I have to tell you, dear readers, I cut a rather frustrated figure after last week’s proceedings with those pesky Oyonnax boys ruining what would have been a rather profitable weekend for yours truly. The Top 14 strugglers looked dead and buried in their clash with La Rochelle until a dramatic final fifteen minutes saw them claim a draw and ruin my La Rochelle -7.5 tip. It wasn’t all doom and gloom this weekend, however, as Brive managed to arrive on the straight against Toulon. Which means we once again turned a profit, albeit a minuscule one.
News from the North
Sopoaga Losing Patience?
Apparently, All Blacks back-up fly-half Lima Sopoaga is weighing up whether or not to leave New Zealand for European shores.
The Highlander is said to be frustrated with his lack of playing time for the All Blacks and is ready to give up on his World Cup dream and chase the lure of the green in Europe with the London Wasps willing to offer him near on half a million Pound a season.
This won’t be the first time, nor will it be the last, that a Southern Hemisphere player leaves his country in his prime to go and ply his trade in Europe. The money on offer is absurd. So absurd in fact, that Sopoaga is willing to give up his chances of representing his country on the grandest of rugby stages. One man who will be delighted to hear news this will be Crusader’s pivot Richie Mo’uanga who has seen his path into the All Black Matchday squad blocked by the presence of Sopoaga
South African Exodus set to Continue at Munster?
Rassie is gone and it looks like Munster’s Head of Athletic Performance, Aled Walters, will also be out the door at the close of March. Speculation is rife that former Ireland Strength and Conditioning coach will be linking up with the ‘Boks prior to the start of the 2018 international season. He’s been tipped to take on the Strength and Conditioning role with the South Africans, which is good news for ‘Bok fans as he has a solid track record.
When Rassie left Munster he was immediately replaced by former Springbok technical adviser Johann van Graan. Perhaps SA Rugby will do the right thing and send Allister Coetzee to Munster as a makeweight in the deal? It would certainly make a hell of a lot of South Africans happy although Munster fans would not be impressed at all.
Champions and Challenge Cups Heat Up!
The European Rugby Champions and Challenge Cups enter the fifth round of the pool phase this weekend and there are some cracking games set to go down.
Reigning Aviva Premiership Champions, the Exeter Chiefs, take on Montpellier in a game that could well see the men from Devonshire’s hope of qualifying for the knock-out phase go up in smoke. There’s also a vital tie between Ulster and La Rochelle while Racing Metro take on Munster.
On the Challenge Cup front, there’s a tie between Edinburgh and Stade to look forward to while fireworks should fly when Sale meet Lyon.
This Weekend’s Tips
The Challenge and Champions Cups return this week and with their return comes some great value. I think I may have caught the bookies napping with the following two tips.
Game: Northampton v Clermont (Champions Cup)
Tip: Clermont (-5.5) 9/10
Units: 4 1/2
I’m virtually all in for this one as I believe the ‘books have placed way too much faith in Northampton. Yes, Clermont were absolutely dire against Racing this past weekend but they rested a host of first stringers with their collective eye firmly set on this weekend’s Champions Cup clash.
The Northampton Saints have been absolutely dire in Europe thus far and have one point to show from their opening four games. They’ve also been far from convincing domestically and have suffered some massive defeats in recent weeks. And whilst they do come into this one off the back of a narrow victory over Gloucester, we’re unlikely to see as strong a side take to Franklin Gardens this Saturday as the Saints really have nothing to gain from this one.
Game: Ospreys v Saracens (Champions Cup)
Tip: Saracens (-9.5) 9/10
My second tip is also a clash between two of the Champions Cup Pool 2 sides. A rejuvenated Saracens take on the Ospreys this weekend out in Wales and I’m expecting a big showing from the reigning Champions Cup Champions. The men from North London have racked up some mammoth wins since snapping their seven-game losing streak and head into this one off the back of a 15-38 domestic away victory over a very talented Wasps side.
The Ospreys have been decent but far from prolific in the Pro 14 over the past few weeks as they managed to win two of their derby fixtures over the festive season. The wins were extremely narrow and far from convincing. The calibre of their opposition was also significantly lower than what they will face this weekend.