Free Picks: Heineken Cup Semi-Finals Picks & Predictions

Richard O'Hagan

Thursday, April 25, 2013 4:42 PM UTC

Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013 4:42 PM UTC

Europe’s premier club rugby competition, the Heineken Cup, reaches the semi final stage this weekend and both games promise to be every bit as special as you’d expect at this stage of the competition. 

On Saturday, Ireland’s last remaining representatives Munster travel to red hot favourites Clermont-Auvergne. The French side won a remarkable 59 matches on the trot at home and even though this game is being played on technically neutral ground in Montpellier, you can bet that the crowd will be every bit as passionate as if it had been played in their own stadium.

Just to make Munster’s task even harder, they go into the match with some huge injury problems. All Black winger Doug Howlett and veteran Irish lock Donnacha O’Callaghan are both missing, whilst flanker Peter O’Mahony - arguably Ireland’s best player during the Six Nations - and utility back Keith Earls are also serious doubts according to Director of Coaching Rob Penney. 

The problem with playing Clermont is that their resources are so vast and their squad so deep. The team regularly has five All Blacks just on the replacements bench, whilst the back line not only boasts the current star of French rugby, Wesley Fofana, but two great international wingers in captain Aurelien Rougerie and New Zealand’s Sitiveni Sivivatu. 

Clermont are currently a best price of 1/7 to win this game, so the best place to make money will be the ‘first tryscorer’ market. Paddy Power have Rougerie at 12/1, but the veteran Frenchman always seems to come up with something special on the big occasion and that price therefore looks far too generous to ignore. 

The attention switches to Twickenham on Sunday, as the final English challengers, Saracens, take on the second French side left in the competition, Toulon. Aside from heralding the return of the legendary Jonny Wilkinson to the ground where he turned in so many stellar performances in an England jersey, this promises to be much more of a battle than the other semi final. 

Toulon, like Clermont, are loaded with stars. Aside from Wilkinson they have the likes of England’s Andrew Sheridan, South African Bakkies Botha and, of course, a galaxy of French talents such as Frederic Michalak and the giant centre Matthieu Basteraud. But Saracens have their own stars, including five of England’s regular seven backs, a bunch of hardened South Africans (including former Springbok skipper John Smit) and Scotland captain Kelly Brown. 

The betting odds on this game have fluctuated, with each team taking it in turns to be favourites. At even money with Sportingbet Toulon do not look as good value as Saracens, even with the English side only 11/10 at best. As it could turn into something of a kicking contest, with both sides boasting superb goalkickers in Wilkinson and Owen Farrell, steer clear of tryscorer markets and instead have a look at the half time/full time options. I suspect we’ll see Saracens win this one from behind, so go for Toulon to lead at half time and Sarries to pull it back at the end, at 15/2 with SkyBet. 

Looking at the overall winner market, Clermont are hot favourites and you’ll do well to get better than 4/6 on them. Toulon are 7/2 in most places, but I like the 9/2 on Saracens at BetVictor. And remember that now is exactly the right time to place your sports picks in this market, because those odds will shorten even further after the weekend.

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