THIS WEEK, WE took a little time out and scanned up and down the schedule for matchday one of the greatest competition Europe has to offer.
An hour later, we had puffed our cheeks, scratched our heads and scribbled out one away win after another. Baffled. We were pretty much ready to throw our hat at it until a suave moustachioed Adonis stopped by to offer some friendly advice.
Ospreys v Treviso, Friday, 8pm
Donal Lenihan: Guaranteed home win, Ospreys found their mojo in the last couple of weeks. They lost to Treviso in the early weeks of the Rabo. I just can’t see it happening again.
Ulster v Castres, Friday, 8pm
DL: Friday night at Ravenhill, Ulster are in tremendous form and won five out of five – I think they even won their pre-season friendlies. They understand the importance of winning the opening game.
Edinburgh v Saracens, Saturday 1.35pm
DL: Tight one, Saracens favourites for the pool while Edinburgh have been all over the place. They lost to Treviso last week which was a shock to the system. It’s a 50-50 game, but I’ll slightly favour the home advantage as Edinburgh’s squad is strong and we saw last year how much the Heineken Cup means to them.
Racing v Munster, Saturday 2.45pm
DL: Ideally I’d wait to see Racing’s team. They are favourites, but I’d give Munster every chance of winning this. Simon Mannix’s knowledge will be a huge advantage to them. He was at Racing for five seasons and he, maybe more than anyone, will know what buttons to press. It will be another tight one, but Munster might just squeeze it.
Zebre v Connacht, Saturday 2.45pm
DL: This is one of the reasons English clubs are upset. Zebre weren’t even in existence four months ago, now they’re in the Heineken Cup. Connacht have already gone and won there and they recognise they have to win, so I think they’ll bounce back after the inter-pro defeat.
Leinster v Exeter, Saturday 3.40pm
DL: Despite injuries, Leinster capable of fielding of a very strong squad. Exeter are difficult to play against in Sandy Park, but I think this one will be a bridge too far for them.
Clermont v Scarlets, Saturday 4.40pm
DL: A game well worth watching, Scarlets are a fabulous team to watch. They play a great brand of rugby. But Clermont is a very difficult place to go and I can’t see a home defeat.
Harlequins v Biarritz, Saturday, 6.0pm
DL: Harlequins at home should take this one. Biarritz are always good in the Heineken Cup. Quins were caught on the hop in Connacht last year and that’s still affecting them. Conor O’Shea played a weakened team last week so they’re focusing on Europe. Home win.
Northampton v Glasgow, Sunday, 12.45pm
DL: Northampton started off flying this season, but were beaten by London Irish last week. Glasgow have started slowly and have a new coach in Gregor Townsend. I think home advantage will count again.
Sale v Cardiff, Sunday, 12.45pm
DL: The glamour tie. Toss a coin on this one, both teams have been pretty poor. I think Sale are under so much pressure in the Premiership and have lost every game to date, so the Heineken Cup may well come as relief. No great logic to this, but it’ll go for Sale.
Toulouse v Leicester, Sunday, 4pm
DL: Probably the tie of the round. Leicester have not won this trophy since ‘02, and I think they’ll be a force this year. But, Toulouse have won the Top 14 twice in a row and will surely set sights back on the Heineken Cup this year. Home win.
Toulon v Montpellier, Sunday, 9.0pm
DL: Local derby, so plenty of pride at stake. Toulon have done well against Montpellier in recent times and I think they’ll take this one.
Fancy a go? Heineken® Star Predictor is the latest addition to the Heineken® Cup experience. It’s quick and easy to play.
After each round game-players are in with a chance of winning Heineken® Cup match tickets and an overall prize of a mouth-watering VIP package to the 2013 Heineken® Cup Final in Dublin… Not to mention the ultimate bragging rights of beating Donal Lenihan and George Hook.
Log on to www.heineken.ie to play the game. Entries for round one close at 5.0pm tomorrow (Friday).