By Danny Carrington
Last Updated: 9th January 2020
The pool stages are nearing their conclusion in the European Champions Cup as teams battle to get themselves into the knockout stages of Europe’s premier competition. We’ve taken a look at two of round five’s fixtures…
Bath v Harlequins
Having been held to a draw by relegation candidates Leicester over Christmas, and then enduring a crushing 48-10 defeat to Sale on the road last weekend, Harlequins look up against it at Bath this Saturday. A Quins-dominant crowd of 75,000 would have left Twickenham disappointed when their side failed to overcome the Tigers, who only have a point-docked Saracens below them in the table.
For all the attacking positivity the Quins backline showed under the lights in west London, Paul Gustard’s men failed to win the battle upfront and were never able to dominate. The old adage goes, the forwards win the game and the backs decide by how many, and in Harlequins’ case, that couldn’t be truer at the moment. Young fly-half Marcus Smith is brilliantly creative, while Gabriel Ibitoye has the feet and pace to run rings around defences, but all of that doesn’t matter if Quins get beaten in the pack.
The return of Taulupe Faletau and Francois Louw strengthened Bath’s forward setup when they ran out narrow winners over Sale over Christmas, but they couldn’t back that up against Gloucester last weekend. The Cherry and Whites, who eventually emerged 29-15 winners in the West Country derby, dominated physically in the second-half and that converted into points.
Against Harlequins, Bath appear to have a prime opportunity to return to wining ways and backing them to win (-8) on the handicap at 10/11 looks the way to go.
Gloucester v Montpellier
Domestically, things look pretty rosy for Gloucester. They are third in the Premiership after that comfortable victory over Bath in their most recent outing last weekend. The win sees them sit five points clear of fifth-placed Bristol and Johan Ackermann will be keen to keep up the momentum against Montpellier on Saturday. Though Ackermann must be pretty happy with how things are going in the Premiership, he won’t be quite as content with things on the European scene, with his side nine points behind runaway Pool 5 leaders Toulouse.
The Cherry and Whites have lost three of their four matches in the competition, though all four have been tight affairs and this is shown by the fact they’ve accrued five bonus points so far. It would take a small miracle for them to qualify for the knockout stages but, if they are to do so, they’ll need to win this one and win it well.
Montpellier’s race in the competition has already been run and, given the French club’s notoriously poor record in Europe, this looks like being a pretty straightforward evening for Gloucester. The visitors have lost both of their away games this season and with little to play for, backing the home side -13 on the handicap at 10/11 looks the best approach.