Well that was fun!
The opening weekend of the Champions Cup was full of thrills, spills (apologies Freddie Burns), brutal weather, shocks (hello Toulon) and not a red card in sight, which was mystifying in itself given the over-reliance on TMOs in recent times. As mentioned in last week’s post it’s always advisable to approach week 1 with added trepidation so with that in mind what have we learned from all the surprises of the opening weekend?
There are two life lessons to learn from this clip:
1. Never celebrate until the job is done
2. Never stop chasing
Freddie Burns has just learned the hard way after missing a chance to win the game for Bath ?pic.twitter.com/4AVaka3nO3
— BT Sport (@btsport) October 13, 2018
Firstly, it’s highly probable Leinster are even better than last year and the ruthlessness displayed even when 20-30 points ahead will not have gone unnoticed by the likes of Saracens and Montpellier. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Leinster’s current second XV would challenge in the majority of pools this year and James Lowe is like a new signing for Leo Cullen’s men and the New Zealander was full value for his MOTM award.
At the other end of the scale, the demise of the once mighty Toulon appears well underway.
Despite going off as a 17 point favourite at home to an injury-hit Newcastle, Patrice Collazo’s side never really pitched up and were out fought and out thought by a hungry Falcons side. The lack of a drop goal option late on even with French International François Trinh-Duc in the side was a staggering sight reminiscent of the All Blacks 2003 Collapse in Cardiff.
The importance of bonus points
Glasgow’s inability to point to the sticks in the last 20 or attempt a drop goal late on in a ten point loss to Saracens displayed a complete lack of maturity on their part. Losing bonus points are invaluable in this competition.
Now that may sound like the tone of a bitter man who backed them +9.5, but I was of the belief that they had learned their lessons from last year’s disastrous pool stages. Alas, the penny has not dropped in how to grind out points in pool play.
Dave Rennie’s men travel south this weekend to take on a Cardiff Blues side that will be absolutely buzzing following their win over Lyon last Sunday. The Blues run the legs out of a Lyon side that are in third place domestically led by immense performances by their back row trio of Robinson, Jenkins and Navidi.
I predicted plenty of points in last week’s preview, but the line didn’t quite open where I wanted to at around the 47/48 mark so I did reduce my stakes accordingly.
The Welshman was the top Fantasy points scorer in R1. Who will you be putting in your team? ?
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) October 17, 2018
Gareth Anscombe’s last-minute kick to deprive Lyon of a losing bonus point was a much-needed fillip to my account balance and once again highlighted the impact of the Bonus Point System in this competition. Outside of pool play, Anscombe kicks that ball dead and we lick our wounds.
This weekend’s best bets
Onto to this weekend and like my pal Swano on the Matchbook Betting Podcast, I normally sit down on a Tuesday morning to do my look ahead lines for the weekend ahead.
The line for Castres vs Exeter is one that is not only jumping out at me but is positively smacking me in the face.
I have Exeter as at least a 5 point favourite here and to be laying just 1.5 and trending back towards a pick em is an absolute steal in my opinion.
Yes the Chiefs dropped two costly points to Munster in a hurricane at Sandy Park last Saturday but Rob Baxter’s men will learn from that and will be on point in the south of France this weekend. I’ve been one of Castres biggest proponents in the Top 14 in recent years but Christophe Urios side have rarely put their best foot forward on the continent.
The Chiefs have dispatched all challenges before them in the Gallaghers Prem’ thus far this season and I can see them matching up well against a Castres side who play a similar pragmatic style of rugby.
Many of ‘CO’s’ front liners were rested for their trip to Gloucester last weekend and they ultimately suffered a close loss to the Cherry and Whites but to confuse Johan Ackermann’s side with Exeter would be a massive mistake.
The loss of flyhalf Ben Urdapilleta is a major blow to CO and I can see the Chiefs halfback pairing of Stu Townsend and Gareth Steenson getting the better of Rory Kockott and Julien Dumora.
Since the draw was made Rob Baxter and his backroom team will have target a win from this trip and with the extra urgency of two points dropped last weekend expect an urgency from this Chiefs side in the south of France on Saturday.
This is easily my best bet of the weekend and I’ll be quite happy to do the Tomahawk Chop in front of all and sundry on Saturday afternoon.
An offer I can’t refuse
I’m generally loathed to backing big numbers on the handicap, but there’s one big favourite that I’m finding it hard to oppose this weekend.
Saracens have the look of a team who are going to take absolutely no prisoners this year and they welcome a Lyon side who looked bereft of ideas against Cardiff to Allianz Park on Saturday evening.
Yes Pierre Mignoni’s team are getting a huge 24.5 point start here but ask yourself this: how many points do they score on this Sarries side? I’m thinking 14-15 absolute tops and I’m even stretching there.
Sarries Defensive coach Alex Sanderson had his side on point as they stifled a Glasgow side with superior attacking quality to Lyon and they will be going gung-ho for a four-try bonus point. Bonus Points, as I keep saying, are huge in this tournament.
The loss of the Vunipola brothers to injury and Alex Lozowski to suspension are definite blows for Sarries, but they have plenty of squad depth in Barnet these days so I’m not too worried here.
Following last weekend’s loss to the Blues, Pierre Mignoni could raise the white flag with his team selection this weekend and focus all his energy on the Top 14.
The current number indicates that there’s a strong likelihood of that already so don’t get too carried away at midday on Friday when Lyon’s second team are named.
Best of luck with your bets!
- Exeter -1.5 at 1.8 – 3pts
- Saracens -24.5 at 2.15 – 1.5pts