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Heineken Cup Quarter Final Previews pt. 2

@buck_mitchell

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The second part of @buck_mitchell's Heineken Cup quater final blogs. This time he looks ahead to the matches between Munster and Ulster, and Saracens and Clermont.Heineken Cup Quarter Final preview Munster v Ulster

StatsDespite a slightly shaky start to their campaign Munster finished the group stages undefeated and with 1 try bonus point they amassed 25 points and qualified for the Quarter Final’s as the first seed. They did have some issues scoring tries in Pool 1 though recording only 1 try bonus point as they amassed just 14 tries, the second fewest of the group winners. Munster did average over 27 points per game with 163 in their 6 group games, 51 of which came in their game away to Northampton Saints where 22 year old winger (he was 21 at the time) Simon Zebo scored a hat trick in just his 4th Heineken Cup game. At home however Munster only managed to score 68 points and just 5 tries in 3 games, they have relied heavily on the competitions leading point’s scorer, not just this season, but of all time, Ronan O’Gara who has 91 points after 6 games. Munster have not had one of the better defence’s in the group stages and having conceded 118 points in Pool 1 (an average of 19.6 per game) they have the 7th best defence of the 8 Quarter Final teams.Ulster ended the group stages with the same number of points as their Pool 4 rivals ASM Clermont Auvergne but ended as Pool 4 runners up on head to head statistics. Ulster scored 16 tries in the group stages, 2 more than Munster did and they conceded just 8, 2 fewer than Munster. They averaged a rather impressive 26.3 points per game and allowed just 14.5 per game. 41 of their points came when they thrashed Leicester Tigers 41 – 7 at Ravenhill, they scored 46 away to Italian whipping boys Aironi, they did however struggle to score points away from home against the big boys though, managing just 24 in their other 2 away games.OpinionMunster will go into this game as heavy favourites with Thomond Park being one of the most intimidating stadiums in world rugby for away teams, Ulster however do have a notable win at Thomond under their belts, a 37 – 11victory in the 2008-09 season. If any team has the ability to overturn the odds then Ulster do and they do have a star studded team to take on the European giants on their own patch, the likes of hooker Rory Best who lead Ireland during the 6 Nations, Kiwi John Afoa and South African’s Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg definitely have the ability to compete with Munster’s pack and then the onus will be on Ulster’s half back’s Ruan Pienaar and Ian Humphreys to control the game and provide chances for the likes of Nevin Spence, the outstanding youngster Craig Gilroy and Andrew Trimble, who is this season is joint 4th in the try scoring league with 4, with the chance to shine. Steven Ferris' knee injury could see him miss out and while Ulster are particularly blessed with back row cover none of their squad players are as explosive as Ferris, so Ulster will be hoping he's fit to play the majority of the game and add to the 3 tries he has scored this season. The major reason I think Munster will be able to deal with a team full of talented Internationals is that despite having a very ordinary list of statistics next to their name this season they have found a way to win to games which they really didn’t deserve to win, including their opening game at Thomond Park where they needed a Ronan O’Gara drop goal to steal the win against Northampton Saints and once again a week later when a Ronan O’Gara stole a 27 – 24 victory in Castres.

Heineken Cup Quarter Final preview Saracens v ASM Clermont AuvergneStatsSaracens topped Pool 5 with 22 points and ended the group stages as the 4th seed. Saracens managed just 13 tries in the group stages, the fewest of any group winners and scored just 145 points (just a touch over 24 points per game) in their 6 Pool 5 games, again the lowest total of any group winners. The most points Saracens scored in a single game was 42 against lowly Italian side Benetton Treviso, this combined with their 31 – 26 victory over the Ospreys at Wembley helped them to an average points total of 31 at home and combined with a 20 – 16 victory over Biarritz means that they are yet to lose a home game in this year’s competition. Slightly unusually for a team with so many International backs Saracen’s leading scorer in this competition is number 8 Ernst Joubert, who has 3 of his team’s 13. Saracen’s defence has not been particularly spectacular in this season’s competition and having conceded 10 tries only 2 other group winning teams allowed more in the Pool stages, they concede an average of 17.8 points per game.Clermont finished the group stages as the 5th seed with 20 points after 4 wins and 2 loosing bonus points. Despite only winning 4 games in Pool 4 they finished the group stages with some phenomenal statistics, they ended with an almost unbelievable points difference of 146. They scored 26 tries and 215 points in their 6 games at an average of almost 36 points per game. It was not just their scoring record that was extraordinary, they only conceded 5 tries in 6 games and having allowed a measly 69 points, at an average of less than 12 a game they finished the group stages with the tightest defence too. To slightly shatter the illusion that Clermont were the perfect rugby team during the group stages it should be pointed out that in their 2 games against Italian whipping boys Aironi they scored a total of 136 points, while Aironi managed just 3 in the same 2 games. These 2 thrashings mean that Clermont have 2 players in the top 10 try scorers of this season’s competition with both their wingers, giant French International Julien Malzieu (all 6 feet 4 inches of him) and former All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu having 5 and 4 scores respectively. OpinionSaracens lost their last league game to Harlequins in front of a World Record crowd of 83,761fans at Wembley and they won’t want that to be the start of a losing streak that could leave their season in shreds. Clermont’s sensational statistics and their 2 one sided encounter’s with Aironi mask the fact that they lost their other 2 away games in the group stages, one game 23 – 19 to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road and the other at Ravenhill to Ulster 16 – 11. While Clermont appear to have a plethora of talent and the perfect combination of gnarled old vet’s like Canadian International Jamie Cudmore and French International Prop Lionel Faure and exuberant youngsters like current French scrum half Morgan Parra and in my opinion the most talented youngster playing in France at the moment 20 year old full back Jean Marcel Buttin the one thing that always effects them is their mind set away from home. With the possible inclusion of players who missed out at Wembley like Rhys Gill, Brad Barritt, John Smit, Andy Saull, Kameli Ratavou and a possible first involvement in the Heineken Cup for Rugby League convert Joel Tomkins Saracens should be able to play on Clermont’s fragile psyche and progress to the Semi Final’s, however if the Clermont team who rattled up 82 points in Italy turn up it could be a thriller.


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