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On Saturday, Quins travel to the Kingspan Stadium for the first of two consecutive meetings against Ulster. Surely, whoever comes out on top will decide who advances to the knockouts, with Clermont waiting to capitalize on any slip-up.
Ulster have started this season in fine fettle: unbeaten at home and losing only to Munster and to the Cheetahs in South Africa – 2 months ago.
In Gameweek 1, the Irish internationals rejoining the squad proved vital in establishing Ulster as genuine pool-topping contenders. A last-minute try-saving tackle/diving intercept (who knows what he meant to do) from Jacob Stockdale ensured that Ulster left with 4 points in their game against Bath. A lot has been made of Stockdales’ defensive liabilities of late, especially during the warm-ups to – and the World Cup itself – but he’s certainly silenced his critics. At least for the moment.
Harlequins, on the other hand, haven’t really got going yet this season. They, too, managed to grind out a try-less win over Bath, but have since lost their last 3, which included a 53-21 battering at Clermont. To add injury to insult, last week, full-back Mike Brown was ruled out for the rest of the season.
Quins will need to win on Saturday to keep their hopes of qualifying alive, as you would expect Clermont to beat Bath on Friday night… right? Check out our full predictions for this weekend!
The two teams’ recent results, and given that neither team has scored a 4-try bonus point thus far, suggests that the game will hinge around the set piece and the penalty count. But…
The Algorithm Predicts: Ulster 33 – 22 Quins
Both teams have plenty of talent in their back line to tilt the game in their team’s favour:
Marcus Smith has been fantastic so far this season and whilst he’s been more accurate with the boot than last year, Quins will hope he brings all his playmaking ability to get a favourable result. Can Quins finally get going with a flair-filled performance this weekend?
In the absence of WIll Addison, Craig Gilroy will have a big part to play in trying to find holes in the Quins defence. He has the joint-second-most clean breaks (12) in the Pro14, and coach Dan McFarland will expect a couple more come Saturday afternoon.
Whichever way it goes, these back-to-back meetings will be critical for those wanting to impress Eddie Jones, and new Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, ahead of the 6 Nations.