There’s guaranteed to be a French finalist in this, as three of the last four come from that country. From the other European nations, only Leinster of Ireland remain. The prize for winning this weekend is not only a place in the final, but also a guaranteed place in next season’s Heineken Cup.
The first game, on Friday evening, is the all-French affair between Perpignan and Stade Francais Paris. There are no neutral semi-final venues in this competition, so Perpignan will have the support of 14,000 partisan home fans behind them at a ground where they have only lost once in their last 32 European ties. The two sides have played twice in the Top14 competition this season and honours are even, each side winning their home tie. That doesn’t bode well for Stade, who have lost two out of their last three games to French opponents in this competition.
Also take a look at our Heineken Cup Semi-Finals Picks.
It should be an intriguing contest, matching the side with the highest number of yards gained per match - Perpignan - against the one with the greatest number of points per match. There are stars aplenty on both sides, with James Hook of Wales running the game for the hosts from his favoured fly half position and hoping to avoid the attentions of Italian captain Sergio Parisse, who will be at number 8 for Stade.
Perpignan are odds on to win this at 2/5, so you really have little to lose by taking the 15/8 that Paddy Power are offering on a Stade Francais win. The two sides are more evenly matched than those betting odds suggest and the visitors stand a real chance of breaking that Perpignan winning streak.
The second semi-final is on Saturday, as Biarritz Olympique travel to Dublin to take on Leinster. For a side that has won three Heineken Cups since 2009 just appearing in this competition represents something of a comedown, but Leinster have been bedeviled by injuries this season and will want to use this occasion to show that they truly are back to full strength. Moreover, they will be spurred by the possibility of winning one last trophy for Brian O’Driscoll in what many believe will be the legendary centre’s final season.
In this aim the hosts will be greatly assisted by the return from injury of hooker Richardt Strauss, who has been sorely missed both by them and the Irish national side, whilst Jonathan Sexton has a chance to prove to the British & Irish Lions selectors that he is back to full fitness after his hamstring injury. On the Biarritz side, though, it must be remembered that they are the defending champions in this competition and they boast a talent almost as mercurial as O’Driscolls in captain and number eight Imanol Harinordiquay, That said, they don’t come into the game in the finest of form, lying as they do 11th in the Top14 and having failed to even score against Bordeaux-Begles last weekend.
This is another game with the home side a hot favourite. Leinster are trading at anything from 2/9 inwards and with Biarritz in poor form yet only 3/1 this is another game where the value is in betting elsewhere than on the win. Look to markets such as the first try scorer, where you’ll get decent odds on O’Driscoll to be that man.
The overall winner market again favours Leinster, who are best priced at around 4/9. However, I do like the look of Perpignan and even though their away form isn’t great, the final will be at a neutral venue and that shouldn’t impede them in the same way. At 4/1 with Paddy Power they look to have much better value for our sports picks.