Paddy Power gives us the odds for the four provinces in action in Europe this weekend and a free bet for new customers.
OSPREYS v MUNSTER
These two side served up a good old-fashioned belter when they met at Thomond Park last Sunday and thankfully we don’t have to wait too long for another helping. Munster finally came out on top of a topsy-turvy match and that result has huge significance for this game.
Anything other than a win and the Ospreys will head into the New Year with little more than a couple of Heineken Cup dead rubbers to look forward to, whilst victory will ensure they remain in the frame for progress.
The need for the hosts to gain the upperhand could play into Munster’s gameplan. The Welsh side will try to use their attacking talent to dictate a strong tempo, but with Munster’s famed ability to box clever, they could leave themselves open to some counter-attacking.
Although the Ospreys can take heart from the losing bonus point they took from the trip to Limerick to the identikit Munster victory. It won’t be easy, but 17/10 for a Munster win looks worth the punt. Munster +5 at 10/11 always worth a punt too!
CONNACHT v HARLEQUINS
Not for the first time this season, Connacht came away with the plaudits but little in the way of points following a tricky away assignment last weekend. In the end, the 20-9 scoreline suggested Harlequins recorded a comfortable victory, but failed to convey the pressure and quality of performance from the westerners.
It says a lot about the progress the side have made under Eric Elwood that the head coach was far from satisfied with mere praise.
Wins are now expected and especially so at the Sportsground. Beating Harlequins in the return match is crucial if they are to keep alive their chances of progressing to the knockout stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Elwood has bemoaned the lack of a cutting edge and the stage looks set for winger Fionn Carr to shine. He turns 25 on Friday and although the more pressing matter of a win will be his main concern, crossing the try-line would be a nice way to celebrate his birthday.
Carr is 10/1 to score the first try of the match and is 11/4 to score a try at any stage in the 80 minutes. Carr could be crucial in Connacht’s attempts to get back into contention in Pool 1.
ULSTER v BATH
Ulster’s defeat of Bath at Ravenhill last Saturday was potentially worth far more than the four points they earned for it. They showed character and spirit that will stand them in good stead for the visit to the Rec.
Combined with Biarritz Olympique’s shock defeat to Aironi, the result means Pool 4 is now wide open and winning in the West Country would leave the Ulstermen in a fantastic position to reach their first Heineken Cup quarter-final since claiming the trophy back in 1999.
Equally, although the pool looks more open, it would still take something remarkable for Bath to turn things around to the point where a quarter-final is a possibility.
A more pressing matter may be their domestic form which currently has them trailing the play-off contenders by some distance. With a punishing Christmas schedule looming large on the horizon, their thoughts may be elsewhere and Ulster could be well position to exploit it.
In short, a second successive win at the Rec is possible for Ulster. Bath are amongst the lowest try and point scorers in the Aviva Premiership, so Ulster should be able to keep them close for large parts of the match.
If Ian Humphreys puts on another show of high class place-kicking, it may be enough to see them through a difficult test. Certainly backing Ulster at 9/5 would be worth looking at.
LEINSTER v CLERMONT AUVERGNE
Such are the standards they expect of themselves, Leinster aren’t satisfied with losing, be it at the home of the French champions or elsewhere. That said, they have a lot to be happy about.
Thanks to a losing bonus point at Stade Marcel Michelin and their exploits in the pool to date, it left them on top of the standings and masters of their own destiny. In front of the ferocious home fans, a depleted Leinster side pushed Clermont Auvergne all the way and they can take a lot of confidence into the return match.
The Leinster fans get their chance to show what they can do at the Aviva Stadium. A win would be nice, but a win with a bonus point or a win denying Vern Cotter’s side a bonus point would be ideal.
Anyone who saw the how close Clermont Auvergne came to upsetting the Blues at the RDS in last season’s quarter-final will know we can disregard the stereotype of the poor French travellers. They’ll really put it up to the hosts and only a strong performance will earn a crucial victory. A home win is vital and is almost guaranteed at 4/7.