Wasps can sting again
With only one team already through to the last eight (two-time defending champions Toulon) and 11 teams still in contention for the remaining seven quarter-final berths, the new organisers of European club rugby’s premier competition couldn’t be happier.
Three of the five pools feature games which will determine who tops the group this weekend – and in doing so progress to the knockout stage.
Wasps and Leinster are two such sides involved in a top-of-the-table showdown on Saturday and with neither side guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals, never mind a coveted home draw, it’s a straight shoot-out to see who wins Pool 2.
Wasps looked dead and buried after slipping to defeat in their opening couple of pool games but Dai Young’s side have bounced back brilliantly, producing the performance of the round last weekend when stunning Harlequins at the Stoop.
Indeed Wasps could make history by becoming the first club to reach the knockout stage after losing their opening two pool games.
Leinster currently lead Pool 2 on 18 points but, with three other pool leaders locked on the same number of points, the Irish province know that anything less than victory here could see them fall out of the quarter-final reckoning entirely.
Leinster were unconvincing 25-20 winners in the corresponding fixture on the opening weekend of action, when a second-half rally saw the Irish province turn around a 11-20 half-time deficit.
However, they seem to be finding their form at just the right time, with their most comprehensive win of the season coming in last week’s seven-try thumping of Castres.
Captain Jamie Heaslip is expected to play after being taken off as a precautionary measure during that rout and the Blues will be further buoyed by the form of Luke Fitzgerald, who is showing why he has long been heralded – when fit – as Brian O’Driscoll’s natural heir in the centre.
It remains to be seen what toll Wasps’ defeat of old rivals Quins will take on the side, but they will require a similarly energetic and resolute performance from back-row powerhouses James Haskell and Nathan Hughes if they are to keep the blue tide at bay.
Expect the visitors to do enough to progress, possibly via a bonus point defeat, with Wasps to edge this one by the slimmest of margins – Wasps to Win at 5/6.
The match kicks off at 1pm on Saturday, January 24th at the Ricoh Arena