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European Champions Cup Predictions – Key Clashes of Round 2

After an exciting opening round, much will be revealed in the European Champions Cup this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

After an exciting opening round, much will be revealed in the European Champions Cup this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

Will the triumphant teams continue their winning starts to the 2021-22 tournament or will those who fell over the first hurdle make up ground and sprint over the finish line of the opening two-lap race?

We pick and preview the key clashes of the second round:

Ulster v Northampton Saints

Friday, 17 December – 22:00

We fittingly start things off with one of the two fixtures that’ll take place simultaneously on Friday night. We’re tipping the battle in Belfast to be the only showdown we selected to have a clear winner. The debuting Duane Vermeulen helped power Ulster to a hard-fought 29-23 win over Clermont Auvergne that carried more significance than simply starting the new campaign on a winning note.

It was the Irish outfit’s first European Champions Cup win in France since 2016 – the type of jump-start that’ll jolt Ulster to no end. Plus, after being stunned by the Ospreys in their last United Rugby Championship home game, there will be zero complacency on the part of Dan McFarland’s men.

The Saints were ripped to shreds by Racing 92 and to make matters worse, the Finn Russell and Kurtley Beale-led 45-14 lashing came at home. The strong possibility of Vermeulen going head-to-head with former Stormer Juarno Augustus and the presence of Courtnall Skosan, who dotted down one of Northampton’s two tries in the tournament opener, saw this clash being preferred to other expected lopsided encounters.

Prediction: Ulster by 21.

Suggested Bet: Ulster -14.5 at 1.84.

Sale Sharks v Clermont Auvergne

Saturday, 18 December – 17.15

Teams who had contrasting fortunes in Round One square off at the AJ Bell Stadium. On the opposite sides of minor upsets, the Springbok-laden Sharks scored a 21-13 away win over the Ospreys, while Clermont Auvergne suffered the aforementioned home loss to Ulster.

Bok duo Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Jean-Luc du Preez scored two of Sale’s three tries and the slew of South African internationals will be counted on once again to set the physical tone on home turf. Discipline will be crucial for both teams after they shot themselves in the foot in this department.

Sale conceded no less than 19 penalties and two yellow cards, Lood de Jager one of the men sent to the sin bin, while Clermont Auvergne handed Ulster a nine-point head start and after clawing their way into the lead near the hour-mark, they undid all their hard work with a yellow card that proved decisive.

It’ll be physically intense but I believe the Springbok bruisers and momentum gained will allow Sale to win the gain line battle and therefore a close contest.

Prediction: Sale Sharks by 6.

Suggested Bet: Clermont Auvergne +8.5 at 1.82.

Glasgow Warriors v Exeter Chiefs

Saturday, 18 December – 19.15

A case where the team names are particularly apropos as this is set to be an all-out battle. The Chiefs were conquerors out of the gate, putting Montpellier to the sword in a 42-6 rout, while the Warriors put up a great fight behind enemy lines against La Rochelle.

The Scots gave last year’s runners-up a real run for their money but ran out of steam down the stretch, succumbing 20-13 but showing a ton of heart and guts. Home ground advantage could be the equaliser they need against an invading force that got off to as close of a perfect start as possible, not just scoring six tries but denying their French foes a five-pointer as well.

The men from Glasgow have an extra gear at home, where they’ve won three of their four United Rugby Championship games. Their lone loss was to Leinster and Exeter have a lot of similarities to the Irish giants, which should see them overcome the spirited brave hearts.

Prediction: Exeter Chiefs by 7.

Suggested Bet: Glasgow Warriors +7.5 at 1.84.

Leicester Tigers v Connacht

Sunday, 19 December – 15:00

Two-time champions Leicester fired arguably the most telling first shot with a hard-fought away win over Bordeaux. Toppling the TOP 14 table-toppers in their backyard was a serious statement and the tense manner in which they did so was the exclamation point.

Eking a cliffhanger, thanks to clutch England flyhalf George Ford’s 77th-minute penalty goal, spoke volumes of the Gallagher Premiership pacesetters’ championship class and ensured they carried their unbeaten domestic run over to the European Champions Cup.

Connacht were clinical and ruthless in their 35-9 triumph over Stade Francais last weekend and upset Ulster in the United Rugby Championship, so they’ll be full of confidence. However, you’d have to back the more consistent Tigers to continue their perfect purple patch, especially at home.

Prediction: Leicester Tigers by 8.

Suggested Bet: Connacht +15.5 at 1.82.

Stade Francais v Bristol Bears

Sunday, 19 December – 19:30

We get our first look at the Bears after they were awarded five log points due to Scarlets being forced to forfeit the first round fixture with 32 of their frontline players in quarantine after returning from South Africa. A fresh Bristol arrived in Paris with a prime opportunity to land a hammer blow on a vulnerable Stade Francois side whose return to Europe’s top-flight last weekend proved to be a baptism of fire.

Back in the big time for the first time since 2015/16, the French club failed to trouble Connacht, managing just nine points off the boot of Pumas pivot Nicolas Sanchez in their aforementioned 25-point pummelling. At home this time, this is gut-check time for the likes of Marcos Cremer and former Sharks second-rower JJ van der Mescht.

Bristol boast heavy hitters like British & Irish Lion prop Kyle Sinckler and former New Zealand pair John Afoa and Steve Luatua in the pack and x-factor phenoms like ex-All Black ace Charles Piutau and Fiji flyer Semi Radradra out wide, a balance that should see them prevail.

Prediction: Bristol Bears by 5.

Suggested Bet: Stade Francais +7.5 at 1.84.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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