool stage – scoring 36 points and allowing 178.
Alan Solomons took over in August and has spoken recently of the team needing several months to get used to the systems / tactics he brought in. They have worked through that pre-season equivalent now and have won 3 of their last 4 Pro 12 games and 4/5 matches at home.
Munster were beaten in round 1 and while the composure and execution may not be there yet, there are signs that the side are developing the steel that would Solomons would demand.
Skipper Laidlaw played a crucial role in that Munster victory and can be a real nuisance for opposition 9s. Internationals Scott and Visser are missing but given Gloucester’s problems are in the forwards, the focus may well be on how the backrow of du Preez, Rennie and Denton get on. Rennie is a very classy operator and with Kvesic not yet settled into the visitors team, he has chance to disrupt any quick ball to Burns and co.
Gloucester have lost 5 league matches in a row and 3 of 4 away games. They have also been beaten in 7 of the previous 10 Heineken Cup trips, with the wins coming against Connacht, Dragons and Calvisano.
The contrast between their forwards struggling and the dangerous potential of their backline was evident in the game against Leicester last Friday. It appears that the weakness in the scrum is going to be dealt with by the recruitment of Afoa and Hibbard but that is a solution for next season.
Given the difference in the teams’ form and confidence, am happy to back Edinburgh at 1.91 here.
Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Ben Atiga, 11 Jack Cuthbert, 10 Harry Leonard, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Dave Denton, 7 Ross Rennie, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Al Dickinson
Replacements: 16 Aleki Lutui, 17 Wicus Blaauw, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Roddy Grant, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Joaquin Dominguez, 23 Tom Brown
Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Martyn Thomas, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 James Hudson, 4 Elliot Stooke, 3 Shaun Knight, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 1 Yann Thomas
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Rupert Harden, 19 Tom Hicks, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Mike Tindall, 23 Steph Reynolds
Leicester vs Montpellier – John Lacey
There has been an unsettled start for both teams this season. Leicester have been seen their squad depth really tested by injuries to key players such as Parling, Croft, Allen, Tuilagi,
Montpellier have also had injuries and also were made to both wait for new recruits Ranger, Ebersohn, Timani to arrive and medical jokers Paul Grant and Paea Fa’anunu (for Ouedraogo and Figallo respectively). The need to integrate these new players urgently has been identified as a problem by the coaches and 8 of the starting 15 last week were new to the club this season.
There have also been distractions of player contracts to resolve. Gorgodze is off to Toulon while crucially Ouedraogo and Trinh-Duc opted to stay at MHR. The Georgian wrecking ball had previously agreed to join Toulon a few years ago but changed his mind and the side do have the ability to cover his absence. Losing the other two would arguably have hit the club far worse, given their leadership. Having brought in so many big names, there still needs to be players to show those recruits the ‘Montpellier’ way.
The visitors handled Treviso with relative ease but really struggled under the high ball at home to Ulster in round 2. The blaming of the referee after that home loss and a high penalty count in both games were notable and it’s also been the case that plenty of try scoring chances have been wasted this season.
Before the Ulster match, the Montpellier coaches made the point that their opponent had far greater experience in the competition and were further along in their development as a side and that proved to be true.
Galthie’s team shouldn’t be underestimated though, having beaten Toulouse 25-0 and Clermont 43-4 in the Top 14 this season. They’ve lost 5/6 away games in the league but are the only visitor to win at Bordeaux in 11 matches and bar a poor 1st half at Perpignan have generally remained competitive on the road.
Their Heineken Cup trips can be split – with big wins over Blues, Sale and Treviso / close losses to Glasgow and Bath and heavy defeats by 20+ points to Leinster, Toulon and Clermont.
A first look at their team sheet for Sunday’s game suggests they are taking this game seriously. There is some rotation in the backline, but Ranger and Combezou (4 tries in 11 games) make for a dangerous centre partnership. Leicester allowed 440m of carries against Gloucester, 529m against London Irish and 571m against Quins in recent games – the very attack-minded Montpellier halfbacks would welcome similar freedom.
Due to the nature of the Top 14, most French teams have plenty of options in the forwards so it can be difficult to pin down what would be their first choice pack. In this case though, it is worth noting that Ouedraogo, Bias, Tulou, Mas, Tchale-Watchou are all out of the startling line up.
Beattie and Gorgodze are established Internationals of course, but Galletier has been moved around a lot this season – starting games at 6,7 and 8. He did carry for a huge 143m against Treviso but hasn’t been starting the ‘big’ games in the league. Up front, Leleimalefaga’s only start of the season was against Treviso and he has only featured for 160 mins this season.
Geli , like last season, appears to be 2nd choice hooker, while lock de Marco has only started 3 league matches. There should be a decent battle in the scrum between Argentines Ayerza and Bustos (set-piece fans robbed of an Ayerza vs Figallo showdown though) and would expect a big game from Jim Hamilton on his return to Welford Road.
Leicester have won 22 of their last 24 home games in the competition by an average score of 32-12 and the last 6 games by 29-13.
If Montpellier could be said to be inexperienced at this level, Tigers are the opposite – having been in this position plenty of times. They know that a convincing win would both knock out their French opposition and also make the return leg an easier prospect.
After beating London Irish at home and Gloucester away, there has been talk from Leicester of renewed confidence and perhaps a sense they have overcome those injury problems. The team made a number of offloads at Kingsholm and showed far more ambition than had been evident in previous weeks.
Richard Cockerill may decide that an open game this week would suit the visitors though. Gloucester’s tries last Friday were gifted rather than earned (intercept and breakaway after ball turned over at other end of pitch) and the memory of Fickou’s try last season may mean the offloads are put away this week. Ulster have provided the perfect blueprint of how to beat this Montpellier side and testing both Floch and Nagusa would be a sound enough tactic.
General view on this match during the week was that Leicester would likely win, but the handicap was a bit big. It started off at Montpellier +13 and is now +9 so there was a reaction to the team news. Bar home games against Worcester, Newcastle and Treviso – Leicester have been kept to 22 points or under this season and am still happy to take the +9 now.
Referee Lacey has given at least 1 card in 6 of the last 7 Heineken Cup matches and 2 or more cards in 4/7 games. Montpellier have only conceded 8 cards in the Top 14 though and last season they managed to feature in matches with 0 cards when Wayne Barnes (twice) and Neil Paterson were in charge.
Leicester: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Vereniki Goneva, 12 Dan Bowden, 11 Miles Benjamin, 10 Toby Flood (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 David Mélé 22 Blaine Scully, 23 Ryan Lamb.
Montpellier: 15 Anthony Floch, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Thomas Combezou , 11 Yoan Audrin, 10 Francois Trinh Duc, 9 Jonathan Pélissié, 8 John Beattie, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze, 6 Kelian Galletier, 5 Mickael De Marco, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Maximiliano Bustos, 2 Charles Geli, 1 Naama Leleimalefaga.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bianchin, 17 Mikheil Nariashvili, 18 Paea Fa’anunu, 19 Thibaut Privat, 20 Tulou, 21 Benoit Paillaugue, 22 Wynand Olivier, 23 Pierre Berard
Toulouse vs Connacht – Marius Mitrea
After the loss to Edinburgh, Connacht’s 8th league defeat in a row, Pat Lam said:
“There is disappointment and then there is embarrassment….the embarrassing part is the last 10 minutes when heads went down and there were soft tries”
John Muldoon said similar:
“With the quality of players that we have in our squad today, it just isn’t anywhere near good enough. There were some tough words said in the changing room by the players. It’s all true and we all have to take it on board”
At the start of the season Michael Swift, John Muldoon and Gavin Duffy were made off field captains, but there has been a change this week with Craig Clarke made on-field captain on an ongoing basis. The Kiwi lock led the Chiefs to consecutive Super Rugby titles and now he is settled it does seem a sensible choice.
The visitors face a formidable challenge. Toulouse have won their 7 home league games this season by an average score of 26-7 and that includes 2 relatively low scoring wins of 13-12 and 14-3 during the International period.
In the Heineken Cup, Toulouse have won 14 of the last 15 home games by an average score of 28-13. There have been 7 point losses to Quins, Glasgow and Scarlets going back to the 2006/7 season but the last 5 games there have seen winning margins of 14 points or more. They beat Connacht by 24-3 at home in the 2011/12 season and 10-36 away.
This was the one fixture I wanted to avoid this weekend. The Connacht ‘crisis talks’ should spark a reaction and Lam has given the majority of the side that lost to Edinburgh a chance to redeem that performance.
Toulouse could score the 4 tries they need early, win and not cover the -26 point handicap. If pushed would go for the visitors with points – but that would involve that is relying on a side on a losing run, that just shipped 43 points.
Toulouse: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Yann David, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Jean Pascal Barraque, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Edwin Maka, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Yohan Montes, 19 Romain Millo-Chluski, 20 Christopher Tolofua, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Lionel Beauxis, 23 Timoci Matanavou,
Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Craig Clarke (capt), 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Nathan White, 2 Sean Henry, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris Wright, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Michael Swift, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Frank Murphy, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Gavin Duffy