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European Champions Cup Predictions – Round 3

The South African sides are ready to jump right back into the hottest of fires when the European Champions Cup resumes this weekend.

Makazole Mapimpi

The South African sides are ready to jump right back into the hottest of fires when the European Champions Cup resumes this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

After a festive break to accommodate domestic action, the European showpiece is back with the race for playoff places set to heat up in the third and penultimate round of the pool stage.

The Sharks and Bulls are at home and in action on Saturday when they host Bordeaux and the Exeter Chiefs respectively. The Stormers, meanwhile, have made their way to England for a Sunday showdown with London Irish.

Clermont v Leicester Tigers

Friday, 13 January – 22:00

The complexion of this contest has changed since Leicester edged the first encounter 23-16 in mid-December. That turned out to be Steve Borthwick’s last match in charge of the Tigers as he was named the England coach and took one of his assistants, Kevin Sinfield, with him.

It’s left Richard Wigglesworth at the helm and the team trying to find their feet as highlighted by their 45-26 loss to the Newcastle Falcons in the Gallagher Premiership last weekend. Bank on the settled hosts to tame the Tigers.

Prediction: Clermont by 12.

Suggested Bet: Clermont -2.5 at 1.95

Sale Sharks v Toulouse

Saturday, 14 January – 15:00

Toulouse blew the Sale Sharks out of the water in the opening round, romping to a 45-16 victory. After last weekend, however, the hosts will be feeling the time is right to get one over the French giants, who suffered one of their biggest defeats in recent memory – a 30-7 loss to La Rochelle in the TOP 14.

Toulouse, though, rested Antoine Dupont, Anthony Jelonch, and Julien Marchand, while Cyril Baille, Alexandre Roumat, and Richie Arnold were on the bench. At full strength, they’ll march full steam ahead in the rain to a third straight triumph in the European showpiece.

Prediction: Toulouse by 10.

Suggested Bet: Toulouse -4.5 at 1.83.

Gloucester v Leinster

Saturday, 14 January – 15:00

Well, the rematch can’t go any worse than the first game for Gloucester. Leinster, top of the pops in Pool A and a perfect 12-0 in the United Rugby Championship, whitewashed them 57-0 in Round One and while rain will help the English club escape another 50-plus hiding, it’ll still be one-way traffic.

Prediction: Leinster by 17

Suggested Bet: Leinster -14.5 at 1.83

Sharks v Bordeaux

Saturday, 14 January – 17:15

Having gone two from two, including a 19-16 away win over Bordeaux in the previous round, the Sharks have put a premium on this return fixture to ensure they maintain their momentum.

After sacrificing last weekend’s URC clash against Connacht by sending a second-string side to Ireland, their litany of Springbok stars are rested and ready to go.  

Add the fact that French teams are generally poor travellers and the full-strength Sharks should win with room to spare.

Prediction: Sharks by 12.

Suggested Bet: Bordeaux +13.5 at 1.83

Munster v Northampton Saints

Saturday, 14 January – 17:15

Munster are firing on all cylinders, steamrolling the Lions 33-3 last weekend, with the only losses in their last seven being narrow defeats to powerhouses Toulouse and Leinster (in the URC).

They beat the Saints 17-6 in their backyard in Round One and will trump the English club, who’re coming off a 35-12 loss to Exeter last weekend, even more convincingly this time around. Rain should keep it under the handicap, though.

Prediction: Munster by 15.

Suggested Bet: Northampton Saints +19.5 at 1.85

Bulls v Exeter Chiefs

Saturday, 14 January – 19:30

After Jake White’s gamble to send a weakened team to Exeter and focus on the URC derby against the Stormers a few weeks ago led to not one but two heavy losses, this is a must-win rematch for the Bulls.

It’ll be a completely different side to the one the Chiefs crushed 44-14 in Round Two, one coming off a 29-14 away win over the Dragons and, crucially, one that’ll be able to play their high-tempo game on a clear Saturday night. They’ll also have the added motivation of playing for their mentor, who underwent emergency surgery last Sunday.

As mentioned above, Exeter eased past the Northampton Saints (35-12) last weekend and will make the Bulls work hard, but the hosts should outgun and outlast the visitors on the Highveld.

Prediction: Bulls by 7

Suggested Bet: Bulls -4.5 at 1.4

La Rochelle v Ulster

Saturday, 14 January – 19:30

Fresh off a sparkling 30-7 win over TOP 14 log leaders Toulouse and topping Pool B, La Rochelle have a mountain of momentum while Ulster have none. Their last-gasp loss to Munster was fair enough, but the 31-29 defeat to Benetton last weekend was a stunner.

You have to be at your best to have any chance against the defending champions, especially at their fortress. Ulster are far from it. La Rochelle led 29-0 at halftime in their first fixture before they rested on their laurels and had to settle for a 36-29 win and they won’t make that mistake again. Rain is forecast, though, so I like Ulster on the plus.

Prediction: La Rochelle by 15.

Suggested Bet: Ulster +16.5 at 1.83

Ospreys v Montpellier

Saturday, 14 January – 22:00

Welsh rugby’s only representatives in the top flight pulled off an upset when they stunned Montpellier 21-10 in the previous round and have a golden opportunity at home to complete a historic double over the TOP 14 champions.

They’ll draw further confidence from their performance last weekend, which saw them nearly end Leinster’s unbeaten run in the URC before succumbing 24-19.

I haven’t backed a Welsh region in ages because of the overall state of rugby in the country but the performances I’ve referenced have me believing they’ll get the job done in front of their home fans.

Prediction: Ospreys by 2.

Suggested Bet: Ospreys at 2.15

Saracens v Lyon

Saturday, 14 January – 22:00

After losing to a second-string Bulls side at Loftus, Lyon gave a better account of themselves at home but still went down 28-20 to Saracens, despite the English club being down to 14 men for the final 13 minutes.

The runaway Gallagher Premiership leaders have far too much class for the French club, even with Owen Farrell on Wednesday being handed a four-game ban for his high tackle on Gloucester flank Jack Clement that went unpunished and allowed the flyhalf to slot the match-winning drop-goal.

Prediction: Saracens by 18

Suggested Bet: Lyon +20.5 at 1.83

Castres v Edinburgh

Sunday, 15 January – 15:00

Both sides are struggling of late. Castres were swept aside by Stade Francais while Edinburgh needed a last-minute try to beat URC whipping boys Zebre last weekend.

The Scots’ power was too much for Castres in their Round Two tie and took them to a 31-20 win. However, the fiery Stade Pierre Fabre is an incredibly intimidating place to play for visiting teams and should be the difference maker.

Prediction: Castres by 2

Suggested Bet: Castres -1.5 at 1.93

London Irish v Stormers

Sunday, 15 January – 15:00

Like the Bulls, the Stormers have won one and lost one, recovering from a 24-14 away defeat to Clermont with a 34-14 win over London Irish, who are 0-2.

The English club had some enterprise on attack in their 23-7 win over Bristol on the domestic front at the weekend, but then, the Bears are the Gallagher Premiership basement dwellers.

The Stormers are a different kettle of fish and after their heart-breaking loss at the death in Galway last weekend, they’ll shore up their defence and do the double over the Exiles.  

Prediction: Stormers by 5.

Suggested Bet: Stormers -2.5 at 1.83

Racing 92 v Harlequins

Sunday, 15 January – 17:15

Harlequins’ only win in their last five was against Racing, while the French club are winless in their last five. Last weekend saw Quins lose 24-16 to Sale at home and Racing go down 17-12 to Montpellier on the road.

Quins were anything but convincing when they pipped the Parisians, who were reduced to 14 men in the 50th minute, 14-10 in Round Two, but they’ve shown more quality and fight than the French side since then, so I’m backing them as big underdogs.

Prediction: Harlequins by 3.

Suggested Bet: Harlequins at 4.55

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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