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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Holders Saracens can make up ground with big win

French raiders Clermont and Montpellier ready to make their mark

Saracens winger Liam Williams scores a try against Ospreys
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Ulster v La Rochelle
Sky Sports Action, 1pm Saturday

The swashbuckling attacking style of La Rochelle seemed to have been left behind in France when they capitulated fairly tamely at Wasps in round four but they can reassert themselves at the top of Pool One with a comfortable win in Belfast.

Ulster skipper Rory best has rallied his team to seize this big chance and put down a marker from the kick-off. But a strong Les Corsaires line-up look well placed to match them physically and if they can ride the initial wave, the hosts may have little more to give.

Ulster were poor in all their inter-pro derbies, losing heavily to Connacht and Leinster, and while they overcame Munster at home, they were trailing 17-0 when their opponents were reduced to 14 men. 

La Rochelle -2
3pts Evs Betway

Exeter v Montpellier
BT Sport 2, 3.15pm

Exeter's Premiership defeat at Newcastle last week and the return of some frontline players should surely fire them up but this could be a close-fought contest against a star-studded Montpellier side.

The Chiefs won the reverse fixture in France, fuelling suspicion that Montpellier are more interested in a Top 14 title challenge.

But the French side are handily placed with five bonus points from four games and with a home game to come against leaders Leinster in the final round. Another bonus point - or two - looks within their grasp and would leave them in the qualifying picture.

Montpellier +7
2pts 10-11 general

Harlequins v Wasps
Sky Sports Action, 5.30pm

It's hard to favour either team too strongly in this Stoop showdown as winless Quins are out of the running and Wasps have a lengthy injury list.

Wasps are understandably favourites as a win over their old rivals and at home to Ulster next week would put them in a decent qualifying position, but they don't appeal much at 1-3.

This could well be a high-scoring game though as Wasps will look to go on the attack and things could open up pretty quickly.

The back-three flyers are all fairly short prices to get on the scoresheet but Wasps number eight Nizaam Carr, who caught the eye with some barnstorming runs against Saracens last week, looks worth chancing.

N Carr to score a try
1pt 11-4 bet365

Northampton v Clermont
Sky Sports Arena, 5.30pm

Clermont are struggling in the Top 14 but have a perfect record in this competition, and although they were thrashed 58-6 at Racing 92 last week, the fact they make ten changes for this match with a host of big names returning tells you Europe is a prime target.

Northampton finally got a win on board after seven straight defeats in all competitions and that will have restored their flaky confidence under new coaching consultant Alan Gaffney.

But they were let off the hook by a wasteful Gloucester side, winning courtesy of a last-gasp penalty try, and this is a far tougher test against a Clermont team who have won at Saracens in this campaign and at Exeter last season.

Clermont don't have to go all out as they have a home game against Ospreys still to come, but a five-point handicap looks well within their compass.

Clermont -5
2pts 10-11 Betfair, Paddy Power

Ospreys v Saracens
BT Sport 3, 7.45pm

Saracens put all talk of a blip behind them with a towering performance at Wasps last weekend, and they are asked to concede a double-figure handicap at Ospreys.

The Welsh outfit have steadied their ship in terms of results after a poor start to the season, but recent performances have to be put in context.

Back-to-back wins over Northampton in Europe came either side of the sacking of Saints coach Jim Mallinder. And while they edged Cardiff by a single point last time out, they were gifted two of their tries. 

Half-back pair Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar were at their electrifying best in that victory over the Blues but they were able to work their magic in gaps that are highly unlikely to be there against a side as efficient and suffocating as Sarries.

The reigning back-to-back champions have to pull out all the stops to make up ground and they should make their mark.

Saracens to win by 11 to 20 points
1pt 3-1 Betfair

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Montpellier are handily placed with five bonus points from four games and with a home game to come against leaders Leinster
E.W. Terms
Sky bet