European Champions Cup: Exeter to maintain promising start with Glasgow win
Simon Mail previews the second round of Champions Cup matches including Exeter's home clash against Glasgow and Saracens' match with the Ospreys...
Benetton v Northampton Saturday, 13:00 Live on BT Sport 3
Saints to complete Italian job
Northampton are on the way up again, under the guidance of Chris Boyd, with the Saints making an encouraging start to the season. The Saints won three of their first four Premiership matches and started their European campaign with a 25-14 win at home to Top 14 leaders Lyon. Benetton competed well against Leinster in their opener but were beaten 33-19.
With Leinster in this pool, Northampton know they will need to claim wins against Italian side Benetton if they are to challenge for a quarter-final place. The Saints hammered Benetton 67-0 in their last encounter five years ago. It will undoubtedly be much closer at Stadio Comunale di Monigo this weekend but Northampton have the confidence to win, covering a four point handicap.
Saracens may not win comfortably
Saracens v Ospreys Saturday, 13:00 Live on BT Sport 2 and Channel 4
Defending champions Saracens face a relegation fight in the Premiership after being docked 35 points for breaching the salary cap. This huge punishment means the club will prioritise their domestic matches and qualifying from their European pool looks an uphill struggle. Saracens' Champions Cup defence started with a 30-10 defeat at Racing 92 last week.
The Ospreys have their own problems after a poor start to the season, losing their last four games, which includes a 32-13 home defeat to Munster in their opening pool match. Saracens should have enough quality, even without some of their internationals, to claim the points but the Ospreys can stay within a 21-point handicap advantage. The last three meetings have been settled by no more than three points and the outsiders look worth supporting.
Chiefs can seal back-to-back wins
Exeter v Glasgow Saturday, 15:15 Live on BT Sport 2
Exeter have underachieved in Europe during recent seasons but Rob Baxter's side have given themselves a major opportunity to reach the knockout stages after their impressive 31-12 win at La Rochelle in their Champions Cup opener. Glasgow, who will come up against former player Stuart Hogg this weekend, also made a winning start after defeating Sale 13-7.
Dave Rennie, who will be leaving Glasgow next summer to take charge of Australia, is very familiar with facing Exeter and another tight battle looks likely at Sandy Park. All four of their Champions Cup meetings, which have taken place in recent seasons, have been settled by a single figure margin. Exeter should have the edge at home but the Warriors can keep it close.
Harlequins to see off Premiership opponents
Harlequins v Bath Saturday, 17:30 Live on BT Sport 2
Harlequins host Bath in their all-Premiership clash with both teams in need of a positive result. Quins were outclassed in France last week after conceding seven tries in their 53-21 defeat to Clermont Auvergne. Bath were more competitive, in their European opener, but failed to claim a victory as they were edged out 17-16 by Ulster at the Rec.
This match pitches two sides struggling for form together but home advantage tips the balance in Harlequins' favour. Bath have lost all their away games this season in the Premiership and could struggle to leave the Stoop with a victory. Paul Gustard promised he would put Quins' form right after their heavy defeat to Clermont and he can provoke a reaction from his players with the hosts winning by up to 12 points.
Sale can get off the mark
Sale v La Rochelle Sunday, 13:00 Live on BT Sport 2
Sale made a losing start to the Champions Cup after suffering a 13-7 defeat to Glasgow during a scrappy contest. The Sharks return home to face a La Rochelle side which were well beaten at home to Exeter. The importance of a win increases for both teams after their early setbacks if they are to have any hope of qualification for the last-eight.
The Sharks are typically strong at home and are fancied to get off the mark against their poor travelling opponents. La Rochelle have lost all of their away matches this season and it is difficult to see them ending this run at Sale. The French side have lost their last two games by at least 19 points and Sale can cover a 12-point handicap at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Gloucester face French struggle
Montpellier v Gloucester Sunday, 15:15 Live on BT Sport 2
Gloucester squandered a great opportunity to start their European season with a notable win over four-time winners Toulouse. The Premiership side led the Top 14 champions 20-9 at half-time but came unstuck in the second half as Toulouse earned a 25-20 victory at Kingsholm. Montpellier were edged out at Connacht after losing 23-20 in their first pool game.
Montpellier are unbeaten at home this season and the French club can maintain this record with a narrow win against Gloucester. This is the first meeting between the sides but Montpellier know a victory is vital if they are to stay in contention for the knockout phase. Gloucester have lost their last three matches although all were by less than ten points and another narrow loss looks likely this weekend.