A disappointing showing from the English clubs meant Northampton Saints were the country’s only team to reach the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup last year. This year Saints, Bath and reigning Premiership champions Leicester Tigers will be joined by three sides from the capital – Wasps, Saracens and London Irish – in the competition and expectation is high.
The betting suggests that of these only Leicester, 15/2 second favourites, will challenge the dominance of the French sides. Title holders Toulouse are the 4/1 jollies to win successive Cups and although the Pyrenees side are the most successful in the tournament’s history, with four wins since 1995, I’d prefer to look to Ireland for this year’s winner.
An Irish side has lifted the trophy in three of the past five years and at 12/1 with William Hill, Munster are a good value each-way bet (? odds for reaching the final). They’re in the toughest of pools along with Ospreys, London Irish and Toulon, although they should still be expected to top their group and reach the knockout stages. They have reached the semi-finals in each of the last three tournaments and triumphed in the 2008 final.
With the magnificent Paul O’Connell leading from the front as captain, Munster have become European specialists. In a close pool such as theirs, we can expect the bonus points to be crucial in deciding who qualifies and the Red Army have made a habit of securing them in defeats away, while at their Thomond Park home they make it exceptionally difficult for their opposition to cross the line.
Munster also boast arguably the best half-back pairing in the competition with Tomas O’Leary at scrum-half and Ronan O’Gara at number 10. The experienced fly-half was the second highest total points scorer in the 09/10 competition with 98 points from eight appearances and has an incredible overall Heineken Cup record of 1,138 points from 91 matches. Back O’Gara to score most points this year at 8/1 with Paddy Power.
We should not overlook the French teams though and I’d advise buying Clermont Auvergne’s pool index at 15 with Sporting Index. They’ve also been placed in a tough group with Leinster, Saracens and Racing Metro, but with superstars like Morgan Parra and Julien Bonnaire, first place in Pool 2 is theirs to lose.
Munster to win Heineken Cup each-way
at 12/1 with William Hill
Buy Clermont Auvergne’s Pool 2 index
at 15 with Sporting Index
Ronan O’Gara to be top points scorer
at 8/1 with Paddy Power
ENGLAND vs MONTENEGRO
Tuesday, 8.00pm, ITV1
ENGLAND have made a decent start to their Euro 2012 campaign and put in a solid performance to win 3-1 in Switzerland last time. They should qualify from this group with flying colours, but Tuesday’s opponents Montenegro are no pushovers having also won their opening two games.
Montenegro only came into existence as a side in 2006, but they have looked composed and defensively astute in their opening games and will provide a real test. They have beaten both Wales and Bulgaria 1-0, while they also beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in a friendly in August.
Fabio Capello’s side have scored seven goals in their first two games, but Montenegro will surely adopt defensive tactics which will make things difficult for England. Paddy Power offer 1/4 about a home win which is too short for me against a team who are yet to concede.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the game goalless at half-time and Montenegro would be thrilled to leave with a point. However, England should prove too strong in the second half and I like the look of the draw / England double result at 16/5 with Paddy Power. It’s worth bearing in mind that Capello’s side have won their last 11 at Wembley.
Sporting Index quote goals at 3.1-3.3 and although England’s recent games have been high scoring, I can see this one being different. The advice would be to sell at 3.1 and hopefully it will be goalless at the break which would put us in a fantastic trading position.
Draw / England at 16/5 with Paddy Power
Sell total goals at 3.1 with Sporting Index
racing Trader BILL ESDAILE looks at tomorrow’s card at ascot
ASCOT holds its final flat meeting of the season tomorrow and it looks a very tricky card. The big betting race is the Ladbrokes.com Stakes (3.40pm), won well by Opinion Poll last year, who went on to win the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup at York in August.
The three-year-olds have dominated this race in recent years, winning three of the past four renewals, and there are only four lining up tomorrow. Ralph Beckett’s Vulcanite is the likely favourite, as he’s going for a four-timer, but his three wins have all come in small fields and on quicker ground. The stable isn’t in great form, either, so he is opposed along with Michael Bell’s Prompter, who always seems to find one too good.
The one I’ll be backing each-way is David Wachman’s ICON DREAM at a massive 25/1 with William Hill. He was only just touched off by Ted Spread in the Chester Vase earlier this season and will relish the cut in the ground. It also has to be a major positive that his in-form trainer has bothered to send him over from Ireland for this.
John Gosden isn’t quite firing in the winners like he was last month, but he has a great chance to land the Autumn Stakes with MASKED MARVEL. An impressive winner of his maiden at Sandown, connections see him as a potential Derby horse and it might also be worth snapping up some of the 33/1 available for Epsom glory.
ICON DREAM e/w 3.40pm Ascot (tomorrow)
MASKED MARVEL 4.15pmAscot (tomorrow)
MASKED MARVEL 33/1 The Derby