The Longshot: Reds not out of their depth against Sharks 

The Longshot: Reds not out of their depth against Sharks 

No place to hide: Munster’s Stephen Archer dejected after the game with Glasgow last weekend.

MUNSTER’s European Cup adventures continue tomorrow with a 12.30pm kick-off in that most European of cities, Durban.

The Reds are rated 11/8 to advance to the quarter-finals of European Rugby Champions Cup (due a name-change perhaps) with a win in South Africa against the Sharks..

The home side are 4/7 favourites to win the tie and 16/1 for the title. Munster are offered at 40/1 for outright glory for a third time.

I was in Thomond Park last Saturday evening and judging on the action there, you would be wondering if the Reds have any chance in South Africa.

They were missing a number of Grand Slam heroes (although scrum-half Craig Casey came on and helped stir a bit of a comeback) so the starting 15 this weekend could see a number of changes.

French-born centre and Irish-qualified Antoine Frisch was left outof the squad last weekend but has been ever present in big games for the Reds this season and should tighten things up in defence.

RG Snyman’s springing from the bench was also a boost after his struggles with injuries.

Still, a couple of minutes into the second half they found themselves 31-0 down (the tenner I put down at 20/1 on a comeback at half-time immediately drifting to 40/1)..

That’s not great form coming into the biggest game of their season.

The Reds did manage to put a bit of respect on the score and it finished 38-26, but it will still go down as one of the worst ever home performances by the province.

Sometimes you are very glad that they sell beer at the stadium.

If there was some better news last weekend it was that the Scarlets beat a full-strength Sharks 32-20.

Munster and the Sharks have only played once before, in the first game that let substantial crowds back after covid times in September 2021.

The Reds won that one 42-17.

If Munster defeat Sharks they would then meet the winner of Toulouse (who have beaten them twice in the competition already and knocked them out at the stage last season ) and last year’s URC finalists Bulls in the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

At half five tomorrow some more of our Slam winners will be on a collision course at Lansdowne Road when 6/5 tournament favourites Leinster meet 100/1 shots Ulster.

Ulster is dotted with players who were involved in the Six Nations achievement and certainly will go into the clash thinking they can do a job on their hosts at 13/2.

Shugo Maki and Shohei Ohtani celebrate after beating the US during the World Baseball Classic.
Shugo Maki and Shohei Ohtani celebrate after beating the US during the World Baseball Classic.

MAJOR League baseball got back underway last night in the US and World Series champs the Houston Astros (6/1 to retain the crown they won by beating the Philadelphia Phillies in six games last autumn) get going this evening when they host the Chicago White Sox.

A lot of folk over here get annoyed with the title World Series and say it’s a bit like changing the All-Irelands to World Championships.

The common response to this is the Series got its title from being sponsored by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World way back when.

But safe to say any US team sport victors do consider themselves world champs whenever they lift a trophy.

America’s most storied game has rarely got much traction on this side of the Atlantic, although it has travelled better over the much larger Pacific.

So much so that Japan were crowned actual world champs last week when beating the founders of the game in a decider. First held in 2006 and won by Japan (who retained their title three years later), the World Baseball Classic is the only top-level international competition outside the Olympics (which the Japanese are also reigning champs in).

The US have only won the Classic once (to add to a sole Olympic gold in 1996 - they trail Cuba who have three golds).

It’s not like the US roster isn’t full of star MLB players either. Like Japan, it is. And the tournament was a big draw in regard to TV ratings.

Japanese all-rounder Shohei Ohtani stole the show. He is excellent at pitching and batting – skills which are usually mutually exclusive in the game. His statistics (it’s a game mired in stats) in Tuesday’s final have been acclaimed as the most astounding top-flight baseball since the legendary Babe Ruth achieved similar numbers more than 100 years ago.

There was a very dramatic finish to the final too. In the ninth inning, with Ohtani pitching and Japan just one out away from winning, three-time American League MVP Mike Trout (a Los Angeles Angels teammate of the man whe was facing from the mound) stepped up to the plate f

Throwing fastballs of up to 101mph, Ohtani took two strikes off Trout before luring the US captain to swing and miss at a slower slider for a final strike.

Trout and Ohtani’s LA Angels side are 50/1 outsiders to challenge for the World Series this season, with cross-town rivals the Dodgers seen as the best pretenders to the Astros’ crown at 7/1.

Also in the hunt to end a 14-year winless streak should be the New York Yankees (8/1), who managed to persuade the biggest hitter in the game Aaron Judge to stay on the East coast during intense off-season negotiations.

Premier posers

MAN City hosting Liverpool at the Etihad tomorrow afternoon is probably a game many would have had down as a title decider when the fixtures were announced last summer.

That neither of them might win the league is something few would have imagined.

But Liverpool have fallen a long way this season and could do with a win here to keep their hopes of making the top four alive. They are 5/1 to overturn City and give Arsenal a huge opportunity to stretch their lead at the top even further when they face Leeds at home at 3pm.

Liverpool are priced at 5/2 to make it back into the top-level of European football again next season.

Third meet fifth on Sunday when Newcastle host Man United. A win by the Toon would have them level on 50 points with the men from Old Trafford. Spurs could be the beneficiaries if these two draw as they face Everton on Monday and can go third (with two games in hand) if they win and there is a stalemate on Tyneside.

Australian GP

FORMULA ONE returns this weekend with the Australian Grand Prix and the last race in Saudi Arabia hints that there is a tiny chance there could be a title race this year, specifically between two-time champ Max Verstappen and Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez.

This is the 13th season in Formula One for the 33-year-old Mexican and last year’s third in the driver standings is his best finish.

After his wire-to-wire win in Jeddah he is now 14/1 (alongside two-time champ and fellow veteran Fernando Alonso at this price) to overtake his supremely talented teammate this year and stop the Dutch man doing a three in a row.

Last year’s overall runner-up Charles Leclerc is the defending champion at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, speeding to a 20-second victory over the rest of the pack. Pérez finished second and George Russell finished another five seconds back in third to round out the podium (Verstappen had to retire in the race).

The odds this weekend are 2/5 on Verstappen, 5/1 on Perez and 12/1 Alonso.

The Red Bull duo are on 87 points in the Constructors’ championship and it’s just 10/11 that they beat Mercedes season record of 765 points from 2020 this season.

The Bet

LET’s go all out and take Munster to win by 1-5 points, Leinster, Exeter, Leicester, La Rochelle, Stormers and Saracens to all win their round of 16 fixtures to give you an 18/1 seven-timer.

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