RTÉ Rugby analyst Donal Lenihan expects a successful weekend for the Irish provinces in the final round of the Heineken Champions Cup group stage and predicts that Leinster and Connacht will join the other two in the knockout stage.
While Ulster and Munster have already qualified with three wins out of three, Leinster and Connacht are still unsure of a top eight place in their respective groups.
The former are only in this situation because of their controversial “loss” in their canceled away match in Montpellier, with the EPCR awarding a 28-0 win to the Top 14, who believe that Leinster largely responsible for the cancellation.
Leo Cullen’s side was deeply shocked by the outcome – especially when later postponed games were called 0-0 draw – and may have vented some of their anger on the French team last week, with a barely credible score of 89 points.
And Lenihan foresees little trouble this weekend with the Gallagher Premiership bottom team, Bath at the recreation ground.
“They were brutal against Montpellier in their first game in five weeks, scoring more than a point every minute,” Lenihan told RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.
“Bath is at the bottom of the Gallagher Premiership, they have won one game in 12, so you would expect Leinster to not only win but also win well with a bonus point and secure a place in the last-16.”
Connacht’s fate is a little more uncertain. Last Saturday, the Westerners looked set to enter the knockout stage at some point, having taken an 18-point lead against Leicester Tigers early in the second half.
However, they withered into the final quarter, the Premiership table-toppers coming on strong and taking the win with a dramatic last minute attempt, which ended in the corner by Hosea Saumaki.
But Lenihan is confident they can go to Stade Francais and win, relying on their great win over the same opponent at the Sportsground as proof.
“They were really impressive against Leicester Tigers, who were leading the Gallagher Premiership, 18 points higher with half an hour to go and they somehow managed to lose the game in the last second.
“They will be hugely disappointed, but look, they’re going to Paris and play against Stade Francais. They beat them 36-9 in Galway. It’s in their own hands.”
“I think Connacht has enough to win this match. Even a losing bonus point could be enough to qualify, but I think they have enough to win to qualify for a knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time ever. Champions Cup.”
Ulster and Munster are safely on their way to the knockout stages, although victories would secure them a home draw in the last-16.
Lenihan is excited Ulster to meet the challenge of Clermont in Belfast, but suggests that: Munster should be wary of a resurgent wasps in Thomond Park.
“Their priority will be to win the match. Then it’s a matter of trying to maximize your return in terms of points, because the higher you finish, the better placed you are for the knockouts. Home advantage is everything in Europe. “
“Ulster is in a really good place, this could have a bit of an edge to it. Jono Gibbes, Clermont coach, and he is returning to Kingspan Stadium for the first time since he was a few seasons ago. I expect Ulster to win him.
Munster, a totally different game from their opening round when both teams were shaved 15/16 players each for Covid reasons. However, now that they get their players back, Wasps have beaten Leicester and Toulouse in their last two outings So Munster needs to be careful here be with you.”