By selecting Jacob Umaga at 10 and leaving Jimmy Gopperth on the bench, Lee Blackett has set his stall out. Wasps are going to try and fight fire with fire. Only time will tell if the decision is wise one, but it’s definitely brave.
Clermont are the best attacking team in Europe right now, making the most effective use of the limited time they spend in possession.
Ball-in-play time in the Top 14 is 17% less than the Premiership, yet it only takes this quick-thinking, fleet of foot side seconds to score.
Bristol and Munster were blown away in the early stages of the first two rounds, one ending in a 50-point win , the other a high-scoring defeat, so the 4/7 that Skybet are offering for Les Jaunards to win the race to 10 points looks a very sound bet, even if Wasps have yet to conced a point in the opening quarter of either of their two matches to date.
Wasps have come out on the wrong side of a string of close matches of late, and confidence is low, and it’s hard to see them turning things around against a side hellbent on delivering a coveted first European trophy for their fans.
Alfie Barbeary’s absence through injury deprives Wasps of one of the most dynamic players in the Premiership right now; it leaves a hole in a back row already missing turnover king Jack Willis.
Brad Shields steps in to No.8 having passed two HIAs and he, like a number of other players have had to be nursed through the week.
Blackett has had to manage his squad carefully to get a competitive team out on the park and that’s hardly ideal prep for a match against a side pushing on at the right end of the Top 14 table.
At home, Wasps have lost just one of their past 14 home games against Top 14 opposition. But the French take our fancy here.
From the midfield combination of Wesley Fofana and former All Black George Moala to Alivereti Raka on the wing and Kotaro Matsushima at full-back, the visitors have strike threats everywhere and running in over 3.5 tries shouldn’t be a problem (Evns, Paddy Power).
Wasps: 15. Matteo Minozzi, 14. Paolo Odogwu, 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 12. Michael Le Bourgeois, 11. Josh Bassett, 10. Jacob Umaga, 9. Dan Robson, 1. Ben Harris, 2. Tommy Taylor, 3. Kieran Brookes, 4. Joe Launchbury (c), 5. Will Rowlands, 6. James Gaskell, 7. Thomas Young, 8. Brad Shields.
Replacements: 16. Gabriel Oghre, 17. Jack Owlett, 18. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19. Sione Vailanu, 20. Tom Willis, 21. Sam Wolstenholme, 22. Jimmy Gopperth, 23. Zach Kibirige,
ASM Clermont Auvergne: 15. Kotaro Matsushima, 14. Damian Penaud, 13. George Moala, 12. Wesley Fofana, 11. Alivereti Raka, 10. Camille Lopez (c), 9. Sébastien Bézy, 1. Peni Ravai, 2. Adrien Pélissié, 3. Cristian Ojovan, 4. Paul Jedrasiak, 5. Sébastien Vahaamahina, 6. Judicaël Cancoriet, 7. Alexandre Fischer, 8. Fritz Lee.
Replacements: 16. Etienne Fourcade, 17. Daniel Bibi Biziwu, 18. Rabah Slimani, 19. Thibaud Lanen, 20. Peceli Yato, 21. Morgan Parra, 22. Tim Nanai-Williams, 23. Peter Betham,
Munster v Toulouse
Two greats of European rugby past go head-to-head at Thomond Park.
Neither side has made it to the final in the last decade – something they will be determined to put right this year.
Munster’s defeat to Leinster in the PRO14 last weekend again showed how they still come up just short when it matters and we’re backing four-time winners Toulouse to continue their interest.
Both teams are stacked with internationals but Les Rouges et Noir arguably have more stardust in the likes of Cheslin Kolbe and the brilliant half-back pairing of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.
Dupont’s Six Nations started fantastically but he petered off towards the end, after his spell out with Covid, and he’ll be itching to deliver one of his special performances.
Munster will throw down a mighty challenge as they look to protect a 16-match unbeaten home record in this competition but Toulouse are good enough to end that run (8/11) and make it soon-to-be-retired CJ Stander’s last stand in the famous red jersey.
Munster Rugby: 15. Mike Haley, 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Chris Farrell, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Keith Earls, 10. Joey Carbery, 9. Conor Murray, 1. Dave Kilcoyne, 2. Niall Scannell, 3. Stephen Archer, 4. Jean Kleyn, 5. Tadhg Beirne, 6. Gavin Coombes, 7. Jack O’Donoghue, 8. CJ Stander (c).
Replacements: 16. Kevin O’Byrne, 17. James Cronin, 18. John Ryan, 19. Billy Holland, 20. Fineen Wycherley, 21. Craig Casey, 22. JJ Hanrahan, 23. Chris Cloete,
Toulouse: 15. Maxime Médard, 14. Cheslin Kolbe, 13. Zack Holmes, 12. Pita Ahki, 11. Matthis Lebel, 10. Romain Ntamack, 9. Antoine Dupont, 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Julien Marchand (c), 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Rory Arnold, 5. Richie Arnold, 6. Francois Cros, 7. Selevasio Tolofua, 8. Jerome Kaino.
Replacements: 16. Peato Mauvaka, 17. Clément Castets, 18. Dorian Aldegheri, 19. Joe Tekori, 20. Thibaud Flament, 21. Alban Placines, 22. Baptiste Germain, 23. Dimitri Delibes,
Exeter v Lyon
By their own lofty standards, Chiefs haven;t had the best of Six Nations. Six wins and three defeats during a nine-week block of games is hardly a crisis though, especially as they had seven players away on international duty – more than any other Premiership team.
Lyon, 40/1 outsiders when the tournament began, showed what they can do in destroying Gloucester in the pool stages. But the Chiefs are hardly going to afford them the same opportunities as a Cherry & Whites side that was still very much in its developmental stages back then.
The French side have never won away from home in the Champions League and, as they are curreently locked in a very tight race for a play-off spot in the Top 14, our feeling is that their main focus will be on domestic matters. If they hadn’t though that way before the draw, which paired them with Exeter and then Leinster/Toulon in the quarters, they probably did after it.
Exeter, on the other hand, look handily placed to make the top two in the Premiership and can afford to go for another double assault on silverware.
The return of Henry Slade, Jonny Hill, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray, to name just four, will revitalise them and we can see them winning this by 16-20 points.
The Chiefs are normally ruthless at punishing any weaknesses and Lyon’s inability to keep 15 men on the field – they average more than one sin-bin per game – could cost them dearly.
Exeter: 15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Olly Woodburn, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Ollie Devoto, 11. Tom O’Flaherty, 10. Joe Simmonds (c), 9. Jack Maunder, 1. Alec Hepburn, 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3. Harry Williams, 4. Jonny Gray, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Dave Ewers, 7. Jacques Vermeulen, 8. Sam Simmonds.
Replacements: 16. Jack Yeandle, 17. Ben Moon, 18. Tom Francis, 19. Sam Skinner, 20. Jannes Kirsten, 21. Stu Townsend, 22. Harvey Skinner, 23. Ian Whitten,
Lyon: 15. Toby Arnold, 14. Xavier Mignot, 13. Pierre-Louis Barassi, 12. Charlie Ngatai (c), 11. Noa Nakaitaci, 10. Jonathan Wisniewski, 9. Baptiste Couilloud, 1. Vivien Devisme, 2. Jeremie Maurouard, 3. Francisco Gomez Kodela, 4. Felix Lambey, 5. Izack Jon Rodda, 6. Dylan Cretin, 7. Colby Fainga’a, 8. Patrick Sobela.
Replacements: 16. Mickael Ivaldi, 17. Xavier Chiocci, 18. Joe Taufete’e, . , 20. Alex Tulou, 21. Jean-Marc Doussain, 22. Thibaut Regard, 23. Clément Laporte,
In the European Challenge Cup, Ospreys should be good to cover the five-point handicap against them against Newcastle (10/11, Paddy Power).
Ospreys have all their big guns back – Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, George North et al – and are on a high after their comeback win at Leinster a fortnight ago.
The Falcons are struggling for form and confidence with just one win – a narrow one at that – in seven,