Dewi Morris casts his eyes over the Amlin Cup quarter-finals and predicts wins for Gloucester and Bath.
Last Updated: 04/04/13 12:40pm
I'm really looking forward to Gloucester kicking off an amazing weekend of rugby when they take on Biarritz on Thursday evening.
This is a massive game for Gloucester and one where they cannot afford to lose concentration. They played exceptionally well last weekend to beat Harlequins in the Premiership but the week before that they really struggled in their win against London Welsh. They are a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde side and really need to be more consistent.
I think Gloucester sometimes struggle to decide exactly what sort of game they want to play - are they hitting off the nine or off the ten? They are a better side and a much more balanced side when their backrow starts to rampage. Sione Kalamafoni, Akapusi Qera and Tom Savage have been very impressive and really get around the field.
We also know what their backs can do too. It is interesting that Billy Twelvetrees is rested and is on the bench. Henry Trinder and Mike Tindall are in the centres - you have one bludgeon and one rapier. Trinder is a wonderful attacking player - his movement and handling skills are fantastic and he is supposedly quicker than Jonny May! But he really needs to work on his defence. He won't go up the England pecking order unless he takes a close look at that.
Freddie Burns has to stop trying to do everything himself and look to bring his team-mates into play - I think that is why Tindall is back to help him do that. Charlie Sharples and Jonny May should get their hands on the ball too if their forwards provide them with the platform upfront. The forecast is dry and that should suit Gloucester.
We know what Biarritz will do - catch from the kick-off give it to Imanol Harinordoquy and roll the ball up the field. Dimitri Yachvili will box kick it from the back of the maul and that will be chased as they look for Gloucester to make mistakes.
If Gloucester don't make mistakes and keep hold of the ball then they should win this one. I would not say comfortably as Biarritz do have some form, and will really attack Gloucester's pack who have had a few scrummaging issues, however I think Gloucester will hold out.
On Saturday I am off to watch Bath host Stade Francais and I think Bath will also make it to the semi-finals. I really hope that Matt Banahan is fit to play for them though - he was very good against London Welsh but did go off injured. For me he is everything that is powerful and balanced about Bath.
Bath have also really benefitted from Peter Stringer at scrum-half - he does not mess about! I think any up and coming scrum-half should watch Stringer. He is not going to set the world alight with his breaks, but what he does is service the fly-half. He gets that ball out so well and that gives the No.10 the time to make the decision on what he is going to do with it. It stops the defenders shooting out too early and is one of the reasons why Bath can play on the front foot.
I do hope the likes of Kyle Eastmond and Semesa Rokoduguni get plenty of ball as both are really exciting - Rokoduguni has an incredible step!
Baths' pack are pretty gnarly too - Paul James and David Wilson scrummage well upfront while Carl Fearns at the back has come into some good form. Bath have become a bit more structured and hardnosed in their approach and that is what they need to do against Stade Francais.
Saying that Stade are in all sorts of trouble at the moment. Their coaching staff are gone - there are rumours that the Racing Metro coaching staff will be coming at the end of the year but no one really knows what is going on. Sergio Parisse pulled up in the warm-up against Toulon last weekend and they went on to lose that 40-11. The week before they also lost 43-16 to Toulouse so things are not going their way at the moment.
They are no mugs though and have a very strong scrum - David Lyons will shore up the base of the scrum if Parisse is still out. If they can do a job on Bath then they could have a route back into the Heineken Cup despite having a disastrous season in the Top 14.
It is up to Bath to out think and outplay them and I think home advantage should help them on Saturday.
Wasps are doing a lot of hard work in preparation for Leinster and this is their chance to really get a bit of glory. They are an exciting side with plenty of pace and in Stephen Jones they have a fly-half who can really control things.
The Leinster bubble has slightly burst - I did tip them to make it three Heineken cup titles in a row but that was not to be. They will be without the banned Brian O'Driscoll but have plenty of experience and I think they will be too streetwise for Wasps on this occasion.
The other Amlin Cup quarter-final is an all French affair between Perpignan and Toulouse. I am not sure if Toulouse are too interested in this game though which is a huge shame. They have one of the most vaunted squads in the Top 14 though and any side they put out will be good.
Perpignan is not an easy place to go even if they have not had the best of seasons. They are in seventh spot at the moment in the Top 14 - four points off the play-off spots and may well be concentrating on that. I think Perpignan will want to keep up momentum in that top six race though. Toulouse are sitting pretty in third and pretty disappointed at being knocked out of the Heineken Cup, so once again I will go for home advantage and pick Perpignan.
Catch all the action of the Amlin Cup and Heineken Cup quarter-finals, only on Sky Sports. Click here for live fixtures.