Well, it’s finally come around, the Heineken sponsored European Rugby Competition that’s definitely not the Heineken European Cup.
I’m a lot more wary of predicting these games for a few reasons. On a practical level, I just have a lot less data on the French teams compared to the others in the competition because ESPN hasn’t made match level data available for the Top 14 before this season. I have added them in, but their ratings are based only on this season and past European form – which may be no guarantee of success.
More theoretically, there is the problem of motivation. Rugby is a funny game, and teams that look the same on paper may have totally different levels of motivation in real life – this seems especially true for French and Irish teams in the Heineken Cup. The Heineken Cup has always been seen as the real goal for the Irish provinces, much more so than the Pro 12, and perhaps especially so in Munster who depending on your viewpoint are either passionate masters of the heroic performance in Europe, or just not very bothered about the Pro 12. For French teams on the other hand, the opposite is usually true, with teams more interested in domestic success – particularly if they’ve suffered a few early defeats.
With all these caveats, here are the model’s predictions for the weekend:
|Home Win||Away Win|
|Racing Metro||42%||3%||54%||Northampton Saints|
Sarries are predicted to win what is surely a vital game against Clermont in a group where home wins are absolutely essential, while Munster have a good chance of beating Sale Sharks – also a must win in what looks like a very difficult group. Glasgow are expected to win at home to a Bath team after both ended a run of good form in away games last week. Saints are just expected to nudge an away win in France to Racing Metro, while Ospreys and Toulon are expected to comfortably beat Treviso and Scarlets.
Leinster are given a worryingly high chance of beating Wasps, given the recent form of both teams. Harlequins are expected to beat Castres at home, as are Toulouse against Montpellier. Ulster are expected to just about edge yet another European clash with Leicester.
Simulating all pool games, the model comes up with the following pools:
This would mean quarter-finals of:
Toulon V Harlequins
Leinster v Ospreys
Saints v Saracens
Clermont v Toulouse
I’m not sure I believe that – I’d certainly swap Saracens and Clermont – but take from it what you will and enjoy the games!