European club rugby looks to be back on track. Relaxed Covid rules in France – rules that now allow travelers from the Uk to enter the country – means that matches involving Newcastle, Bath, and Sale that are all supposed to play on the continent can go ahead as planned.
Thant means – fingers crossed – a full slate of matches in Round 3. Here is a look at some of those games and a prediction as to how they will go.
Connacht VS Leicester Tigers – Galway Sportsgrounds, Galway
This is a big game. Connacht has never made it out of the pool stages of the Champions Cup in six previous attempts. A win here and a losing bonus point in a week on the road against Stade Francais should be enough to see them through.
The Tigers saw their 13 matches winning start to the season across all competitions fall at the weekend against Wasps. Steve Borthwick – nothing if not a student of the game – will know that he needs to get the Tigers back on track quickly to avoid undoing what has been an incredible state to the season.
This was a tight affair at Welford Road earlier in the pool stage. It took a mighty effort from the Leicester bench – especially a new front row anchored by Dan Cole – to push the Tigers over the line. They are 1.5 point favorites here and given that the Tigers just seem to know how to win I would take them minus the points to do a job in Ireland.
Cardiff VS Harlequins – Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff
Cardiff is finally starting to resemble the team we expect as their Covid nightmare finally starts to abate. They welcome back no less than six Wales internationals, with a number of their stars finally making their bows in European competition this season after their ill-fated trip to South Africa saw their team collapse from within.
Hallam Amos returns to the team at fullback, but perhaps the biggest news is that dynamic Welsh international Josh Adams will be back on the wing.
Harlequins are 6.5 point favorites here. It is a number that makes sense given the more settled look to their side. The combination of Danny Care and Marcus Smith at nine and 10 has been huge for ‘Quins and they are in great form having won five on the bounce including a 43-17 pasting of an admittedly depleted Cardiff side in Round 2. I expect ‘Quins to do the business here and win by at least a couple of tries. Take them -6.5 with BetXchange.
Northampton VS Ulster – Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
Ulster is 2.5 point favorite on the road in England in Round 3 against Northampton. The Ulstermen are very capable of winning and covering that line, but it will be made much more difficult without electric scrum-half John Cooney in the lineup.
Cooney – who has been unlucky not to earn more recognition at the international level – injured his calf in the first half of Ulster’s defeat at the hands of Munster last time out. James Hume has not yet been ruled out after he limped out of the same game with a hamstring problem, but his recovery is worth watching before betting this game. Ulster has a total of ten players out injured.
Northampton has all sorts of off-field issues at the moment. These include director of rugby Chris Boyd in hot water over a comment he made about the performance of referee Adam Leal in their most recent game. Boyd has also just been announced as returning to New Zealand after the season with his role being filled by current forwards coach Phil Dowson.
I think there is too much going on at Saints right now and like Ulter to cover even though they are not at full strength.