Sky Sports commentator Miles Harrison will be calling the shots at Wasps on Saturday as they take on Perpignan with the chance of eliminating them from this year’s competition.
Ulster v Llanelli Scarlets (12.30pm)
Saturday January 13 – Sky Sports 2
With four wins out of four the Scarlets are in a great position in Pool Five. Can they put the pool to bed this weekend?
MILES: This is not just about putting the group to bed for the Scarlets, it is about putting themselves in the best possible position to win this competition.
I am not saying the Scarlets will go on to win the Heineken Cup, and I am sure they will be delighted to qualify for the knockout stages as the Welsh sides have failed to do that since 2003/4.
However, the way they played against Toulouse would unsettle any team and the Scarlets have to be aiming at a home quarter-final. When they play the brilliant, attacking rugby that they did in Toulouse, they could unpick any side.
The problem for the Scarlets is that this match is at Ravenhill, and Ulster at home are never an easy task by any stretch of imagination. It wasn’t easy going to Toulouse but Llanelli did a job there but perhaps Toulouse have proven that this season going to Ravenhill is harder than going to Toulouse.
The Scarlets have the safety net of one more match at Stradey Park against London Irish, but I think the ambition will be there to make sure of a home quarter-final.
Played four won four is a wonderful position but they just need to keep the focus. There can be no resting on laurels here. They must see what is beyond this game and what the possibilities of winning in Ravenhill might give.
It could give them a home match at Stradey Park in the last eight and no one would fancy that. Win that and they are in the semi-finals where anything can happen.
All this talk of Scarlets and home quarter-finals! I am sure there are a few people in Ulster who haven’t given up the game yet. Can they still do it?
MILES: Ulster will take the approach that it is not over till it’s over. Clearly it is over for Toulouse and London Irish but not for Ulster which leaves us the prospect of a great match.
They will be smarting from missed opportunities. After the first half of the first game, against Toulouse, it seemed so rosy for Ulster but it has gone a little sour since then.
After the second half you wondered if they would regret not picking up a bonus point and then they just didn’t perform at Scarlets and in the defeat at London Irish. There is no shame in losing to Irish, who played well, but Ulster didn’t really show up.
Well they need to again here.
Prediction time. This looks like the toughest of the week. Can you separate these two?
MILES: I have allowed myself one ‘I don’t know card’ in most of the rounds and I will use it this weekend in this match.
I think you can’t bet against Ulster at home. You would be mad if you did against anyone. They could be no wins out of four but would still be dangerous opposition because they are such a proud rugby club.
I can’t back against the Scarlets because I was in Toulouse and I can’t get that performance out of my mind. They have so much attacking potential and if they take that game to Ulster they could well win. Either way it will be a cracker, but I just don’t know who is going to win.
Wasps v Perpignan (3.30pm)
Saturday January 13 – Sky Sports 2
Wasps look to be in as strong a position as any of the English teams. How do you rate their chances of qualification with two matches left, but both against French opposition?
MILES: Perpignan will be tough opposition for Wasps but they know that if they can beat them, then Perpignan are out of the running. What happens between Castres and Treviso will still affect the outcome of this pool, and really Castres should get five points.
Even if Wasps get five points this weekend, the job would not be complete but they would be in pole position. They would then only have themselves to blame if they go to Castres in control of the group, but fail to make the latter stages.
A bonus point win on Saturday and they are comfortably in the driving seat but first up they must think solely about winning. I think they can do that.
I have seen them at Adams Park, first-hand and on tape, and they play really well at home. They played very well against Gloucester on Boxing Day, and Gloucester are no mugs, but Wasps were very fast and strong.
However we also saw them on Sky Sports at Saints and Bath over Christmas and in each game they did enough to win, but seemed to stop playing. At home they are formidable but away from home, they have been hard to work out.
Fortunately they are at home this weekend and will be fully focused on putting themselves in the strongest possible position for their trip to Castres on the final weekend of the pool stages. If all goes well, they will get there needing only a losing bonus point.
Perpignan aren’t out of this either though are they?
MILES: Perpignan are not one of these French teams that travel badly – we saw that against Cardiff Blues this year and in what was arguably the best match of the tournament so far this season, their 36-28 defeat Castres.
They may have come away from that match with nothing by not finishing within seven points of Castres but they showed they are not a soft touch on their travels.
They have plenty of motivation for this trip. If they can pull off a win, then they face the prospect of Benetton Treviso in the final match where another victory would take them into the quarter-finals.
And what is your prediction?
MILES: Perpignan will be strong on the road but I am going with Wasps. There will be some French music played by the travelling bands but I believe it will be the Wasps’ cattle bells that ring the loudest at the end of the match.
Leinster v Edinburgh (5.30pm)
Saturday January 13 – Sky Sports 1
There is a chance that Leinster can tie up this pool on Saturday with a bonus point win. How do you rate their chances and what sort of test do you think Edinburgh provide?
MILES: I know Edinburgh are a team full of character who you don’t write off but Leinster are strong, particularly at home. They will have the advantage of knowing exactly what needs to done because of Gloucester’s match in Agen on Friday night.
Gloucester will be hoping and praying that Edinburgh can do a job. If they can’t beat Leinster, then by stopping them getting the fourth try could make all the difference and make sure the pool is resolved at Kingsholm. The drama in this game could be all about the bonus point because I think Leinster will win.
Edinburgh have the unlucky tag in this pool. They nearly won in Agen, then beat Leinster in Murrayfield, but were wrapped up in the back-to-back games with Gloucester.
Edinburgh are dangerous though. Like others teams in this competition, you can put a big tick next to their name on the character front. Even though they arrive here having played four, won one, they are not fodder.
Do you think there will be an element of revenge in this game for the defeat Edinburgh inflicted on Leinster in round two? You could see on the day how much that defeat angered Brian O’Driscoll?
MILES: I don’t think it is an issue of revenge against Edinburgh themselves but they will want to put to bed that situation at Murrayfield and how that reflected on Leinster as a team.
You really could see the anguish in O’Driscoll’s reaction to that defeat and we have said before here that it was an expression that said: « If Leinster are to win this competition, we don’t lose games like this ».
Had they won that game they would be confirming qualification this weekend and wouldn’t be embroiled in what could be an amazing night at Kingsholm. They will use that as motivation.
A little bit like with Scarlets, Leinster need to see beyond qualification and this match, and should be hell bent on being at home in the quarter-finals. Wherever it is played, we don’t know where that might be yet but Lansdowne Road is out of the picture, Leinster have to be winning the group and the ones who decide where it is.
They don’t want to be going down to France to face Stade Francais or Biarritz in San Sebastian. It might not be at home but at least Leinster should be choosing where they don’t want to go.
So your final prediction for Saturday is a Leinster win?
MILES: I have already said I think Leinster will win and that the bonus point is the crucial issue here. I think they will pick up that bonus point as well.
That would take them to 20 points and they are potentially through, depending on what happened in Agen. Gloucester would then have to do a reverse of that match at Thomand Park in 2003 when Munster managed to overturn a big points deficit and leapfrog Gloucester with a 33-6 win. Picking up four tries and an awful lot of points to top Leinster will be a hard ask for Gloucester’s young guns