Aviva Premiership 2013-4 Week 20

Quins vs Leicester

Quins won away at Sale last weekend, effectively eliminating the Sharks from the top 4 race. Conor O’Shea’s side are 5th on the table and have home games against the teams in 3rd and 4th and away to 7th remaining.

Here is a look at how many match points each side picked up from the equivalent of their remaining fixtures last season (with London Welsh results used for Newcastle). As can be seen, if the teams did perform the same as last year then the top 4 would remain the same as it is now. There are reasons to think there will be differences in the points collected this time though.

Title run in

Saracens are still in the Heineken Cup and given they are 10 points clear of 2nd place in the league, may well opt to rotate players once they have secured a home semi-final and focus on Europe.

Leicester picked up 6 points from Sale, Quins away and Saracens at home last season. Based on their current form, would expect more from those fixtures this time.

Northampton’s slight slump may end up helping Quins, in that a few weeks ago Saints were on track for securing a home semi-final early and may have rested players in the final games… but now they will likely travel to Bath in round 21 needing a win.

Saints and Bath both picked up 5 points from their home games against London Irish and Worcester respectively last season. If that were to happen again and Quins lost against Leicester without picking up any match points, then Bath would only need 1 point from their remaining 2 games to guarantee a top 4 spot.

Quins lost their opening home games against Saracens and Northampton, but have since won the following 7 matches at the Stoop by an average score of 21-12.

They’ve won 5 of the last 7 league games against the Tigers by an average score of 25-23 which is a huge improvement on their previous form in the fixture – just 2 wins in 29 games going back to 1997/8. In the 2 losses against Leicester (away semi-final last year, home in 2011/12), Quins were outscored 2nd half by 13 points. All 7 of their league defeats this season have also seen them outscored after the break.

While Quins have won 3 of their previous 4 trips to Welford Road, it is just the 1 win at the Stoop from 9 league games against Leicester. They have led at halftime in 7 of the last 10 games with this opponent and outscored them 2nd half in 5/10.

Tigers have won 7 games in a row by an average score of 27-16 and there is perhaps a similarity with how they finished the 2011/12 season (8 straight wins by an average score of 36-17). Unlike the November meeting between the teams, Leicester have Tuilagi and Goneva in the side now. Here is their combined contribution in the 5 league matches they have started together

Wasps (h) – 3 tries, 179m, 5 clean breaks, 12 defenders beaten
Northampton (a)- 0 tries, 64m, 1 clean break, 3 defenders beaten
Exeter (h) – 2 tries / 2 assists, 157m, 6 clean breaks, 10 defenders beaten
Newcastle (a) – 2 tries, 87m, 1 clean break, 9 defenders beaten
Newcastle (h) – 1 assist, 131m, 2 clean breaks, 11 defenders beaten

The visitors have selected Flood at 10, which will mean a first start since mid-February. It might be that Williams needs a rest or that they have decided to take the hosts on and want Flood to take it right to the line. That may point to a game like the 33-43 match in April 2012. They also have Allen back which always improves their performance.

Quins have continuity in their squad selection and won’t deviate from their usual style. In the Prem semi-final last year, they were stung just before half-time by a Leicester try which was scored from them a Quins turnover in their own half. That led to accusations of them playing ‘too much’,  but on the other hand they have beaten Tigers and other teams in that way.

Tim Wigglesworth was the referee for the earlier meeting between these teams and although he penalised Quins 16 times, it was Leicester that received the only yellow card. He has given 17 cards this season, with 7 coming in the West Country derby last weekend.

He has handed out 7 cards in the last 10 Quins games (with them winning 6/10 matches) and 10 cards in the last 13 Leicester games (they’ve won 9/13 of those matches and 5/10 cards were in 1 match against Bath).

The away team has won 10/14 games with Wigglesworth in charge this season, though it is worth noting only 3 of those matches saw a team winning away at a team now higher than them on the table. While there may be a focus on the cards he gave out last week, of more interest to these teams should be his keenness to penalise any infringements in the lineout. There is scope for leaving a jumper a bit longer than necessary in the air and looking to ‘buy’ a penalty from him. There were a few of those penalties in the round 1 game between Quins and Wasps, so will be interesting to see if Robson goes down that route.

Quins to lead at halftime is 2.1 and Quins HT / Leicester FT is 8.0. It doesn’t look the easiest game to call but think the visitors may look for advantages in Ayerza vs Sinckler at the scrum and possibly Tuilagi and Goneva running at Smith and Lindsay-Hague. Will back Leicester 1-10 margin at 3.0

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Ollie Lindsay-Hague, 13 Tim Molenaar, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Luke Wallace, 5 George Robson, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dave Ward, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Tom Guest, 20 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Ross Chisholm.

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Ed Slater (c), 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 Neil Briggs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 David Mele, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Niall Morris.




Bath vs Worcester

Bath have won 14/17 games against Worcester by an average score of 25-16 and 8/8 matches at home by 29-15. The last 4 home wins have seen similar scores of 32-9, 36-17, 37-13 and 37-19.

Having won 12 consecutive home games before round 16, Bath are now looking to avoid 3 straight home defeats for the first time since 2010/11. They will be in good spirits after winning the battle of Kingsholm last weekend and regardless of how Quins have got on the night before, will be looking for a bonus point win.

Worcester’s win at Newcastle in round 18 is their only victory in 24 league matches and their first on the road since round 12 of 2011/12 season. Against Exeter they were 3-21 down after 25 minutes which was a similar start to their home game against Sale in round 15 and they have been guilty of starting games at home slowly and leaving themselves too much to do.

However on the road, the problem seems to be the 2nd half. Worcester have been outscored 2nd half in 8 of their 9 away games and by an average of 10 points. In contrast to their home form, they have been starting ok when away and bar the trips to Exeter and Leicester have been in the match at the break. Around the hour mark they tended to slip away – Quins scored 10 points between 55-69 minutes, Northampton 14 points 54-68 mins, London Irish 10 points 55-61 minutes, Gloucester 6 points (in a low scoring game) from 60-65 mins etc.

Bath have only led twice at halftime in their last 7 games, but have outscored teams 2nd half in 6 of those matches and in the last 6 games against Worcester. They have won the previous 5 games against the bottom 3 sides by at least 15 points this season and last season won at home against the bottom 3 by at least 15 points too.

Will have a look at Bath -8 on 2nd half handicap

The home side has won 8/11 games with Matt Carley in charge. He has given 14 cards, with at least 1 in 8/11 games. Bath have won twice at home with him as referee this season (against Exeter, Wasps). Worcester have not been officiated him by this season, but in his Premiership debut last year he gave 5 cards in London Welsh vs Worcester.

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Anthony Watson 13 Matt Banahan 12 Kyle Eastmond 11 Horacio Agulla 10 George Ford 9 Micky Young 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Carl Fearns, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Nathan Catt.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Paul James, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Jonathan Joseph.

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Andy Symons, 11 David Lemi, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 Jonathan Thomas (c), 7 Sam Betty, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 James Percival, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Ofa Fainga’anuku.
Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Paul Andrew, 18 Rob O’Donnell, 19 Semisi Taulava, 20 Richard de Carpentier, 21 Paul Hodgson, 22 Paul Warwick, 23 Ravai Fatiaki.




Exeter vs Sale

Exeter have lost 9 of their previous 12 games, with the 3 wins coming against the bottom 3 sides. If their results against the top 5 are ignored, they have won 8/10 games this season by an average score of 25-15 and 4/5 at home by 23-10. They haven’t conceded a 1st half try at home against bottom half of the table sides yet.

Chiefs have won 6/7 matches with Sale by an average score of 28-17 and 3/3 games at home by 35-12.

Sale have lost a home Amlin Cup QF against Northampton and a crucial league match with Quins in recent weeks. They are 8 points off 4th spot and 11 points clear of Exeter in 7th so a finish of 6th looks likely.

They have led at halftime in 14/19 matches, but after scoring an early try last weekend then didn’t score until the 78th minute. In round 7, Exeter led by 9 points at the break and Sale had 3 players sin binned before halftime.

The Sharks have won their last 4 away games, however over the last couple of years they have struggled against sides like Quins and Exeter that can play at a fast pace. They have lost 10/11 games against those 2 sides, trailing at halftime in 10/11 games and being outscored 2nd half in 8/11. While Sale’s pack and defence is much improved this season, as Dave Seymour stated about the Quins game – “they played at a high tempo and we couldn’t handle that”. Exeter are capable of doing similar and will be on the -3 handicap.

Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Ben White, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (capt), 3 Alex Brown, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Hoani Tui, 19 James Phillips, 20 James Scaysbrook, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Luke Arscott.

Sale: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Jonny Leota, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Charlie Ingall, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Viliami Fahiki, 7 David Seymour (c), 6 James Gaskell, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Jonathan Mills, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Andrei Ostikov, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mark Jennings.





Wasps vs Gloucester

The recent changes to the European rugby competitions mean that a 7th place finish in the Premiership now provides an opportunity to qualify for the European Cup. This season there will be a play-off against the side that finishes 7th in the Top 14.

Exeter are currently 7th and on 40 points while Wasps are on 39 and Gloucester 37 which adds some extra motivation for this Twickenham clash.

Gloucester have only beaten Wasps twice away from Kingsholm in 25 attempts – a 17-25 win in 2007/8 and 9-10 in 2010/11. They lost 36-24 a few weeks ago in an Amlin QF at Wycombe and afterwards coach Nigel Davies described the performance as “totally unacceptable”.

14/19 Gloucester matches this season have been decided by 1-7 point margins and it is 14/19 matches for Wasps. It is also true that 7 of the last 8 league games between the teams have seen that margin.

Wasps have won 6/8 games against the bottom half of the table, by an average score of 22-19 while for Gloucester it is 5/7 by 22-21.

Wasps to win by 1-12 points is 2.75

There has only been 1 card in the last 6 matches between the teams, however the choice of referee for this match may change that trend. Wayne Barnes has given 28 cards in his 14 matches, with 1 card in 13/14 games and 2 or more in 10/14. In the 3 matches he has officiated Gloucester this season, he has given them 4 yellows / 1 red and they conceded 18,20 and 14 penalties.Going back further back, he handed out 2 yellows and 23 penalties against them in 2012/13 when they travelled to Quins. On that basis would be interested in a Gloucester card, with the warning that after the Bath game last week would think discipline has been mentioned a fair bit in training this week.

Wasps: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Will Helu, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Chris Bell (c), 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Tom Palmer, 20 Sam Jones, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Joe Carlisle, 23 Charlie Hayter

Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Jonny May, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Martyn Thomas, 10 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 James Hudson, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Shaun Knight, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Nick Wood
Replacements: 16 Dan George, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Yann Thomas, 19 Lua Lokotui, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Bill Meakes





Northampton vs London Irish

Saints have lost 3 consecutive matches but they did the same last season and still reached the final. In both cases the losing runs involved back to back losses against Saracens and Leicester. They’ve already secured more competition points than they did in the past 3 seasons but won’t want to go into the post-season short on confidence and momentum.

They’ve won 6 of the last 7 home games against London Irish (and 9/12 at all venues) so on paper it looks a good opportunity to get back on track. Saints did lose to this opposition 17-39 last season in an effort that Jim Mallinder called “embarrassing” and lacking in intensity and accuracy. That should prevent any complacency this weekend.

London Irish scored 40 points in the 1st half against Newcastle last week and 22 points 1st half at Saracens in round 13 shows they are capable of making good starts. They’ve scored 203 of their 323 points before halftime this season. Looking at their away games, they’ve only scored 35 points combined in the 2nd half.

Saints have won 10 of the last 12 home games, with losses both coming against Leicester. The 10 wins were by at least 14 points and an average score of 35-13. They outscored teams 2nd half by an average of 13 points. In this fixture last season, they outscored London Irish by 21 points after the break.

The hosts are -9 on 2nd half handicap.

There has been a card shown in 16/19 Northampton games and 14/19 London Irish games (10 of last 12). However there has only been 1 card in the last 9 games between the teams. JP Doyle has handed out 5 cards in the 2 Saints matches he has reffed this season and 2 in the single London Irish match. Would be looking to back an away card if available.

Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Tom Wood (c), 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Matt Williams, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Calum Clark, 20 GJ Van Velze, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Will Hooley, 23 James Wilson

London Irish: 15 Alex Lewington, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Andrew Fenby, 10 Shane Geraghty (c), 9 Tomás O’Leary, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Gerard Ellis, 6 Blair Cowan, 5 Nic Rouse, 4 Kieran Low, 3 Leo Halavatau, 2 Mike Mayhew, 1 Matt Parr
Replacements: 16 Jimmy Stevens, 17 Johnny Harris, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Jebb Sinclair, 21 Tom Homer, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Darren Allinson





Newcastle vs Saracens

Newcastle have lost 13 straight games and shipped 40 points in the 1st half against London Irish last week. Dean Richards understandably wasn’t happy and discussed the lack of composure and intensity in the post-game interviews.

They’ve lost 8/9 home matches by an average score of 12-22, suffering 20+ defeats there against Bath, Quins and Leicester. Falcons have also lost the previous 7 matches with Saracens by an average score of 9-28 and haven’t scored more than 9 points against them in the last 4 games.

The hosts have scored 105 points in their last 6 games compared to 107 in the 13 matches before, so the scoring has improved. They have conceded 40 points in 3 of the last 4 games though and leaked 40 when they went to Saracens in round 7.

In March, Dean Richards told a fans forum – “I don’t think we get very much out of the referees at all. The appointment of the referees is quite startling in some respects”. His complaint was that there are some referees that may favour the home side, but Newcastle never get them and instead have the ones ‘who are straight down the line’. This will be the 5th Newcastle home game for Andrew Small this season. The Falcons have lost the previous 4 games, however they were also against Gloucester, Quins, Sale and Northampton.

The visitors have made plenty of changes and if compared to the team that took on Ulster a few weeks ago, only Goode and Wigglesworth remain. While there will be a focus on the Heineken Cup game next week, it does also provide an opportunity for players coming back from injury or who doesn’t usually start to get some game time and Wigglesworth will captain the side for the first time.

Am going to avoid this match – don’t want to trust Newcastle at the moment with any points, while its difficult to assess Saracens given all the changes.

Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Richard Mayhew, 5 Scott Macleod, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Grant Shiells
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Danny Barnes

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Michael Tagicakibau, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Chris Wyles, 11 Jack Wilson, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Nick Fenton-Wells, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Eoin Sheriff, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Jamie George, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Hayden Smith, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Ben Ransom.

Round 10 – Super Rugby 2014

Hurricanes vs Blues

The Canes won 3 of their last 4 games before the bye so should have gone into that break with some confidence.

It was announced last week that coach Mark Hammett would be leaving at the end of this season. He has said that he made that decision at the start of the season and told the players last week. The timing is interesting because he has been heavily linked with the vacant Cardiff Blues job. It’s difficult to say how that news will affect the team, there are few players such as Lam, Leiua, Bateman, Taylor and Levave that have either signed for other clubs or are rumoured with doing so. Back in July, Hammett was talking about this being the beginning of the journey for the side, so there are perhaps going to be players that have bought into that idea and will be disappointed.

Franks is missing for the hosts, but as referee Briant has already penalised him 6 times in 2 games this season, that may not be as big a problem as first thought. It would also appear Bateman is not 100% fit yet so Leiua continues at centre.

Canes have lost both games against the Blues last season, by 14 points at home and 22 points away. Overall, they have won 3/10 home games against the Blues, by an average score of 24-31

The Blues have lost 11 away games in a row, with the last win coming at the Hurricanes in round 1 of last season. They have trailed at halftime by at least 7 points in the last 8 away games.

They couldn’t cope with the Brumbies kicking game 2 weeks ago and failing to adapt to conditions or an opponent’s tactics have been a problem for a while. There are 7 changes to the Blues team from their last outing with Mealamu, Tuipulotu, Donnelly, Braid, Noakes, Visinia and Saili starting this time.

Noakes was at 10 for both wins over the Canes last season and he has been given the nod over Hickey due to a perceived superiority in tactical kicking. Hickey isn’t even on the bench and there are echoes of how Anscombe was treated a few seasons ago. In 2012, Anscombe started 9 games at fly-half, Hobbs 6 and Weepu 1. The youngster was then cut with his defence deemed a problem and has gone on to have success at the Chiefs.

In 2013 the Blues started Noakes 12 times and Kerr 4. This season Hickey has been given 5 starts and this is the 3rd for Noakes. The latter appears to be the safe option that the management revert to when things go wrong or a game is ‘must-win’. There is also the issue of Benji Marshall – he has started just 1 game and that was at fullback, despite him being trialled at 10 during pre-season. There was an option for him to play for Auckland in the ITM Cup but it was decided he needed a break. That has meant he is trying to adapt to a different code at the higher pace of Super Rugby level. Injury to Kerr has meant that talented youngster Ihaia West has been brought in, so there are 3 players for Marshall to compete with at 10 and Piutau at 15. The Crusaders have settled after sticking with Slade this season while the Canes stuttered after they moved to Barrett to 15 for a few games last season. At some point the Blues are going to have to pick a 10 and stick with him.

The likely poor weather conditions would hinder both teams usual attacking style. The fact that the Blues are away and probably playing in wet weather is enough to put me off them. The home team has won HT/FT in the last 8 games against the Auckland side and that is 2.25 for this game.

Don’t have high hopes for it but but took ‘no try’ at 41.0 just in case a storm does hit near kick off.

Fullback Piutau carried for a combined 298m, beat 11 defenders and scored 2 tries in the games against the Canes last season, so if backing try scorers the 4.0 anytime price may appeal.

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tim Bateman, 23 Matt Proctor

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 George Moala, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Lolagi Visinia, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 Brendon O’Connor, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Benji Marshall, 23 Frank Halai








Rebels vs Force

Up until this season, results in this fixture had been close with the Rebels winning 5/6 games by an average score of 29-26. The Rebels opted to make plenty of changes to a winning side for their trip to Perth this season and found themselves trailing by 32 points at halftime and lost the game by 25 points. The Force have gone on to win 5 consecutive games since that match, while the Rebels have lost 5/6.

The hosts have trailed at halftime in the last 6 matches this season and conceded at least 22 points in the same number of games. Last week they caused the Chiefs problems but ultimately poor decision making let them down and skipper Higginbotham was on the wrong side of the referee with 4 penalties conceded.

The Rebels have won 5 of their last 6 home games and beat the Brumbies by 8 points in round 5. It is noticeable that they don’t often lead at halftime at home (only against the Cheetahs in the last 8 games and in 6/27 overall) and 6 of the last 7 home wins have seen them down at the break. They’ve outscored teams 2nd half in 5/7 games this season and in the last 3 matches against the Force.

The visitors have kept the Chiefs and Tahs to below 17 points in recent rounds and an aggressive defence, personified by the likes of skipper Hodgson is a big reason for their run of wins. It will be interesting to see how expectation levels are managed and what happens in a game like this when people may be expecting them to win. They made an average of 129 tackles a game so far and the effort they are putting into keeping opponents out will start to take its toll.

Force HT / Rebels FT is 8.0, while Rebels to win is 1.83. The visitors are missing Mathewson, Morahan and Wykes and that increasing injury list and home advantage means I’d lean towards the Rebels. In the past, Force have tended to do well when written off (their results this season / wins against Reds and Crusaders last year) but lost when they haven’t been able to play the underdog card – Kings, Rebels last season etc.

There is a trend of Rebels locks scoring against the Force, with 4/7 meetings having a Rebels 2nd row cross the line. Luke Jones is averaging 9 carries a game this year and is available at 17.0 anytime scorer, 67.0 1st scorer.

Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward 14 Male Sau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga’a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau,18 Paul Alo-Emilie,19 Hugh Pyle,20 Sean McMahon,21 Luke Burgess,22 Tom Kingston,23 Angus Roberts

Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Adam Coleman, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Phoenix Battye, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Chris Tuatara-Morrison.







Chiefs vs Crusaders

The Chiefs have a 5 point lead at the top of the conference going into this round. Accepting the point that winning without playing well is the sign of a good side, they will also need to step up a level in their upcoming games against the Crusaders and Brumbies. Having led 19-0 after 24 minutes against the Rebels last week, they wouldn’t have expected to be hanging on for a win in the last 5 minutes. They racked up a high penalty count of 15, with the substitutes accounting for 7 of them.

The visitors have won 4 of their last 5 games and put 52 points on the Cheetahs last weekend. In contrast to the start of the season, the backline kept the turnover count down in Bloemfontien and a big positive will be the 3 tries from new signing Nadolo. They have travelled back from South Africa for this match and travel has proved a factor for sides in the competition.

Since Dave Rennie took charge of the Chiefs, they have won 5/7 games against this opposition by an average score of 21-22. (That average is skewed by the Crusaders 43-15 win in 2013). They have needed to be at their best to win and it is noticeable that Clark, Latimer didn’t start the 21-28 home loss in 2012. In 2013 they travelled to Christchurch with a backrow of Filipo, Cane and Vant Leven and were beaten by 28 points. In round 1 this season they won by 8 points with Tevita Kolomatangi starting at 7, however they did also concede 15 penalties and were let off by some sloppy attack from the Crusaders (20 turnovers) and poor goal kicking (missed 7 of 8 penalty attempts).

It is Latimer’s 100th Chiefs game and he will join Messam on that landmark. When those 2 have both started against the Crusaders in recent years, the Chiefs have won. Those scores are 19-24 and 20-17 in 2012, 28-19 and 20-19 in 2013.
Crusaders have only won 1 of their last 7 away conference games, while in the same period the Chiefs have won 7/7 home games against New Zealand opposition

Chiefs to win by 1-12 margin is 2.75

Under 4.5 tries would have landed in 5 of the last 7 meetings between the teams.

Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Jordan Payne.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Tom Taylor, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Adam Whitelock






Waratahs vs Bulls

The Tahs have won their 3 home games by 22 or more points and are back on their own turf this week, after 3 consecutive away matches. They dominated the possession and territory stats against the Force and carried for close to 700m. They were thwarted by a determined Force defence and 22 turnovers conceded, with plenty of those occurring in decent attacking positions.

The Bulls brought back Matfield last week, having said that he would be rested on tour. He called 13 lineouts to himself and a reliance on the maul was evident last week. The visitors conceded 23 turnovers and after a strong start, didn’t have the variation to come back into the game against the Highlanders late on. It is easier said than done, but the Tahs will know that stopping the Bulls maul can leave them toothless.

Tahs have lost the last 3 home games against this opponent and haven’t beaten them at all venues since a home semi-final win in 2005. They have beefed up the pack with Skelton and former Bull Potgeiter this season and would expect the latter to have a big game against his old team. The visitors have that unbalanced backrow again and think Hooper will really cause them problems on the deck. With Folau back, the hosts should be confident of finishing off attacks. Will take the 1-12 margin at 2.75

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgeiter, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sepoke Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Silatolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Pat McCutcheon, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Matt Carraro.

Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Grant Hattingh , 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield , 4 Flip van der Merwe (c), 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Marcel vd Merwe, 18 Paul Willemse, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 William Small-Smith, 21 Handré Pollard, 22 Rudy Paige, 23 Morné Mellet




Sharks vs Cheetahs

Cheetahs have conceded 273 points in their last 6 games and there seems to have been a return to the frantic high-scoring defeats that characterised the side a few years ago. Compared to last season they are currently without Oosthuizen, Labuschagne, Van der Walt while Ebersohn has moved on. Those are all players capable of stealing ball at the breakdown and their absence may explain the current state. Brussow is back which is a boost, but props van Dyk and Oosthuizen will have a tough challenge against an International front row.

The visitors have lost 5 of the last 6 games with the Sharks, with the win coming in wet conditions in Durban last April. The Sharks were on a losing run that lasted 5 games at this stage last season which contrasts with the 6 wins from 7 matches this campaign. The Sharks have won their last 6 home games by at least 14 points and average a score of 29-16 at all venues this season.

Even allowing for the injuries at 10 that see Swiel starting, would fancy the Sharks to win this comfortably so will be on the -13 handicap.

Sharks 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Ryan Kankowski, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.

Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Hennie Daniller, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Jean Cook, 7 Boom Prinsloo, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Riaan Smith, 23 Raymond Rhule.





Stormers vs Lions

After the loss against the Tahs, (their 6th of the season), Stormers coach Coetzee made the point that the side was going through a cultural change and that at the moment the plan was to attack from turnover ball. He explained that the reason the team was still kicking away ball was down to a lack of confidence in individuals, inexperience and poor decision making.

It will take some time for the team to move away from their familiar style and having the coach and players under pressure makes that transition harder. The Stormers do have 6 home games in their remaining 9 fixtures but if players feel they are being hung out to dry by management then that home advantage may be negated.

Stormers have only scored 105 points in their 7 games, with a range of 10-20 points. They have conceded 171, with at least 22 points allowed in 5/7 matches. They’ve trailed at halftime in 6/7 games and been outscored 2nd half in 6/7.

They have won 9 of the last 10 games with the Lions though and the previous 4 at home by an average score of 33-15. The Stormers have also won 14 of the last 16 home games against all South African sides by an average score of 25-14.

The Lions have lost consecutive home games and were outscored 2nd half by 13 and 15 points in those defeats. They now have a run of 5 away games which will really test the squad depth. Would still prefer to take them +8 here though. It is a game the Stormers should win but confidence is low, while the visitors are a more settled side.

Stormers: 15 Peter Grant, 14 Damien de Allende, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Demitri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Michael Rhodes, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Devon Williams, 23 Jaco Taute

Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 JW Jonker

Aviva Premiership 2013-4 Week 19

Sale vs Harlequins

In the last 3 seasons the team finishing 4th in the league has picked up 65 points. These teams currently sit 5th and 6th on the table, with 51 and 49 points respectively, so it is likely that the loser of Friday’s game will be out the play-off race.

Sale have won 6/9 home games by an average score of 19-13 and led at halftime in 8/9 of those matches. They have won 6 of their previous 7 league games and have recently beaten Bath and Northampton.

Quins have lost their last 4 Prem away games (against Saracens, Gloucester, Northampton and Bath).They have won 6 in a row against Sale with away wins of 21-30 and 10-24. Overall it is 5/18 away wins in the fixture by an average score of 23-18.

Steve Diamond was unhappy with his side being “out-enthused” last week in the Amlin knockout game against Northampton and stated that a few players had shown their ‘true colours”. Only Arscott, Brady and Gaskell remain from that team while Quins have named the same side that won away at Stade Francais.

Prefer Quins +2 on the handicap. The hosts have really improved their defence this season and the big pack have proved tough to play against. However they did lose 24-3 to this opponent in October though and Quins were missing the majority of their England players that game. Sale haven’t beaten Quins in the league since September 2010 and have trailed at halftime by at least 6 points in the last 7 meetings.

There have been 7 cards shown in the last 5 Quins away games at Sale and 14 cards in their 9 away matches against all opponents this season (at least 1 card in 8/9 games). There have also been 10 cards in 9 Sale home matches with a card in 6/9 games.

Referee Wayne Barnes has handed out 27 cards in 13 matches with at least 1 in 12/13 games and 2 or more in 10/13. He has given 12 cards in the last 7 Sale matches with 8 in the last 3 matches at home. Barnes gives a high number of maul penalties and is strict on indiscipline, as Sale learnt in round 7 when they had 3 players sin binned in the 1st half. Will be on 2 or more cards when available.

Brown has 7 tries in 12 games against Sale and is available at 4.5 anytime scorer, while Care is 5.0.

Cueto has 9 tries in 15 against Quins and is 3.5

Sale Sharks: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Jonny Leota, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 James Gaskell, 7 David Seymour, 6 Dan Braid (c), 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Jonathan Mills, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Andrei Ostrikov, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Nick Macleod, 23 Rob Miller

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Ollie Lindsay-Hague, 13 Tim Molenaar, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Luke Wallace, 5 George Robson, 4 Nick Kennedy, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dave Ward, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Tom Guest, 20 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Ross Chisholm




Leicester vs Wasps

Last season, Leicester bounced back from a 6 point away QF defeat in the Heineken Cup against a French team with a 19 point home win against Wasps.

The visitors opted to make a few changes for this fixture last year and have done similar this time. Wasps are yet to win a Prem game with Tommy Bell in the side (14 defeats – 5 starting / 9 from bench)

Muilpola played all 80 minutes last weekend against Clermont and Ayerza 75 minutes so it isn’t a surprise to see them on the bench here.

Tigers have won 6/9 home matches this season by an average score of 26-16 and are on a run of 6 league victories. They have won 21/23 home games against Wasps by an average score of 27-13, with the last 4 seeing margins of 19,18,9 and 26 points.

Wasps have won 4/10 away matches by an average score of 20-19 and all 10 games had winning margins of 7 points or less. Going back to the 2010/11 season they have lost 11/12 away games that have been played in the final quarter of seasons.

9/10 games between these teams have seen 1st half as highest scoring.

Andrew Small was the referee when Wasps beat Leicester in round 6. He penalised Wasps 15 times that game, with Festuccia his main target ( 4 pens / 1 yellow). In the other 3 matches he has officiated Wasps, he has awarded 11,10 and 8 penalties – with front row and scrum half receiving the majority.

Think the -18 handicap is worth a look, Wasps focus may be on Gloucester next weekend and at this stage of season Leicester do tend to record large margin home wins.

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Ed Slater (c), 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Boris Stankovich.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Logovi’i Mulipola, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 David Mele, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Niall Morris.

Wasps: 15 Tommy Bell, 14 James Short, 13 Chris Bell (c), 12 Charlie Hayter, 11 Will Helu, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Guy Thompson, 6 Ed Jackson, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 James Cannon, 3 Phil Swainston, 2 Tom Lindsay, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Ricky Reeves, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Sam Jones, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Joe Carlisle, 23 Elliot Daly.





Worcester vs Exeter

Exeter have lost 9 of their previous 11 league matches and the last 5 on the road. They’ve been outscored 2nd half in 5 of the last 6 away games and by at least 13 points after the break in the last 3.

The Chiefs have won all 5 games with Worcester with scores of 18-24 and 26-31 away.
Worcester broke a losing run of 22 games with a 12-17 away win at Newcastle. They had come close against Leicester, Quins and Wasps in recent weeks so finally sealing a victory may give the side confidence.

JP Doyle took charge of Exeter’s 40-6 win over Worcester in October. That was one of those matches where the stats don’t really give a true reflection of what happened – Chiefs had 14 kicks from hand, 127 passes and 125 runs for 454m while Warriors kicked 12 times, passed 115 with 121 runs for 271m. The hosts made more tackles too – with 143 to Worcester’s 128. The difference was the 6 tries scored by Exeter – with 4 coming from the pack.

That was Exeter’s only win that referee in the Premiership, having lost the other 7 matches (all against top 4 sides though).

Will be on Worcester +4, based on the Chiefs poor run and the fact that the win at Newcastle may have sparked the hosts.

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Ravai Fatiaki, 11 David Lemi, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 Jonathan Thomas (c), 7 Sam Betty, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 James Percival, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Ofa Fainga’anuku
Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Paul Andrew, 18 Rob O’Donnell, 19 Semisi Taulava, 20 Richard de Carpentier, 21 Paul Hodgson, 22 Paul Warwick, 23 Andy Symons

Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Dean Mumm, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Don Armand, 3 Alex Brown, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 James Phillips, 20 James Scaysbrook, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Luke Arscott




Gloucester vs Bath

Gloucester have traditionally been associated with strong home form, however that hasn’t always been evident in recent seasons. In the 2011/12 campaign they won 6/11 home matches by an average score of 25-20. That improved to 9/11 wins by an average score of 22-17 last year, but so far this season it is 4/9 wins by an average score of 21-24.

They have won the last 7 home games against Bath though and having been disappointingly knocked out of the Amlin Cup, have a chance to put right what Nigel Davies described as an “unacceptable” performance. Finishing 7th would put them in a play-off for the new European Champions Cup and Wasps (currently in 7th and 3 points better off) are the next opponents, so it going to be important to take some confidence into that game.

Bath have won 5 of their 9 away games so far, with the losses coming at Sale, Northampton and Saracens. That is a big improvement on only 1 away win last season.

The hosts have struggled in the set piece and although they have won 3 of their last 4 league games, there are still signs of inconsistency.

There has been a card shown in 7/9 Bath away games and 6/9 Gloucester home matches. The last 4 Gloucester home games have seen 10 cards. There have been 16 cards in the last 11 games between the teams, with at least 1 card in 9/11 matches and 5 cards in the last 2.

Gloucester have lost the 7 matches when officiated by Tim Wigglesworth, with the most recent being the trip to Northampton when they received 13 penalties (Harden with 4). Bath have won 6 of the last 8 , but they were mostly home games. He has only given out 9 cards in 13 games so far but was in charge of Bath vs Gloucester in 2013 – which had 2 yellows, a red and 38 penalties. He also showed 3 reds and 2 yellows when Bath travelled to Leicester at end of 2012.

The idea that he gives plenty of scrum and lineout penalties can be backed up by the recent Newcastle vs Worcester game. The away side has also won 8/12 matches with him in charge this season.

It isn’t a massive price but think Bath are worth backing at 1.91. Would expect Gloucester to respond and they do have a strong record in the fixture, but Bath’s scrum has been impressive all season and think they have the advantage in the pack.

Gloucester: 15 Martyn Thomas, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Gareth Evans 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Will James, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Shaun Knight, 2 Dan George, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 James Hudson, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Rob Cook

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Matt Banahan, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 George Ford, 9 Micky Young, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Carl Fearns, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 David Wilson, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Anthony Perenise 19 Dominic Day, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Peter Stringer 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Anthony Watson.




Saracens vs Northampton

Saracens have won 16/18 league games this season and 7/8 at home by an average score of 30-13. They travelled to Northampton in October, 8 days after the Wembley defeat against Toulouse in the Heineken Cup and lost 41-20. Sarries opted to make a number of changes for that game – with Tagicakibau,Mordt, Barrington etc all starting.

There are 10 Saracens starters from last week’s very physical win over Ulster, so Saints will have the fresher side given they rested players for their away Amlin QF at Sale. Only Foden, Dickson and McMillan played in that game and the visitors also welcome back Manoa and Myler to the side.

Northampton have won 6/9 away games by an average score of 16-19 and did win at Saracens in the Premiership semi-final last season by 13-27. They led 0-17 after 26 minutes in that match and were 17-3 up in October so have been making good starts in the fixture. A handicap of +7 (available at 1.83) would have covered in 28 of their last 30 away games. Given Saints have won the recent fixtures with Saracens and should have the better rested squad am going to take the points.

Brits is 7.5 anytime scorer while Manoa is 6.5

There have been 11 cards in 8 Saracens home matches, with at least 1 card in 7/8 games and 11 cards in the 9 Saints away games with 1 card in 6/9 games. Surprisingly there has only been 1 card in the last 6 league matches between these sides though.

Greg Garner has given 19 cards in his 14 matches, with 14 cards in the last 7 games. He has shown 18 cards in the last 11 Northampton games he has officiated, with Saints winning 10 of them. Saracens have 9 wins and a draw from their previous 11 matches with Garner in charge, with 12 cards shown.

Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 James Johnston, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 Jacques Burger, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Tim Streather

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Phil Dowson, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Will Hooley, 23 James Wilson






London Irish vs Newcastle

Newcastle have lost 12 games in a row since beating London Irish in round 6. The have scored 93 points in their last 5 games, compared to 107 in the 13 games before that.
Falcons have lost 7/9 away matches by an average score of 24-11 and trailed at halftime in 7 of those trips.

London Irish have lost their last 4 games and have won 2/8 games at home by an average score of 18-22. They are 14 points clear from the bottom of the table and 14 points off 7th place. In such a situation, a team either plays with freedom due to the absence of pressure and runs up a decent score or they switch off, with minds drifting to the end of season (‘already on the beach’). It is also true that at this stage of the season, some teams may have to field academy players to bump up their English Qualified players average.

Worcester lost at home on Saturday and have away games against Bath and Saracens coming up. Newcastle may well stay up without having to win any more games or indeed pick up any points at all. Am going to take the +10 for them today, the 5 London Irish wins have come by 2,5,13,9 and 3 points while Newcastle’s last 2 trips (to Quins and Gloucester) saw losing margins of 7 and 4 points.

There has been at least 1 card shown in last 7 London Irish games. Luke Pearce has given 16 cards in his 11 matches, with at least 1 in 9/11 games and 2 or more in 6/11 matches.

Exiles have lost the 4 previous games with Pearce in charge – they conceded 16 penalties against Bath and collected 2 yellow cards this season, with 12 at Leicester, 14 home to Leicester and 14 at Wasps last season. Newcastle have won their only game with him this season – away to Sale in round 2.

London Irish: 15 James O’Connor, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Andrew Fenby, 10 Shane Geraghty, 9 Tomás O’Leary, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Gerard Ellis, 6 Blair Cowan, 5 Nic Rouse, 4 George Skivington (c), 3 Leo Halavatau, 2 Mike Mayhew, 1 Matt Parr
Replacements: 16 Jimmy Stevens, 17 John Yapp, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Ian Gough, 20 Bryn Evans, 21 Alex Lewington, 22 Myles Dorrian, 23 Darren Allinson

Newcastle: 15 Noah Cato, 14 Ryan Shortland, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 Lee Smith, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Warren Fury, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Andy Saull, 6 Will Welch (c), 5 Fraser McKenzie, 4 Scott Macleod, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 2 Matt Thompson, 1 Grant Shiells
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 James Fitzpatrick

Round 9– Super Rugby 2014

Highlanders vs Bulls

In the last 10 games the Highlanders have scored 202/293 points in the 1st half and conceded 207/314 points 2nd half. It isn’t a massive surprise then to see they have led at halftime in 4/6 matches this season and been outscored 2nd half in 5/6.

They have scored at least 16 points 1st half in all 4 home games and 7 of the last 8 games at all venues.

The 4 Highlanders home matches have been high scoring with 50,60,66 and 63 total points.

The visitors have trailed at halftime in 5/7 games this season (including all 3 away matches). They have scored 9,3 and 13 points 1st half in those matches.

Highlanders have a decent home record against the Bulls, winning 7/8 games by an average score of 30-14. The Bulls have also lost 6 of their last 7 away games against all New Zealand opposition.

Last week Frans Ludeke stated that Victor Matfield would be rested on tour and used as a coach, unless there were injuries. That planned rotation had been negotiated as part of his return. With Stegmann and Potgieter out, Matfield has been brought back into the team though and Willemse benched. It means a battle between veterans Matfield and Thorn, who have started 9 Tests against each other, with the Kiwi winning 6/9. In Super Rugby the pair have started 5 games as opponents, with the Bulls winning 3/5.

The Bulls have plenty of options in the lineout (Hattingh and du Plessis have played at lock) and as usual would expect them to rely on the maul. It is a return to that unbalanced backrow though and Stegmann, Potgieter are both going to be missed. The hosts do have a superior scrum and King returns to the 3 shirt having covered at 1 last week.

Based on the trends for both sides have backed Highlanders to be in front at halftime at 1.8.

Was tempted with over 51.5 total points given it is a Highlanders home match, however Bulls away games have only averaged 42 total points over the past few seasons and allowing for a different stadium, their last 4 trips to this team have produced 27,48,35 and 23 total points.

Hougaard was shifted to the wing after the initial team was announced so the 5.5 anytime scorer price (and 34.0 for 2 tries) look reasonable. Would expect Ben Smith at 3.25 to be popular too.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 John Hardie, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 Nasi Manu

Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe (c), 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Marcel vd Merwe, 18 Paul Willemse, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Ulrich Beyers, 21 Handré Pollard, 22 William Small-Smith, 23 Morné Mellet.







Reds vs Brumbies

Brumbies have won 5 of their 7 games by an average score of 25-20 and as with last season, have been strong in the 1st half – with halftime leads in 6 of those 7 matches. The exception was a home loss to the Reds in round 1 when the visitors were 8 points up at the break.

The Reds have won 3/7 matches by an average score of 24-27. Having lost 15/16 games against the Brumbies from 1996 to 2010, they have improved their record in this fixture recently with 4 wins and a draw in the last 7 meetings. They haven’t lost back to back home games since the end of the 2009 season (4 in a row).

1st half has been highest scoring in the last 10 Reds games and 8 of the last 10 Brumbies games. The Reds also haven’t scored a 2nd half try in the last 3 games.

Going back to start of 2013 season, the 1st half has also been highest scoring in 8/11 Australian derbies featuring the Reds and they have trailed at halftime in 8 of them. They have won 2 of their last 5 home games against fellow conference sides. The Brumbies have won 1 of their last 5 away games in Australia, but have led at the break in 6 of the previous 8 conference trips.

Brumbies to lead at halftime is 2.0 and 1st half to be highest scoring is 2.2

Since round 1, the visitors have been consistent with their scoring – with a range of 24-29 points in 6 matches. The hosts have conceded 32 or more points in 4 of their last 6 games and average 27 points conceded a game, compared to 20 by the Brumbies.

Neither side has had a bye yet and the defeat to the Force last week means the Reds will be under real pressure to win this week. Brumbies have lost their last 4 games with Steve Walsh in charge – (2 away games vs Tahs, home / away vs Reds). Reds have won 8/10 matches officiated by Walsh. Brumbies HT / Reds FT at 8.0 may be worth a look.

Australian conference games refereed by Walsh tend to be low scoring, with an average of 36 total points going back to 2010. The points line is 43.5 here.

Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O’Donoghue, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Mike Harris/Dave McDuling, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.

Brumbies:15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Siliva Silva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 JP Smith, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Christian Lealiifano







Chiefs vs Rebels

Chiefs have gone 3 games without a win, which hasn’t happened since the middle of the 2011 season. Their away tour has seen a loss against the Force and 2 late draws at the Bulls and Cheetahs (they scored 19 points in the final 11 minutes against the Bulls and 33 points in the 2nd half in Bloemfontein).

The hosts are still 4 points clear at the top of the New Zealand conference and 4 of their next 5 games are at home. They will be without Cruden for at least 6 weeks though. He played all 1440 minutes in 2012, 1414 minutes of a possible 1440 minutes in 2013 (taken off at end of a big win over Cheetahs and big loss against Crusaders) and all 480 available minutes this season. It is interesting that co-captain Messam is on the bench for this first match without Cruden. The suggestion is that this line up was decided a while ago though.

Rebels have won 2/6 matches and trailed at halftime in the last 5 games (12 of the previous 14 over a longer period). They have lost the last 7 away games and 24/27 trips overall, with the 3 away wins all coming against the Force.

Their 7 defeats at New Zealand teams have averaged 63 total points and they have trailed at the break in 6/7 of those games.

It was 33-39 to the Chiefs when the teams met in round 10 last season and with 119 points in the last 2 Rebels games and 154 in the last 2 for the Chiefs, over 51.5 points is worth some thought.

Don’t often like taking on the Chiefs but prefer Rebels +14 in this match. Since Rennie took over, the hosts have usually had at least one of Clarke, Messam or Cruden to lead the side so this is a new situation.

Anscombe scored 3 tries from full back against the Rebels last season and am going to stick with that position and back Marshall at 3.75 anytime. Higginbotham is 5.5

Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mils Muliaina, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick (c), 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Ross Filipo, 20 Liam Messam , 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Jordan Payne.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Male Sau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga’a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emilie, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Tom Kingston, 23 Angus Roberts.




Force vs Waratahs

An odd trend in this fixture is that the Force usually do better against the Tahs away than they do at home. They have 2 wins and a draw from 6 away trips at an average score of 23-18, with 5/6 games having a margin of 5 points or less. In Perth it is 6/6 losses by an average score of 11-24.

The hosts began their campaign with a 22 point loss in Sydney and 13 point defeat at home against the Brumbies, but since then have beaten the Rebels and Chiefs at home and Highlanders, Reds away. That has bettered their run of 3 wins in 2007 and has put them in contention for the Australian conference.

The visitors have won 4/6 matches by an average score of 27-18, with 20+ point wins at home and crucially an away victory last week. The Waratahs only won 2/8 away games last season and the same number the year before. In contrast, the Brumbies won 9/16 trips in that same period. Improving on that away form was a necessity this campaign and while the Stormers are on a poor run, a win there isn’t to be sniffed at.

Tahs have led at halftime in 6/8 games against the Force but the 1.73 for them to continue the trend is a bit short, given the hosts form.

1st half has been highest scoring in all 6 Force matches this season and 4/6 Tahs matches this season, as well as 6/8 games between the teams. It is 2.2 here.

There has been a card shown in the last 5 games between the teams, in 5/6 Force matches this year and 6/6 Tahs games. Referee Angus Gardner has shown 6 cards in his last 4 Force matches with at least 1 card in 4/4 and over the past few seasons 18 cards in 16 matches, with a card in the last 12 games.

The ARU ruled late that Folau could not play this game, which is significant given he scored 3 tries against the Force in round 1. With the visitors having to travel back from South Africa, am going to take the Force +5.

Hodgson is 9.0 to score anytime

Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zach Holmes, 23 Chris Tuatara-Morrison

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgeiter, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sepoke Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson
Replacements: 16 Silatolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Stephen Hoiles, 20 Patrick McCutcheon, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Matt Carraro .









Cheetahs vs Crusaders

Cheetahs have won 1/7 games this season and conceded 251 points, with 35 or more in the last 5 games. At the same stage last year, they had won 5/7 matches and conceded 169 points.

They led 34-10 at halftime against the Chiefs last week but ended up drawing the match. Coach Naka Drotske has talked about 50-50 calls not going their way, but with no defence coach and van der Walt now missing for a number of weeks, the problems may lie deeper than just luck. They have won the last 2 home games against the Crusaders though.

At start of season, a Crusaders win over Lions may not have been seen as a significant result – however they are the first side to win there this campaign and having started the season poorly, now have 3 wins from their last 4 matches.

Their round 8 trip to the Chiefs will have been targeted and while the Crusaders are currently bottom of the NZ conference, prior to this round – all 5 sides had 3 wins and there were 7 points between 1st and 5th. They have 5 home games in the last 8 rounds so if they can continue to build some momentum on this SA trip there is a real chance of turning the season around.

Crusaders have led at HT in their last 5 away games.

Cheetahs have been outscored 2nd half in 6/7 matches, and by 24 points against the Hurricanes and Chiefs.

Glen Jackson has given a card in each of his 4 games this season.

Will take Crusaders -3, while the backline are still making a high number of turnovers there are signs of improvement and that win last weekend should give the side confidence.

Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Hennie Daniller, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Jean Cook, 7 Lappies Labuschagné, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacemets: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Howard Mnisi.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Nemani Nadolo , 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Tom Taylor.





Heineken Cup Quarter-Finals 2014

Munster vs Toulouse

This rematch of the 2008 final sees Munster play their 15th quarter-final and Toulouse their 14th. Given how many games both teams have played in the competition, it may be a surprise that it will be a first trip to Thomond Park for the visitors.

Munster have a very strong record at home. They’ve won 58/61 home games in the Heineken Cup by an average score of 29-13 and 58 of their last 70 league home matches by 24-13. Against French sides, it is a record of 22/22 wins by an average score of 29-15. What will frustrate Toulouse is that this trip was avoidable. A try bonus point win over Zebre in round 6 would have provided a home tie at this stage (and 2nd seed), but instead their scrappy 6-16 victory saw them ranked 5th.

Toulouse have won 36/63 away games in the competition by an average score of 20-22 and 4/9 away knockout matches by 20-19. In the Top 14, they have won just 1/11 away matches this season, by 25-16. Despite poor form on the road, Toulouse do have a draw at Stade Francais and away win at Saracens this season to build on. A strong 1st half at Castres (led by 12 points at HT) and 2nd half vs Stade (won 2nd half by 19 points) in recent games are also big improvement on the earlier performances. There does seem to have been a change in how they approach their away league matches and certainly more attacking ambition shown. That has coincided with injured and International players returning to the team.

The visitors showed their power when they beat Saracens in round 5 and an ability to slowly suffocate a team out of a contest. After that match the Saracens coach talked about being sucked into a game they didn’t want to play. Toulouse did benefit from having a referee that penalises the ball carrier a lot that match too, something that isn’t as likely to occur with Nigel Owens as the official.

Munster have won 3 of the previous 5 Heineken Cup games with Owens in charge – beating Sale, Northampton twice and losing semi-finals to Leinster and Clermont. He also refereed their home win in the Pro 12 against the Scarlets this season. Toulouse have won 4/6 Heineken Cup games with Owens as referee – beating Quins,Leinster, Leicester and Saracens and losing to Edinburgh (QF 2012) and Tigers away.

In the pool stages, only 1/6 home teams won with Owens as referee and he gave out 7 cards. Over a longer period he has handed out 27 cards in 39 matches and the home side has won 4/6 knockout matches.

He gives an average of 16 penalties a game which is low compared to other referees (average in Pro 12 / Heineken Cup is approx 21 a game and Prem / Top 14 – 25) and you tend to see plenty of competition at the breakdown (teams less concerned about being pinged) and more open games with him in the middle. He did whistle for 4 hands in ruck penalties when he officiated Toulouse in round 2 and the visitors would need to be wary of that again this weekend.

It isn’t always easy to say how much of an influence the assistant referees will have – but JP Doyle is pretty strict on high tackles, tackling in the air and foul play in general. He was in charge of Munster’s loss at Edinburgh in round 1 and their away win at Perpignan this season so will be familiar with them. Neil Hennessy is usually strict on the ball carrier not releasing after being tackled and offsides. Would have both down as more likely to suggest a yellow card than not if asked by the referee.

The hosts were soundly beaten 51-24 by Glasgow before last year’s quarter-final win at Harlequins, so there shouldn’t be too much concern about the Leinster loss last weekend. A bit of criticism in the papers may in fact be a useful motivational tool, as it was at this stage last year.

There is often talk of the conflict between the new style Penney has tried to bring in and Munster’s traditional approach and in some ways there is similar clash between the offloading, high tempo play Toulouse are capable of and the slower, power game they have favoured instead in recent seasons. In a cup match when fewer risks are taken, that may be less of an issue unless either side really needs to chase.

The hosts have proved adept at squeezing teams out of the contest at home and in their last 8 Heineken Cup home matches have conceded just 20 points combined in the 2nd half. Going back to 2008/9 they’ve only been outscored after the break in 2/21 games.
Toulouse have looked livelier in their recent away matches, but that has been necessary given their league position. They have visited the Stade de France and Stade Velodrome in the last 2 away games but there will be a completely different atmosphere at this venue.

No Census Johnston is a big loss as even with the depth in their squad, there isn’t a way to replace his power. Kilcoyne will certainly be looking to unsettle Montes early. Beauxis has started at 10 for 8 league away defeats this season and this will be his 6th Heineken Cup start in 3 seasons. Those were all away matches – 2 wins at Connacht and defeats at Leicester, Gloucester and Edinburgh. Given he has 51 drop goals in 172 Top 14 games (3 in 26 in this competition), that may be worth a play at 2.2 (or better odds if just an away drop goal is available). Tekori has started at 7 in the recent trips to Castres and Racing Metro but with no Nyanga there is now a lot of pressure on Camara to handle O’Mahony at the breakdown. [edit - late change to team has seen McAlister named as 10 and Beauxis moved to bench].

Munster are 2.5 to win this game by a 1-12 point margin. Whilst they may not have been at their best this season, they have still been able to churn out results. They showed belief and an ability to score when it counted with that late Hanrahan try in Perpignan and moments like that could well be used as reference points for the younger squad members if things don’t go to plan during this game. Having written off Toulouse as a fading empire there is always the risk of eating humble pie but just don’t see them winning away in such a contest.

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Dave Foley, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 John Ryan, 18 Alan Cotter, 19 Donncha O’Callaghan, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Gerhard van den Heever.

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Luke McAlister,, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Joe Tekori, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Yohan Montes, 2 Christopher Tolofua, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Cyril Baille , 19 Romain Millo-Chluski, 20 Gillian Galan, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Lionel Beauxis, 23 Clement Poitrenaud.









Clermont vs Leicester

Leicester once went 57 games unbeaten at home in the league (between 1998-2002), so will appreciate the effort that gone into Clermont’s current run of 74 games at Stade Marcel Michelin.

Les Jaunards have won their last 59 home matches in Top 14 by an average score of 34-13 and 29/34 games at home in the Heineken Cup by 33-16. They’ve also won the last 2 home games against Leicester by scores of 40-30 and 30-12.

Since winning away at Munster in the 2006/7 season, Leicester have won 8/24 Heineken Cup trips, with 6 of those victories coming against Italian opposition. Beating Montpellier this campaign broke a run of 7 consecutive losses in France.

The visitors have needed to cope with a large injury list this season but as with other years are starting to hit form at just the right time of the season. They scored 40 points against Newcastle and Exeter in the league in recent weeks and followed that up with an away win at rivals Northampton.

Earlier in the campaign the attack did look a bit blunt – take the 52 carries for 211m at home vs London Irish (who made 152 runs for 529m) as an example. That can be explained by the number of different midfield combinations they had to use which meant little continuity between games. Having Goneva and Tuilagi in the same backline now means there is not only a good chance of beating the first few tacklers but also the chance to suck in defenders and exploit space elsewhere. It won’t be a coincidence that the side looks better with Allen back either.

When things weren’t going well, Tigers still had the set-piece to fall back on and it is worth remembering they went away to Toulon last year and won penalties in the scrum. They did receive 2 yellow cards that match though and with 2 picked up at Northampton and 3 at Newcastle on their last 2 trips, they will have to be careful.

There have been a few changes this season that point to a new era for Leicester. Ed Slater was made captain in February and has put in some big shifts. Considering there are former skippers such as Deacon and Crane still playing regularly, it shows the regard that the management must have for Slater. His predecessor in that role, Toby Flood announced he was leaving for Toulouse, which has meant Owen Williams has been given a run of starts at 10, while back up Ryan Lamb fell out of favour after breaking his hand and moved to Worcester. Richard Cockerill has spoken in the build-up about his time at Clermont and the similarities between the two sides. Specifically, the idea that at both teams, a player either fully buys into the culture or he leaves. The contrasting treatment of Slater and Lamb may sum that up.

Clermont’s style is well established and based around power and pace. Looking at their pool games they carried for an average of 498m and kicked from hand just 18 times. (That kicking stat is actually inflated by the 2 games they played in wet conditions – they only kicked 10 times at home vs Quins and 14 vs Scarlets). When they are confident and have momentum there aren’t many sides that can live with them so big winning margins at home have become common. Over the last few seasons, they’ve probably been at their best when Rougerie and Vosloo have been able to offload to the powerful carriers.

The hosts have been guilty of being a bit one-dimensional though and if an opponent can remain within a score going into the final quarter of a game, they have often shown fragility. Bar a big win over Montpellier (despite having Parra sent off), they have looked a bit under par in the last 8 or so league matches. They are without Vosloo, Byrne and Sivivatu – 3 starters from the final last season and that means Buttin, Nakaitaci and Chouly get the nod. Nakaitaci has only featured for 220 minutes in the competition over the past 3 seasons while Chouly is a number 8 playing at 7. It is all relative with Clermont but those are areas that can be targeted. Fritz Lee has made an impact since signing but had 3 turnovers / 3 penalties conceded away at Quins and has picked up a couple of yellow cards in the league recently.

When the referee appointments were made, there was a negative reaction from some Leicester fans when they learnt Rolland would be the official .He did sin-bin 2 players (Chuter and Tuilagi) in the 30-12 defeat at this venue in the 2011/12 season and incidents like that or the long-range penalty try for a collapsed maul against Treviso in 2012/13 do stick in the mind of supporters.

His interpretation of the ruck may well suit the visitors though. Clermont scored 15 points in last year’s Heineken cup final with Rolland in charge and 16 points away at Harlequins this season when officiated by John Lacey (45% of his ruck penalties for tackler player not releasing so a similar ref to Rolland). Those games weren’t played at fortress Stade Marcel Michelin and Clermont do score less points away, but the likes of Salvi may find a bit of latitude when it comes to slowing down the hosts.

Leicester have 3 wins, 2 draws and a loss from their last 6 Heineken Cup matches refereed by Alain Rolland. The defeat was that 30-12 result at Clermont. Clermont have beaten Leicester and Saracens in Europe with him in charge but lost the Final last year against Toulon.

There is usually an accusation that Rolland favours the French side against the English team in these fixtures. In the last 16 English / French matches he has officiated in the Heineken Cup, the English teams have won 8 with 1 draw. Of greater relevance to this match should be the idea that he is very strict on the ball carrier not releasing.

After Saracens vs Toulon last year which was reffed by Rolland, beaten coach Mark McCall said – “it would be interesting to see how many penalties were given away by the attacking team..it seemed to be an extraordinary amount.”

Would expect an ‘average’ referee to give roughly 30% of their ruck penalties for tackler not rolling away and 30% for tackled player not releasing. As an example, in this year’s Heineken Cup – Wayne Barnes is 32% / 29% and Nigel Owens 24% / 24%. However, Alain Rolland penalises the tackler only 17% and the ball carrier 41%.

Looking at knockout matches with Rolland in charge, the Blues drew 26-26 with Leicester in 2008/9, USAP beat Toulon 29-25 in 2010/11 and Clermont won 3-22 at Saracens in 2011/12. The home side won 4/5 games in the pool stages this year and he handed out 3 cards. Over a longer run of European matches it is 30 cards in 33 contests.

Assistant referee George Clancy interprets the breakdown in a similar way to Rolland in that he is far harsher on ball carrier releasing than tackler rolling away. If he stays to form, David Wilkinson will be keeping an eye on players off feet at the ruck, offsides and collapsing in the scrum. Would have him down as a referee likely to suggest a yellow card if asked too.

Took the +14 for Tigers a few weeks ago but would still be interested in the handicap even though it has dropped to +11/+10 since the Northampton win. Players such as T Youngs, Slater and Salvi will get stuck into the big Clermont pack and whilst there is a school of thought that suggests they should look to match Clermont’s attacking style, think they could instead take heed of how Toulon won their knockout games with Rolland as referee last year. There is a good chance Clermont will become frustrated if the ball carrier is continually penalised and if Leicester can maintain discipline there will be opportunities to strike through Goneva and Tuilagi. Those old clichés of slowing down the tempo and trying to keep the crowd quiet are relevant here and if they can make it a battle of wills going into the final few minutes, there is chance of an upset.

Clermont: 15 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Aurelien Rougerie (c), 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Clément Ric, 19 Julien Piere, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Thierry Lacrampe, 22 Mike Delany, 23 Benson Stanley.

Leicester: 15 Matthew Tait, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 AnthonyAllen, 11 Niki Goneva, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Ed Slater (c), 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 David Mele, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Scott Hamilton.




Ulster vs Saracens

A rematch of last year’s quarter-final sees Mark McCall return to Ulster. He was Ulster club captain for their 1998/9 Heineken Cup winning season (but missed the final through injury) and later coached the side for 3 years. He returns to a rebuilt Ravenhill, looking to knock out his old team for a successive year.

Saracens do things differently and the trips to New York, Miami, Hamburg etc are part of a wider culture based on the players working for each other and personal development, instead of the usual win orientated system.That culture has proved successful and they are on course for a successive Premiership 1st place, having won 16/18 games so far and have reached the Heineken Cup QF stage for a third year in a row.

For the hosts it may be a case of ‘now or never’. They’ve lost a Pro 12 semi-final and final to Leinster in 2011 and 2013, away quarter finals in this competition to Saints and Saracens in 2011 and 2013 and the final – again against Leinster, in 2012. Players such as Afoa and Court are leaving and captain Muller retiring so it is a last chance for this particular group to win the trophy. Having secured their first home quarter-final since 1998/9 and with a home semi-final the reward if they win, they have put themselves in a good position.

Ulster have won 40/57 home games in the Heineken Cup by an average score of 23-16 and 17 of the last 18 by an average score of 25-11. They have also won 13 of their last 16 games in the league by an average score of 22-13 and 8/9 at home by 27-13.

Sarries have won 4/5 previous matches with Ulster, with the most recent being the QF last year at Twickenham. They had approx. 33% possession and territory that game, kicked from hand 36 times and had to make 150 tackles. They still back their defence but this season has seen an improvement in their attack and they have scored 507 points in 18 league games, compared to 418 at this stage last year.

Ulster have won their 3 previous Heineken Cup games with referee Garces in charge and all 3 were against English opposition. Saracens have also won their 3 most recent matches with him officiating. Garces has given 5 cards in the 5 pool games this season and 25 in 28 matches overall.

When Saracens beat Ulster 27-16 at this stage last year, there were 62 kicks combined from hand. With Ulster averaging 29 kicks a game this season it may well be the case their meeting this week also sees a high number of balls booted. The choice of referee could play a part in that too. Garces awards the majority of his ruck penalties for the ball carrier not releasing but in contrast to a ref like Rolland, he also pings the tackler frequently for not rolling away. On paper that doesn’t favour a flowing game and a team may deem that avoiding the contact area is preferable.

Assistant Marchat is strict on collapsing and standing up in the scrum, side entry at mauls, offside and obstruction. Raynal’s main targets are the scrum (collapsing, whipping, prop boring in and early engagement and maul.

The hosts won all 6 of their pool games but will also be aware that the last 2 sides to achieve that feat – Harlequins and Munster, went on to lose their home quarter-finals. Ulster were the team that knocked Munster out in 2012 with a huge defensive effort (187 tackles). Ferris played a key role in that win and his return from injury this season along with the Best, Bowe, Marshall, Tuohy and Pienaar means the hosts go into this contest at almost full strength.

Surprisingly, a top seed has only won the tournament once (and that was Toulouse in the first one) but been knocked out at home at the QF stage 7 times. The 2nd seed has 7 cup wins and 2 home QF exits and 3rd seed 6 cup wins and 3 losing QFs. It may be the pressure of being top seed has an effect or perhaps a team that ends up with most points / tries after the pool stages has had an easier route to the knock out stages.

It will be interesting to see how last year’s game influences this one. Ulster put on a tactical kicking master class at Montpellier in round 2, in a result that went slightly under the radar due to Cardiff Blues beating Toulon the same day. The hosts also found joy with their strong kick-chase against Leicester in the 2 meetings. They may feel they carried too much in last season’s contest against Saracens for little reward and will be aware they cannot make a similar start.

Saracens have only conceded 74 points this campaign and Ulster 62 so it could take something special to break either aggressive defence. Vunipola and Williams are capable of smashing through and offloading but think it may come down to a kicking duel and would have to go with the returning Pienaar at home, just.
Ulster 1-12 at 2.38.

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Roger Wilson, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Stephen Ferris, 21 Robbie Diack, 22 Paul Marshall, 23 Craig Gilroy.

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Billy Vunipola, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 James Johnston, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 Kelly Brown, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Wyles.



Toulon vs Leinster

Only Leicester and Leinster have won back to back Heineken Cups and if Toulon are to join that list they will need to beat a side pushing for their 5th European trophy in 6 years. After winning the 2012 final, Brian O’Driscoll stated “After we won the first (2009) we talked about not being content with that… We’re now trying to create some kind of dynasty and something to be remembered.” Toulon will be driven by a similar incentive. The retirements of Wilkinson and O’Driscoll will also bring plenty of hype and emotion that will need to be managed.

The Stade Felix-Mayol has proved an intimidating venue for opposition teams and Toulon have won 45 of the last 50 league games there, by an average score of 32-13. They have also won all 10 home Heineken Cup matches by an average score of 38-17. Scores of 62-10 against Brive, 43-10 against Montpellier and 64-10 over Oyonnax show what the side are capable of when they are on a roll. On the other hand, they conceded 20 or more points in each of their 3 home pool games and in 3 of the last 5 league matches. One of those games was a 21-22 defeat by Grenoble and would think coach Bernard Jackman has passed on a few bits of advice to his former side.

Last season Toulon won their Heineken quarter-final by 21-15 and semi-final 12-24 – with all the points coming from Wilkinson’s boot. Looking at their previous knockout games, that has been a feature. They scored 1 try through the QF,SF and F of the 2011/12 Top 14 season with the other 39 points being penalties from Wilkinson or Giteau. In the same season, they beat Toulouse 32-29 in an Amlin Cup semi with 1 try and 27 points from Wilkinson and lost the final to Brive by 21-18 (5 Wilkinson penalties and a drop goal). That approach to big games is perhaps similar to their away mentality in this competition – they’ve won 5 of the last 7 on the road by an average score of 13-16.

Leinster have 13 wins and 2 draws from their last 21 away matches in the Heineken Cup, with an average score of 15-22. They have outscored teams 2nd half on 9 of their last 10 trips. Since losing at Wasps in round 5 of the 2008/9 season, their away losses have all been in France – Toulouse SF 2009/10, Clermont rd 3 2010/11 and Clermont round 3 2012/13. In the past they too have been capable of playing a tighter game if required away.

After the 6Nations there is often a tricky period , where returning players have to fit back into club rugby, remembering calls etc. Northampton and Stade Francais would be 2 examples of that at the moment. It may be different for these teams though – Toulon had just 3 players in action which has meant very little disruption. Leinster had 17 players involved with Ireland so most of the group have been together over the last few months and will be boosted by that tournament win.

Both sides have a great amount of experience with 1120 International caps combined in the starting line ups (Toulon 551 and 804 including bench, Leinster 569 and 706 including bench). Toulon backed their scrum and disciplined defence last year when it came to the knockout stages last year and in Wilkinson have a player able to put them in the right places. Michalak may have sparked the attack last week but he isn’t in the squad for this match. The hosts are without Sheridan, Botha, Williams, Masoe and van Niekerk. Like with the Clermont absentees, there are still good players stepping into their place but Bruni and Mikautadze won’t being the same aura as Botha and Masoe for opponents or reassurance for team mates.

Before the teams were announced, the thought was that Leinster may aim to move around that big Toulon pack so Gopperth for Madigan might be a slight surprise. The former Newcastle fly-half started the 4 games against Castres and Ospreys in the pool stages but his last league start was February against the Cardiff Blues (he played 8 minutes off the bench at the end of the 27-0 win over Zebre 2 week ago). Leinster have scored an average of 34 points in the 5 games he has started with Reddan this season though. His game management and 2 tries against Castres may have sealed his starting place for this game (the 7 missed tackles perhaps a concern that game) and there is the option of bringing on Madigan against a tiring defence.

Referee Barnes was in charge of 2 Toulon away losses in 2010/11 and their home win over Montpellier in 2012/3. Since the 2009/10 season, Leinster have beaten Scarlets, Clermont and the Ospreys and lost to Clermont twice with him as referee.

The home team won 2/4 pool games with Barnes as referee this campaign and 3 cards were given. He has handed out 26 in 33 games going back to 2008/9 season. That is down from his usual average of 2 a game in the Premiership and it is noticeable he gives less maul penalties in the Heineken Cup than he does in the Prem but more at the scrum. The offence of standing up is something he has been specifically strict on this campaign and he tends to give his scrum penalties in the last 30 minutes and in a team’s 22. He was in charge of Leinster when they won a few scrums against the head against Ospreys in round 1

Assistant Greg Garner gave 12 cards in 6 pool stage games and has been strict on high tackles and offside this season. He was in charge of Toulon’s home games against Glasgow and Cardiff Blues this year and gave 3 penalty tries against the visitors in the latter match, so may have a preconception that Toulon have the dominant scrum. Leinster lost 3/7 scrums on own ball when he took charge of their game in round 2, but then again Castres lost 5/13 themselves. The Irish side were only penalised 4 times that game. Luke Pearce gave a high number of ruck penalties in the Heineken Cup this year and seems to be hot on offside and taking the man in the air at the lineout.

Matt O’Connor prepared Leicester for an away trip to Toulon at this stage last season and saw his side lose a close one. The visitors conceded a total of 12 points during the 2 periods they had a player in the sin bin and the losing margin was 6 points. Leinster have showed confidence, discipline and an ability to chase down a deficit without panicking in away games over the past few seasons. Am happy with the +5 on handicap and the 2.88 for an away win.

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 David Smith, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Sebastian Tillous-Borde, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Danie Roussouw, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Xavier Choicci
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Virgile Bruni, 20 Bryan Habana, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Michael Claassens, 23 Konstantine Mikautadze

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Leo Cullen, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Zane Kirchner

Amlin Cup Quarter-Finals 2014

Sale vs Northampton

Sale have won 6/9 home league games this season by an average score of 19-13 and 6 of their last 7 league matches at all venues by 18-13. They have led at halftime in those 7 games and 14/18 matches overall.

The Sharks beat Northampton 19-6 a couple of weeks ago and then won away 11-12 at Bath. In the last few seasons they conceded 596, 538, 618, and 495 points so 296 points after 18 games is a great improvement and Mike Forshaw’s work there has to be seen as a big success.

Saints lost the LV Cup final at Exeter and then consecutive league matches against Sale and old rivals Leicester last weekend. They have been without Myler and Manoa in the last 2 weeks and lost Hartley after 32 minutes against Leicester.

Both teams have made plenty of changes from that 22nd March meeting, with only Arscott and Gaskell starting again for the hosts. Saints have Foden,Wilson, Hooley, Dickson and van Velze starting again. Those changes do make assessing the game a tougher prospect, but would prefer the +3 for the hosts and the 1-12 margin at 3.1.

There have been 18 cards in the last 12 league games between Sale & Northampton and 2 when they played in round 17. 2 or more cards have been shown in 5 of the last 7 Prem games between the teams. Romain Poite has given 47 cards in 36 Heineken Cup matches with at least 1 card in 29/36 matches. In the Top 14 season he has given out 29 in 14 matches, with 2 or more cards in 9/14 games. Have backed 2 or more cards at 2.75

He is quite lenient on the tackler not rolling away which may allow both sides to slow down attacks. Poite has reputation of taking an interest in the scrums and does award a higher than average number of penalties there both in the Top 14 and Heineken Cup. Collapsing, boring in and early engagement are all high on the list of offences he usually pings. It is unlikely he would permit the same number of scrum resets with Sale that Dean Richards did last week at Bath. That may assist with the card betting as could the assistants Patterson and Fitzgibbon who both give plenty of cards in both Pro 12 and European matches.

Sale Sharks: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Andy Forsyth, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Rob Miller, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Viliami Fahiki, 7 Mark Easter, 6 James Gaskell (capt), 5 Kirill Kulemin, 4 Andrei Ostrikov, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Aston Croall, 18 Tony Buckley, 19 Jonathan Mills, 20 Michael Paterson, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Phil Mackenzie.

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 James Wilson, 12 Tom Stephenson, 11 Fa’atoina Autagavaia, 10 Will Hooley, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze, 7 Ben Nutley, 6 Phil Dowson (c), 5 James Craig, 4 Sam Dickinson, 3 Tom Mercey, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Ethan Waller.
Replacements: 16 Matti Williams, 17 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Christian Day, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Dom Waldouck, 23 Jamie Elliott.








Stade Francais vs Quins

Quins won this competition in 2010/11 with a 76th minute converted try against Stade Francais and famously beat the same opponent late on in the Heineken Cup in 2008/9, with an Evans drop goal after 30 odd phases of play.

They have won away at Munster, Toulouse, Leicester, Racing Metro etc in recent seasons so the prospect of an away trip will not intimidate the side and conversely some of their better performances have come on the road.

After a strong start to the Top 14 season, Stade Francais have faltered with 1 win in the last 6 matches. They are now 8th and in danger of missing the post-season, given the side above them Bordeaux-Begles have a game in hand (playing tonight). The Parisians won 5/5 league games before the 6Nations and conceded just 30 points. In the 6 matches since, they have conceded 157 points. Allowing for the point that the winning run had 4/5 home games, it does appear they are either running out of steam or that the International break disrupted their momentum.

Looking at the hosts team selection for this match, it seems the focus is firmly on getting a top 6 finish in the league. Allowing for injuries, the following are missing from the starting XV – Van der Mewe , Slimani ,Attoub ,Flanquart , Pape , Lavalla ,Burban , Parisse, Dupuy ,Plisson, Ioane , Bosman, Doumayrou ,Nayacavelu , Arias, Bonneval, Porical. Just 3 players remain from the team that played against Racing Metro last weekend and the average Top 14 minutes played for the side is approx. 450 or equivalent of just 5/6 games. It is a contrast with this stage last season when a change of coach and attitude saw them go to Bath and really chuck it about with Parisse, Bonneval etc starring.

Quins have lost their 4 most recent away games in the league, however in the Heineken Cup they have 7 wins from their last 9 trips and picked up a creditable losing bonus point away at Clermont in October despite missing a number of usual starters.

The only other time that Turner-Hall and Molenaar have started together was the 11-10 win over Wasps. It is perhaps a more direct combo than Quins would normally use but that may be no bad thing with Williams in the opposition midfield. There has been a reaction to the Stade team from the bookies with an early price of 2.1 for the visitors cut to around 1.4 and a +2 handicap becoming -6. Having missed that early price am going to avoid the main lines now and instead go for Quins 1-12 at 2.75.

Hodges was the referee when Quins won in Nantes against Racing Metro in the Heineken Cup. He is pretty strict on the offence of players off feet at the ruck and in the Pro 12 – the tackler not rolling away. The home side has won 7/9 matches in the Pro 12 with him in charge but 3/11 in Heineken Cup (last 2 seasons). Would normally be interested in cards when a French and England team are meeting but Hodges seems to be ‘all or nothing’ – e.g. 6 cards in Italy vs Fiji compared to the reluctance to issue a red for the stamp in Saracens vs Connacht.

Brown is 3.25 anytime scorer and may have a look at Care 1st tryscorer at 13.0

Stade Français: 15 Peter Lydon, 14 Richard Kingi, 13 Paul Williams, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Djibril Camara, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Clement Daguin, 8 David Lyons 7 Olivier Missoup, 6 Nicolas Garrault, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Gerhard Mostert, 3 Davit Kubriashvili, 2 Laurent Sempéré (c), 1 Zurabi Zhvania.
Replacements:16 Michael Van Vuuren, 17 Romain Frou, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Anton van Zyl, 20 Pierre Rabadan, 21 Vincent Mallet, 22 Adrea Cocagi, 23 Julien Arias

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Ollie Lindsay-Hague, 13 Tim Molenaar, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (C), 6 Luke Wallace, 5 George Robson, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dave Ward, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 George Merrick, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Paul Sackey.





Bath vs Brive

These sides met 3 times back in the 1997/8 Heineken Cup season with Bath winning the final thanks to 19 points scored by Jon Callard. The hosts have since won this trophy – in the 2007/8 season, but also been eliminated from plenty of tournaments. Their last 5 Premiership knockout matches have ended in defeat, and they have exited the Anglo-Welsh cup at the semi-final stage in the last 3 years. Stade Francais won 20-36 here last year at this stage too.

The hosts are 4th in the Premiership and had won 12 games in all competitions by the end of February. However they have since lost 10-23 to Saracens and 11-12 to Sale in the league and 19-22 against Exeter in the LV Cup semi-final.

Brive have lost 10 league away games this season , and have a draw at Grenoble. That does include losing bonus points at Racing Metro, Stade Francais, Clermont, Bordeaux, Bayonne and USAP. They have opted to rest most of their regular starters though which means Bath are 23 point favourites, with a repeat of this season’s 54-13 against a 2nd string Bordeaux-Begles perhaps in the mind.

There have been 27 cards shown in the last 10 Brive league matches and 12 cards in the last 3. Only 2/23 of their Top 14 matches have seen no cards and their 11 league away matches have seen 2 or more cards 9 times. That includes a match with 6 yellows at Montpellier, 4 yellows and a red at Grenoble and 3 yellows / 3 reds recently at Castres. Whilst they have been resting their main players in European competition, there were also 2 or more cards in 5/6 of their Amlin Cup games this season.

Have backed a Brive card at 1.91, 2 or more Brive cards at 4.5, a red at 19.0 and 1st red to be Brive at 31.0.  Bath have only received 4 cards in the Premiership so prefer to back away cards than total cards.

Referee John Lacey is very strict on the ball carrier not releasing after being tackled with an average of approx 4 penalties a game in the Heineken Cup and 5 in the Pro 12 for that offence. The home side has won 2/7 games with him in charge in the Pro 12 and 2/5 in the Heineken Cup this season and his interpretation of the breakdown may be a factor in that.

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Matt Banahan, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Semesa Rokoduguni, 10 George Ford, 9 Micky Young, 8 Carl Fearns, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 David Attwood (c), 4 Dominic Day, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nathan Catt.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Paul James, 18 David Wilson, 19 Stuart Hooper, 20 Leroy Houston, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Kyle Eastmond, 23 Anthony Watson.

Brive: 15 Laurent Ferreres, 14 Venione Voretamaya, 13 Baptiste Delage, 12 Thomas Laranjeira, 11 Sevanaia Galala, 10 Romain Sola, 9 Thomas Sanchou (c), 8 Kieran Murphy, 7 Fabien Laurent, 6 Apisai Naikatini, 5 Simon Pinet, 4 Julien Le Devedec, 3 Johannes Coetzee, 2 Louis Acosta, 1 Damien Lavergne.
Replacements: 16 Goderzi Shvelidze, 17 Tamato Leupolu, 18 Yusuf Tuncer, 19 Victor Lebas, 20 Hugues Briatte, 21 Romain Kusiolek, 22 Andrew Mailei, 23 Anderson Neisen.

Adapt or Die

If you are the coach of the away team, you like a Frenchman refereeing..”.

A view expressed by Sir Ian McGeechan in his Telegraph column before the March 9th Six Nations game between England and Wales.

What they are generally good at is dealing with the technical details of the game, and they will look at them from both points of view”.

His opinion was a referee like Steve Walsh (who was in charge of the fixture the previous year) went with the momentum of matches, whereas the official appointed for this particular game – Romain Poite would be more focussed on technicalities.

It was Sir Ian’s belief that the choice of this referee would specifically benefit the visitors’ scrum, however Welsh prop Gethin Jenkins was penalised 3 times for boring in and sin-binned on the 53rd minute. Afterwards the Welsh coaching staff suggested that Jenkins had been “singled out” by the referee.

Opta stats prove that Monsieur Poite awards the 2nd most scrum penalties in the Top 14 with 7.1 a game and that his rate of 1.1 penalties a match for a prop boring in is over double the 0.5 average for not only his league but also the Premiership and Pro 12. Rather than singling out a particular player, his refereeing of the scrum and specifically the offence of boring in was in line with his usual performance.

Professionalism has increased the expectation levels of referee performances from coaches, fans and the media. The officials now have a higher profile and it is not uncommon to see a referee praised publically in the build up to a match, with Warren Gatland’s heralding of Craig Joubert as the “number one referee in the world” during the Lions tour serving as an example.

A coach or player may also take the opportunity to offer some helpful advice pre-game through the media. Recently Stormers coach Allister Coetzee and captain Jean de Villiers expressed a concern that the Chiefs may hold onto players off the ball and warned if it wasn’t handled by the ref then the players would deal with it instead.

After the game, an unhappy coach may state he is seeking ‘clarification’ from the head of referees over certain decisions – see Graham Rowntree in 2013 after Wales beat England and Robin McBryde this year after England beat Wales.

The referees may not conduct post-match interviews to explain decision or reply to the criticism, but they are certainly accountable. After a series of notable refereeing errors in this current Super Rugby season, SANZAR Game Manager Lyndon Bray acted last week by dropping 3 referees from their appointments and cited a desire for strong accountability and transparency.

It is of course very easy to be wise after the event, but knowing which offences a referee may be strict or lenient on before the game and adapting is surely preferable to deflecting attention away from a loss and onto the official after the final whistle.



Using the 4 officials chosen for the upcoming Heineken Cup Quarter-finals – Wayne Barnes, Jerome Garces, Nigel Owens and Alain Rolland, here are some examples of different refereeing styles.

Firstly the match averages for penalties awarded in the Heineken Cup, Pro 12, Premiership and Top 14 may give a general idea of how games are refereed across the competitions.

Average Pens - per comp

(Note – ignoring any referees that had officiated less than 4 matches)

It is noticeable the Heineken Cup and Pro 12 are very similar for most categories. Given the importance placed on the scrum in French rugby (‘pas de melée, pas de victoire’ – no scrum, no win) it may not be a surprise to see a higher number of penalties awarded there, while the same could be said for lineouts and mauls in the English game. It can also be seen that penalties for foul play and those awarded to the defending team are higher in the Top 14 and Premiership.

Whilst the same rulebook is used for the different competitions there will also be accepted standards, different directives and a style for each league. What may be deemed a yellow card in the Pro 12 may only be a telling off in the Top 14, for example. By Premiership terms, Wayne Barnes is very much ‘the Yellow King’, handing out an average of 1.9 yellow cards a game but that drops to 0.8 in European competition, which is line with the 1.0 average.

Below are the average match penalties from just the 4 referees appointed for the Quarter-Finals, with both their Heineken Cup and domestic league shown.

Avg pens - HCup QF Refs

In the Premiership, Wayne Barnes awards a high 4.3 maul penalties a game (2.1 for collapsing the maul, 2.0 for side entry and 0.2 for obstruction). As highlighted earlier that league does have a higher average of maul penalties compared to the rest, but given no other Premiership referee awards more than 2.8 a game then that would seem to be an area he is strict on.

His numbers for maul and penalties to defence decrease when in charge of a Heineken Cup match to roughly the average for that competition though. The same could be said for Jerome Garces, so it might be that some consideration is required when a Premiership or Top 14 referee is put in charge of a Heineken Cup game. That adds an extra element to the idea of players / teams adapting to the referee, as the official himself may have slightly changed from how he controls a game from his regular league.

Looking at the split of penalties between the 2 competitions for Wayne Barnes, there is consistency except for the maul and scrum.

Wayne Barnes percent pens

Barnes has awarded a minimum of 6 scrum penalties per Heineken Cup match this season and a team preparing for him this week would likely deem that of more significance than the low figure in Premiership games.

The breakdown of his scrum penalties are below and while the 46% for standing up initially looks big, it can partially be explained by 6 penalties in the round 4 Scarlets vs Clermont match. He did award 3 penalties for the offence in rounds 1 and 6 though. In the Premiership, Barnes is yet to award more than 2 penalties in a game for standing up. Again, a side seeking to adapt to his way of refereeing would need to take that difference on board.

Barnes scrum percent

Barnes gives 30% of his penalties inside a team’s 22 (the other 3 referees involved at this stage are at approx. 20%) and is more likely to award a late penalty compared to his contemporaries, with 16% occurring in the final 10 minutes. A defensive scrum in the closing stages of a game with him as referee may therefore give more cause for concern than with another individual.

Having pointed out that the Pro 12 and Heineken Cup have a similar number of average penalties across the different offences, it can be seen that Nigel Owens is consistent in both competitions too. A team wishing to do their homework on the Welsh referee could therefore make a safe assumption that there is likely to be a relatively low penalty count.

With less ruck penalties awarded a game, they may decide that there is an opportunity to really compete at the breakdown as this official may let more go. Owens gives just 9% of his penalties in the final 10 minutes of games and that perhaps back up anecdotal evidence that he isn’t going to want one of his decisions to be the defining moment of a match.

Given the importance of the ruck / tackle area and how many penalties are conceded there, it is worth seeing how each referee officiates there.

percent of ruck penalties HCup QF refs

Bar a few exceptions, the referees are generally consistent between their domestic league and the Heineken Cup. The Top 14 does see a high number of ‘hands in ruck’ penalties (average of 1.5 a match) which goes some way to explaining the 20% for Jerome Garces and why it then drops when he takes control of a Heineken Cup match. Nigel Owens’ 18% in the Heineken Cup for that offence has been inflated due to 4 hands in ruck penalties given in a game involving a French side – Toulouse.

Of interest are the relatively high ‘tackled player not releasing’ stats from Jerome Garces and Alain Rolland. Rolland’s interpretation of the ruck may well suit a team happy to back their defence and slow down an attacking side – given he is less likely than most other officials to penalise a tackler for not rolling away and more likely to punish the ball carrier for not releasing. His 1.4 penalties a game for the tackler not rolling away is similar to Owens 1.5 for that offence, but there is a big difference in his 3.4 penalties for tackled player not releasing, compared to Owens 1.5.

Jerome Garces awards 53% of his penalties at the ruck and averages 4.6 penalties a game for the tackled player not releasing. In contrast to Rolland, he not only strictly polices the ball carrier but also the tackler – with 2.8 penalties a match for not rolling away. A team may look to employ a higher number of kicks from hand than usual to avoid the risk of being penalised at the breakdown with him in charge.

Those sides that plan for a particular referee’s interpretations and can make adjustments during a game will be at an advantage this weekend. Those that don’t may find themselves out the tournament and seeking clarification for rulings after the event

During the 2011 Rugby World Cup, South Africa flanker Schalk Burger said “Every ref’s got his own style, every ref is different…. You’ve got to adapt or die I suppose”.

[All referee stats in article provided by Opta]