Wales captain Sam Warburton says he would jump at the chance to lead the British Lions during next summer’s tour of Australia (Series Betting – Australia 11/10, draw, 16/1, Lions 5/6 with bet365).
Warburton previously revealed that he almost turned down the chance to skipper his country when offered the job by Warren Gatland in 2011, an honour that saw him become the youngest person to take on the role since the legendary Gareth Edwards.
The Cardiff Blues flanker is currently many people’s favourite to be handed the role, having led Wales with such distinction during their successful Six Nations campaign earlier this season (Wales 15/8 – 2013 Six Nations outright with bet365).
However, the 24-year-old has struggled with injury over the last 12 months, most notably a shoulder problem which ruled him out of the recent series against the Wallabies.
Despite his recent troubles, he now appears to be rediscovering his best form ahead of the autumn internationals and says there is no way he’d turn down the chance to captain the Lions if offered the role.
“I don’t think any player in British rugby would turn it down because captaining the Lions is the pinnacle of a players’ career,” he said.
“Mind you, I thought that about the Wales captaincy – I thought I could never turn that down and I nearly did!”
“Every British player if they’re honest about it would have it in the back of their mind.”
Glasgow Warriors (33/1 RaboDirect Pro12 Grand Final outright with bet365) have shown their intentions for the rest of the RaboDirect Pro12 season with the signing of Crusaders winger Sean Maitland.
The 24-year-old, who has Scottish grandparents, is waiting on a visa and the completion of a medical before making the move from New Zealand.
Having not played for the All Blacks in his career so far, Maitland may well be looked upon as a potential Scotland (14/1 Six Nations 2013 outright with bet365) international of the future.
Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend has admitted he is excited by the prospect of having the utility back, who is the cousin of Australia fly-half Quade Cooper, at the club.
He said: “We’re delighted to be welcoming a player of Sean Maitland’s calibre to Glasgow Warriors.
“The back three is an area of the team where we already have a number of excellent options, and Sean will provide a further layer of quality as we enter another busy phase of the season.
“His try-scoring record in Super Rugby speaks for itself, and he’s also a player who has a big appetite for self-improvement. He will be a fantastic addition to our squad and will, I’m sure, be very popular with our supporters.”
Wales (15/8 RBS 6 Nations 2013 outright – bet365) coach Neil Jenkins believes the current squad is continuing to make progress ahead of their autumn internationals next month.
The Welsh are getting set to travel to Poland for the training camp which served them so well before the 2011 World Cup, when they reached the semi-finals of the competition in New Zealand.
Argentina, Samoa, the All Blacks and Australia are ready in waiting for the RBS 6 Nations champions, who have called Rob McCusker ,Tavis Knoyle and Dan Biggar back into the squad, whilst Aaron Jarvis is set to earn his first cap next month.
Former Wales (8/1 World Cup 2015 outright – bet365) and British Lions star Jenkins believes the national side have options in all areas of team, which has been one of the reasons for their success in recent RBS 6 Nations campaigns.
He told WRU TV: “The one thing we’ve done over recent years is competition for places, no matter what position you’re in. It’s irrelevant if you’re captain or not.
“I think there’s always been pressure in different areas of the pitch. I think that’s healthy for the squad. I think that’s shown in the way we’ve played over the past few years.”
Sale Sharks director of rugby Bryan Redpath admits his men face a tough task to make it back-to-back Heineken Cup wins when they travel to play Montpellier on Sunday (Sale 6/1, Montpellier 1/9, draw 33/1 Match Prices with bet365).
The north-west outfit kicked off their European campaign with a superb come-from-behind victory over Cardiff Blues last Sunday and they sit second in the table behind French giants Toulon.
And it is Pool 6′s other side from across the English Channel who stand in the way of the Sale this weekend, with Montpellier looking to bounce back from the hammering they received at the hands of their compatriots last time out.
Redpath has made eight changes, one positional, for their first European away-day this term with mercurial fly-half Danny Cipriani promoted to the starting XV at Stade Yves du Manoir.
Sam Tuitupou and Richie Gray are unavailable through injury, while Tom Brady returns on the right wing, allowing Mark Jennings to switch to centre.
Redpath admits his men will have benefited from their comeback against the Welsh side but is under no illusions as to the size of the task his charges face on Sunday (Montpellier to win by 6-10 points 5/1 with bet365).
“We gained a lot of confidence from the last twenty five minutes last weekend, but not many teams go to France and win against the top six, no matter how well you’ve been playing,” he said.
“It’s a hugely challenging task for us, but one to which we’re looking forward to.”
Leicester fly-half Toby Flood believes his side will rise to the challenge on getting their Heineken Cup campaign back on track when they face the Ospreys on Sunday (Match Betting – Leicester 2/7, draw 22/1, Ospreys 11/4 with bet365).
The Tigers (20/1 Heineken Cup outright with bet365) got their European season off to a disappointing start last weekend, as they fell to a 23-9 defeat in rainy Toulouse.
Coach Richard Cockerill slammed his players following the loss and both Flood and half-back partner Ben Youngs have come in for plenty of criticism after they repeatedly decided to try and run Guy Noves’ men off the field, rather than play the percentages.
Inexperience was blamed following the defeat, but the England star says this is no excuse due to the number of internationals at Welford Road and the fly-half believes his team will relish the challenge of resurrecting their campaign when they face the Ospreys on Sunday.
“Our guys will revel in that challenge,” he said. “We are a year further down the line in our evolution. I am 27 now and the likes of Dan Cole and Ben Youngs, who have come through the academy, are all a year older.
“We have to look around the changing room at each other, believe in each other and know we are doing the right thing, and that we will follow each other through to the end.”
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall is looking forward to the challenge of the club playing their ‘home’ Heineken Cup encounter with Racing Metro in Belgium on Saturday (Saracens 1/4, draw 22/1, Racing Metro 3/1 Match Betting with bet365).
The London outfit travel to the King Baudouin Stadium looking to build on their 45-0 thrashing of Edinburgh up at Murrayfield last weekend, with a win in one of their registered home games across the Channel.
Sarries (11/1 Heineken Cup outright with bet365) attempted to play one of their Heineken Cup games from last season in Cape Town, South Africa, but ultimately failed to take the match to the southern hemisphere.
However the Aviva Premiership outfit, who are eager to expand the profile of rugby union and the club, have managed to get a game in Brussels.
McCall has admitted it is a risk to their Heineken Cup hopes this term by playing away from their home Vicarage Road but believes it’s one worth taking.
He told BBC Three Counties Radio: “Of course it’s a risk, but we’re a club that likes to take risks.
“We think rugby can sometimes be conservative in nature – so as a club we want to push boundaries. This is another example of that.
“Our away record in the Premiership and Europe is very strong, so it’s not an issue to the players.”
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder has paid tribute to the efforts of hooker Dylan Hartley as the team prepares for Sunday’s Heineken Cup clash with Glasgow (Match Betting – Northampton 1/9, draw 33/1, Glasgow 11/2 with bet365).
The tie against the Scottish outfit marks the Saints’ return to European action following last year’s failure to qualify from Pool 1 (Northampton 7/4 to win their Pool with bet365).
And Mallinder is backing Hartley, who recently scooped the Premiership Player of the Month award for his efforts on the domestic scene for Northampton, to steer the team to victory in tomorrow’s encounter.
“Dylan has led the team very well in September, and the Player of the Month award reflects his personal performances and how well he has led the team,” said Mallinder, who has guided Saints to top of the Premiership table at this early stage of the season.
“He works very hard on his skills, and has matured into an excellent captain, and I am sure he will be at the centre of things for us tomorrow.”
The Saints have taken an impressive 22 points from their first six matches, though Harlequins, Leicester and Saracens remain hot on their trail.
Mallinder has identified both competitions as priorities for Northampton in 2012/13, and success at home and in Europe would provide a welcome boost to the club following a drought of major trophies in recent seasons.
The Saints last won the Heineken Cup in 2000, though they did finish as runners-up in the competition two years ago.
Ulster (12/1 Heineken Cup outright with bet365) coach Mark Anscombe says his side will need to improve if they’re to win the Heineken Cup, despite their impressive 41-17 victory over Castres on Friday.
The Irish province reached the final of the competition last season and are understandably one of the favourites to win the tournament this time around after another strong start to the campaign.
However, they face a tough task if they’re to get out of their group, having also been drawn alongside Northampton and Glasgow.
The 1999 champions (8/11 to win Pool 4 with bet365) got their campaign off to the perfect start against Castres but had to wait until the final moments to seal a bonus point for scoring four tries.
Anscombe admits he was disappointed with his side’s lack of firepower and says they’ll need to be more clinical if they’re get through to the knockout rounds.
“That’s what we set out to do (get a bonus-point win) as I said to the guys we had to set out to achieve that and we did,” he said. “But we know we’ve got a lot to do and we’ve got to do it next week. But we achieved what we needed to do tonight.
“It might have been fortunate but we did it. Our execution, though, became a bit too loose at times.”
Saracens’ number eight Jackson Wray says his side are not concerned by their lack of tries this season and believes it’s only a matter of time before they start crossing the opposition tryline (Match Betting – London Welsh 7/2, draw 25/1, Saracens 1/5 with bet365).
Sarries have failed to score a five-pointer in their last three games and have had to rely heavily on the form of their kickers Owen Farrell and Charlie Hodgson.
This is a far cry from the traditional Saracens style, which for years has seen them throw the ball around with almost reckless abandon as they typically ground teams down with their relentless attacking.
Wray (10/3 to score a try at anytime with bet365) says this is partly down to his side’s focus on their defence and their hard work has certainly served them well in recent seasons, most notably in 2010/11 where they claimed their first Premiership title.
However, the 21-year-old insists his side do like to attack and, following the reintroduction of Hodgson, he expects them to open up over the next few weeks, starting at London Welsh on Sunday.
“We’ve always taken great pride in our defence-first approach and if you look at our performances this season we’ve not shipped more than 16 points in any game so far,” he said. “We’re working on it at the moment and we know the tries will come. We would rather be in this situation than playing in 40 or 50 point games every week.”
Owen Farrell, whose six goals secured victory for Saracens against Harlequins on Sunday, has paid tribute to kicking coach Dan Vickers, as Sarries chase a second Aviva Premiership Grand Final win in three years (Saracens 5/2 – Premiership Grand Final outright bet365).
The win over Quins has lifted the team to within six points of pace-setters Northampton, and provided the perfect response following a shock defeat to Exeter a week earlier.
Sarries have now gone three matches without scoring a single try, but Farrell says he’s delighted with his accuracy in front of goal, less than a month after missed penalty attempts cost his side victory against Leicester.
“We have a brilliant kicking coach here in Dan Vickers and I went through things when I was kicking well last year and compared it with how I kicked at Wembley,” said Farrell, the son of former England international Andy.
“I saw some differences and I put them right and made sure I practised enough that I was comfortable with it going into these games. They were only little changes, nothing too big, but it’s helped.”
Sarries will look to make up further ground on Northampton and second-placed Quins when they travel to face competition new boys London Welsh this weekend (Saracens 11/4 to finish top of the Aviva Premiership).
Leicester Tigers, meanwhile, will be out to justify their tag as pre-season favourites when they travel to face Sale on Friday evening (Leicester 7/4 – Grand Final outright bet365).
The Tigers are level on points with Sarries, but could apply pressure on the leading teams with victory over the winless Sharks ahead of the weekend’s programme of fixtures.