Teams: Edinburgh, Munster, Racing Metro, Saracens
McCafferty Unfairness Factor: High. Embra are here despite finishing second last and barely breaking a sweat in the Pro12 – Mick Bradley’s game-targeting didn’t endear himself to the Anglos, and we don’t blame them really.
Preview: Bish Bash Bosh? Certainly from the Saracens and Racing Metro sides, but lack of grunt up front is Munster’s new Achilles heel, so they will want to keep it lively. Ditto Embra, whose wonderful offloading game took them all the way to the semis last year – Ross Ford was a revelation, and Barnesy quoted some stat at the pre-semis round table about their front row being the top three offloaders in the competition.
This has all the hallmarks of a good old-fashioned dogfight. Racing Metro won’t be hugely bothered, but won’t want to lose at home – their gargantuan pack is their only weapon, which should make for uncomfortable viewing for Munster … were it not for the fact the game is in the Stade de France. Rugby’s popularity in Paree is questionable, and if the atmosphere is dead, Racing might be vulnerable. It’s an important game in pool terms, because two away wins look necessary to win this.
Munster should win all three in Thomond, but only Embra look eminently beatable away from home. The surprise factor of the marauding Scots has surely gone, and Sarries and Munster will be targeting doubles – let’s not write them off completely, but a repeat of last season looks highly unlikely.
Sarries are tailor-made for going to Racing and bashing out a narrow win, but moving their home fixture to Brussels means the return fixture is not the banker it should be. However, two wins there, and they will be confident of getting through – it’s likely to come down to Munster and Sarries, and Munster don’t yet have the pack to enable their exciting backs to get enough ball to do damage. Sarries carry more than a whiff of mid-2000s Munster, and that side would have licked their chops at the sight of the lightweight Ligind pack.
Verdict: Unless Paul O’Connell is fully fit and firing on all cylinders, it’s hard to see how Munster will have the heft to pull off two away victories. Sarries’ up the jumper approach looks tailor made for this pool, and we’re predicting them to emerge after a serious dogfight – we don’t think they will get enough points to earn a home QF though.
We aren’t ironclad about this one – Munster have an opportunity here, they have the best backline in the pool by far, and if they manage not to get mashed up front, there will be chances to score.