The Longshot: Munster victory might not be necessary for progress

The Longshot: Munster victory might not be necessary for progress

Tadgh Beirne attempts to block the clearance of Antoine Dupont of Toulouse in last month's Heineken Champions Cup Round 1 meeting of the two teams at Thomond Park in early December . Picture: ©INPHO/Tom Maher

MUNSTER are 8/1 to win their remaining Champions Cup pool game that pits them against Toulouse in the south of France on Sunday at 3.15pm (BT Sport).

Victory isn’t exactly likely as those odds will tell you, although it isn’t necessary either to advance in the competition.

With the new unwieldy format, eight of the 12 teams in Pool B will qualify for the round of 16 and all 12 clubs are still in with the chance to advance to the next round ahead of the final weekend of fixtures.

Unlike last year, the round of 16 will not be played over two legs. Munster lie sixth in the table at the moment and the top four teams will earn a home tie in the next round. A tight loss at home to Toulouse in the fog before Christmas means that even a surprise win probably won’t secure that. However defeat is unlikely to send the Reds through a trapdoor either, especially if they can snatch a losing bonus point.

Also in Munster’s favour is that a Sunday fixture means they will have a good idea of what they will need to do in order to advance.

Fourth-placed Stormers are one point ahead of Munster and at home against Clermont Auvergne, who have three points less than Munster. Montpellier are two points behind Munster ahead of their home game against London Irish with Sale Sharks four points behind and away to Ulster.

Despite being lost in the Slieve Bloom mountains two hours before kick-off last Saturday (a short, boring story I won’t recount here), I managed to make it to my seat in Thomond Park five minutes after kick-off for the visit of Northampton, although at the cost of a very undeserved parking ticket. Is it just me, or should you not park slightly on the pavement (allowing room for buggies and wheelchairs) if parking completely on a road -with no yellow lines - would block it completely for over two hours? Fine police work going on there.

Anyway, at 24-0 up in the first half it seemed Munster would win at a canter, however the red card picked up by Jack O’Donoghue meant they really had to pull out all the stops to hang on after the interval.

Northampton got it down to one score and murdered a few opportunities close to the try line to turn the pressure up.

Also Northampton’s need to win the game meant they didn’t take a great chance to draw the game with a few minutes left. Still, hanging in there will stand to a Munster side that finished on the field without many of their more storied names, such as Carbery, O’Mahony, Earls and Murray (the latter two didn’t even make the match-day squad).

Leinster have already qualified and will be thinking further ahead of lifting the Heineken Cup in Dublin next May.

They have dispatched all before them in an unbeaten 15-game season to date and a win over Racing 92 at Lansdowne Road on Saturday would mean not having to  leave Dublin at all to secure a fifth European Cup.

That doesn’t look like something that will stretch them too much and they are 1/16 to win the game against the three-time finalists in the past seven years. They are 13/8 to join Toulouse on five titles. Toulouse and Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle are 5/1. Munster are 28/1 long shots.

Smith blocks Eubank’s path to world title fight

WHILE Chris Eubank Jr has never fully emerged from the long shadow cast by the incredibly entertaining career of his father, he has now amassed a decent 32-2 record with 23 of those victories inside the distance.

His only two defeats came to two good British fighters, Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves.

He was of course due to take on the son of his dad’s great rival Nigel Benn, Connor, last October, but that bout was cancelled when Benn failed a drug test.

And so he will now take on Liverpool’s Liam Smith (36-3-1) tomorrow evening instead at the AO Arena in Manchester.

Smith is also from a boxing family.

His three brothers, Paul, Stephen and Callum, have all been British champions and have all challenged for world titles.

While Liam, as well as his younger brother Callum (who has beaten Groves), have both previously been world champions. Liam lost his WBO light-middleweight crown to Canelo Alvarez in his first professional defeat in 2016.

Brighton boxer Eubank has not been in action since beating another Liam, Liam Williams (who Smith also beat twice) by unanimous decision while knocking him down four times on his way to victory last February.

There is some history between the pair but they have opposing memories of a previous sparring session.

Eubank was delighted with a large billboard in the host city to promote the fight: “It won’t be the first time Liverpool have come to Manchester and taken a beating.” The existence of a rematch clause means this could develop into a bit of a rivalry if bigger bouts cannot be secured by the winner, although Eubank is hoping a win will lead him to a mega-fight with Gennadiy Golovkin or even Alvarez and he surely knows defeat would probably shut him off from a path to a world title fight once and for all.

He has four-weight World Champ and boxing legend Roy Jones Jnr (who managed to step out of the shadow of his dad) in his corner.

Eubank is 4/9 and Smith 5/2. Unfortunately, the bout is behind the Sky box office curtain.

Expect a close and sapping contest. We’ll go for Eubank to stop it in round 10 at 25/1.

Busy weekend for the Puula family

LAST week in our preview of the Australian Open tennis we failed to mention the then third and now second favourite, Jessica Pegula, who is 7/1 to win her first Grand Slam event, despite being 28 and never having got past the quarter stages of a major.

The curious thing about the American is that her family are involved in another high-stakes sports event this weekend, as her parents Terry and Kim Pegula are the owners of the Buffalo Bills (and the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League).

The Bills take on last year’s SuperBowl runners-up the Cinicinatti Bengals on Sunday, billed as a face-off between quarterbacks Josh Allen and Joe Burrow.

The Bills are generally considered the Mayo of the NFL, having lost four finals between 1991-94, including missing a kick in front of the posts in the first of those Super Bowls to clinch their only-ever title. Scott Norwood was the infamous kicker who toed that ball "wide and right".

They are money-on to win on Sunday and 7/2 second favourites to finally end their hoodoo in a few weeks.

Although vying to join Norwood in notoriety earlier this week was the Dallas Cowboys' Brett Maher, who missed four extra-point kicks after touchdowns in their game against Tampa Bay. they still won, knocking out Brady's side in the process, but place kickers will usually miss only one or two conversions a season, nevermind four consecutively in one game (Norwood's miss was a 47-yard field goal; the extra-point kicks are all from 33 yards). That he managed to kick a fifth means he might just be retained for the Cowboys (13/8) crunch clash with long-time rivals the San Francisco 49ers (1/2) this weekend.

Gotta serve somebody

LAST year’s Wimbledon runner-up and second seed Down Under, Ons Jabeur (who was knocked out yesterday) almost turned the atmosphere as blue as the surface in her post-match interview after her first-round win at the Aussie Open.

After a draining three-setter the Tunisian was asked about what her recovery would look like immediately after the game.

Jabeur said: “An ice bath and I’m gonna make my husband work tonight to have a lot of massage and a good recovery.” 

The crowd inside Rod Laver Arena found this a bit kinky before Jabeur explained her husband is also her fitness coach.

Air turns blue for broadcast

ALSO turning the air blue this week was a concealed mobile phone in the BBC studio for the Liverpool-Wolves game on Tuesday night.

Gary Lineker’s pre-match broadcast was accompanied by a loud ringtone that repeatedly filled viewers’ audio with carnal noises.

The culprit was later discovered to have been a “YouTube comedian” who taped the phone under one of the pundit’s seats, but not before one person suggested the coitus interruptions sounded like Gary Neville and Martin Tyler when Man United won a corner.

The Bet

MUNSTER are gaining a bit of momentum and I don’t expect them to be steamrolled by the Frenchmen and 23/20 on them +14 points looks good value considering they will want to stay close to their hosts and Toulouse have no real need to win stretching away.

Eubank to win in the 10th round at 25/1 is also recommended.

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