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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Munster and Connacht can stay on winning trail

Physical workout in store for Saints

Tyler Bleyendaal (making the break) is at the controls for Munster
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Northampton v Castres
Sky Sports 1, 1pm Saturday

This game isn't quite a dead rubber as Castres, unlike the Saints, have a faint chance of reaching the quarter-finals, but even so they are likely to be more focused on finishing in the Top 14 playoffs.

They haven't sent a weak team but their pool results in this campaign have that classic French split - two home wins, two away defeats - and they have lost their last eight on the road in Europe since edging Glasgow 9-6 in December 2012.

Northampton's shaky start to the season hit a low last month with defeat at rivals Leicester then two pastings at the hands of Leinster. But they have won three in a row since then to squeeze into the top half of the Premiership table, and given they have a tough trip to Montpellier next week and after slowly building some confidence they won't want it dented too badly.

Castres may not hit the heights on the road but they are obdurate and physical and the Saints may have to work hard for a win.

Recommendation
Northampton to win by one to 12 points
1pt 8-5 Betway

Round two: Castres 41 Northampton 7. 2013-14 pool stage: Castres 19 Northampton 13, Northampton 13 Castres 3; 2012-13 pool stage: Castres 21 Northampton 16, Northampton 18 Castres 12; 2011-12 pool stage: Castres 41 Northampton 22, Northampton 45 Castres 0; 2010-11 pool stage: Northampton 18 Castres 14, Castres 12 Northampton 23.


Connacht v Zebre
Sky Sports 2, 1pm Saturday

Connacht's win over Wasps last month has put Pool Two on a knife-edge with three teams level on 13 points, and the Irish side know they must grab a bonus-point win with a hatful of tries against the Italian whipping boys.

Zebre have shipped an average of 56 points a game, and given that Connacht piled 52 on them in Italy in round two, a 32-point handicap looks too low.

Connacht rarely cut loose at home in the Pro12 but they saw off Zebre's fellow Italians Treviso 47-8 last month, and while strong winds may be a factor, clear, sunny conditions are forecast in the west of Ireland.

A tricky trip to Toulouse is in store next week so Connacht know they have to make a big impact in their final pool home match.

Recommendation
Connacht -32
3pts 10-11 Betfair, Coral

Round two: Zebre 7 Connacht 52.


Wasps v Toulouse
BT Sport 2, 3.15pm Saturday

This should be the game of the day as the might of the Toulouse pack take on the pace and flair of the Wasps backline.

Wasps came under huge pressure in the set-piece against Leicester last week, especially in the second half, and although they held on for victory Toulouse will surely be encouraged at the number of penalties the hosts gave up at the scrum.

Against that Wasps have the speed to keep those bulky Toulouse forwards and with the array of accomplished kickers in their backline - Danny Cipriani, Jimmy Gopperth, Elliot Daly, Kurtley Beale - we should see plenty of balls in behind the Toulouse defence to turn them around and take them on for pace.

If it comes to a footrace, Wasps winger Christian Wade would fancy his chances against anyone and he looks generously priced for the first try.

 

Recommendation
C Wade to score first try
1pt 15-2 Betfair, Paddy Power

Round two: Toulouse 20 Wasps 20. 2010-11 pool stage: Toulouse 18 Wasps 16, Wasps 21 Toulouse 16.


Glasgow v Munster
Sky Sports 2, 5.30pm Saturday

Glasgow were blown away at Thomond Park in round two by a Munster side riding on a wave of emotion following the funeral of coach Anthony Foley the day before.

The Scottish side have run up some impressive scores at home in European competition, including big wins over Leicester and Racing 92 this season, but Munster are so focused and on such a strong run that they look the value at odds-against.

Munster's only defeat since their win over Glasgow was down to a 50-yard last-minute penalty at Leicester in round four and although they have the safety net of a home tie against winless Racing next week, the incentive of securing a quarter-final place is sure to fire them on.

Glasgow's pace did for Munster in the Pro12 final two seasons ago, when the Warriors ran out 31-13 winners, but the Irish outfit are forewarned about the dangers and will surely go out to impose themselves physically.

Recommendation
Munster
2pts 11-10 general

Round two: Munster 38 Glasgow 17.


Racing 92 v Leicester
BT Sport 2, 7.45pm Saturday

The two names at the top of the Pool One betting at the outset were 8-11 Racing and 16-5 Leicester, but both have fallen well short of expectations.

Runners-up last year, Racing have failed to garner a single point, while heavy defeats at Glasgow and Munster must have counted heavily in the Leicester board's decision to part company with director of rugby Richard Cockerill.

The Tigers players are at least playing for their stand-in coach Aaron Mauger and if the split with Cockerill was, as suggested, down to the incompatibility of Mauger's favoured running game against the traditional Leicester pack-power championed by Cockerill, we should start seeing more from the Leicester backline.

It's not a game to go mad on though as neither side are likely to be truly committed to the cause and the best wager might be to bet on a high points make-up when prices become available.

Round two: Leicester 27 Racing 17. 2015-16 semi-final: Leicester 16 Racing 19.

This should be the game of the day as the might of the Toulous pack take on the pace and flair of the Wasps backline
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