Both the Europen and English crown hang in the balance, so choosing our victors may prove a challenge. So to strengthen our pool of knowledge we’ve recruited the talismanic OURFC captain John Carter to add his weight.
John Carter (OURFC captain): Looking at how the teams have developed through the knockout stages I feel that Clermont Auvergne have gone through the gears and are now peaking with an incredibly strong squad. It is clear that unlike a lot of French teams they have targeted this competition after winning the Top14 competition last season. A home semi-final uits them and Munster who played well in the quarter-final will struggle as they seem to be reliant on one or twoplayers. Once in the final I feel they simply have too many world class match winners throughout the squad and a win in Dublin will be theirs.
Richard Foord – Hertford captain: Clermont Auvergne: Overcame Montpelier with ease in the quarter final, they are the hot tip to reign supreme in Europe this season. Possessing the likes of Wesley Fofana (pictured) and Morgan Parra, it would take a brave man to bet against them.
Other votes: Charley Turton – Toulon; Miles Dilworth – Clermont
John Carter: It’s all about peaking at the right time! Quins and Northampton look tired and the Northampton game plan seems to have been worked out. However Leicester are peaking along with Saracens whose ground move has seen them play a more expansive game, which is coming good on the hard grounds towards the end of the season. So I think it will be a Leicester v Saracens final, and although it will be close, I feel Sarries are a little stronger throughout the team – Borthwick may cancel out Croft / Parling in the line out which is a strength of Leicester’s. Sarries to win by 5.
Richard Foord: Saracens. Still fighting for European glory, the Sarries will need to pull all their resources to secure the domestic championship. The London club are really going places this year with a new state of the art stadium. A Premiership title would fit perfectly in their new trophy cabinet.
Miles Dilworth: Hurts me to say it but ’Quins are really struggling at the moment. Lost a very winnable tie against Munster in the Heineken Cup and just can’t find any form even with their England players back. Leicester v Saracens final, which will be a cracker, impossible to split them on the quality of their squads, both are in good form, but Saracens are in better form.
With the battle for the Premier League all but mathematically decided and Man City now the heavy favourites for the FA Cup, it seems that the fight for survival and European glory will be the main focus of the remainder of the footballing season. It was unanimously agreed that QPR and Reading are down, so the debate centred around who would join the London clubs in the bottom three. Helping us to decide the fate of football is OUAFC captain Sam Donald.
Sam Donald (OUAFC captain): Bayern Munich look the strongest team left in the competition, but the semi-final draw means they’ll likely to have to beat both Real and Barca to lift the trophy, two of the best club teamsof the past decade, even if slightly on the wane. Meanwhile Real should progress to the final, despite the trouble Dortmund gave them earlier in the season, so Real Madrid have to be favourites for a historic tenth Champions League.
Alex Tyndall: Barcelona will probably have a harder time of the semis than the Madrileños since I think Bayern offer a greater threat. The final will then be yet another Clàsico whose result will depend on how well Real deal with Lionel Messi. If pressed I’d hand it to Real Madrid, but I couldn’t say why.
Richard Foord: Bayern Munich. The most impressive performers at the quarter final stage, sweeping aside Juventus with ease, Bayern will be desperate to go one better than last year. They are organized enough to blunt the Barcelona attack in the semis, and have the depth to go the whole way this time around.
Joe Mansour: Bayern Munich have the strongest all-round squad out of the teams left in the tournament. Their attack will cause Barcelona’s defence problems, just like they did against Juventus, while although Real Madrid’s attacking prowess should be enough to see of Dortmund they looked suspect at the back against Galatasaray. Bayern have a solid spine, with Martinez and Schweinsteiger, while any combination of their forwards will cause problems.
Other votes: Charley Turton – Barcelona
Verdict: Real Madrid
Sam Donald: Wigan and Villa are in good form, while Stoke have a few extra points and games against teams with nothing to play for. Sunderland meanwhile are in terrible form and have tough fixtures, so they’ve got to be favourites.
Alex Tyndall: I think Sunderland will make up the sad trio, and slightly hope they do after the debacle of sacking O’Neill at completely the wrong time. Sorry, Sunderland fans.
Joe Mansour: I think Wigan could muster a Great Escape again, while the Di Canio effect should mean that Sunderland scrape enough points to survive. Stoke, on the other hand, seem to be in free fall, with their squad lacking enough quality and the Britannia no longer proving the fortress it used to be.
Miles Dilworth: It’s between Villa, Wigan, Sunderland, Stoke and Norwich as well if they’re not careful. But having very thoroughly mulled over it all on the BBC Sport Premier League Predictor, it comes down to Sunderland vs Stoke on the 6th of May. Put it in your diary. Home advantage Sunderland, Stoke can’t buy a win and most importantly are lacking in goals. On the basis of their first-half display against Chelsea, the Di Canio factor might just save the Black Cats.
Other votes: Richard Foord – Sunderland; Charley Turton – Wigan
NB: votes were cast before Sunderland’s 3-0 trouncing of Newcastle, but one result doesn’t shake our convictions.
The Premier League may be a one-horse race this season, but the County Championship is anything but. Choosing a winning side from a field of nine can be no more than an educated guess, topped up with a heavy dose of gut instinct. Perhaps not surprisingly everyone plumped for an England victory in the Ashes, so perhaps the more intriguing debate is the winner of this year’s ICC Champions Trophy to be held in England. We recruited OUCC captain Sam Agarwal and secretary James Hooper to give their thoughts.
ICC Champions Trophy:
Sam Agarwal (OUCC captain): This is fairly open. I feel India, England, Pakistan and South Africa are the front runners. But due to their recent success I would choose South Africa.
Richard Foord: South Africa: Undisputedly the best test team around, but yet to properly fire in the one day format. This year could be their year though as they boast the most formidable batting line up in the world.
James Hooper (OUCC secretary): In English Conditions I think they’ll be the team to beat as the bowling is much more effective at home with the white ball while Cook, Trott and Bell make a good top 3 against the 2 new balls and the later order can provide fireworks. I do wish the’d pick Prior though, and just let him bat 6/7. Furthermore, every other competing team has glaring weaknesses which can be exploited. West Indies as dark horses as they won the last UK Champions Trophy, can beat anyone on their day and the main weakness is inconsistency – they have all the important bases covered.
Joe Mansour: South Africa – the team at the top of the one day rankings look strong, with Hashim Amla hoping to replicate the form in England that he showed last year. England should prosper in home conditions, but the question marks over the fitness of Swann and Pietersen suggest that this tournament could come too early for an England side that still flatters to deceive in the shorter form of the game.
Miles Dilworth: South Africa. If it wasn’t wedged in a year with back-to-back Ashes, you’d fancy England, but you feel they may be taken with other things. South Africa have such a strong team and are well suited to English conditions.
Verdict: South Africa
Sam Agarwal: Surrey. As a team they have undoubtedly the best squad with a good bowling attack and some very strong batting. They have a good mix of youth and experience which definitely tips them to win the trophy this year!
James Hooper: Very hard to say – I think maybe Sussex. I like the signings of Chris Jordan and Rory Hamilton-Brown, and with their bowling (Anyon, Magoffin, Panesar, Jordan etc) I don’t think they’ll struggle to get 20 wickets while the batting with Nash, Joyce, Yardy and H-B will score enough runs.
Richard Foord: Somerset: Perennial nearly men of county cricket, this year could finally be the year for Somerset. Marcus Trescothick cut an inspirational leader and the incoming Alviro Petersen should provide adequate cover whilst Nick Compton is on Ashes duty.
Joe Mansour: Warwickshire – I may be biased, being a Bears fan, but Warwickshire again have a squad with plenty of depth, as well as plenty of quality with both bat and ball. Varun Chopra provides solidity at the top of the order, ably assisted by Westwood and Porterfield, while the attack that led them to the Championship last season should stay reasonably intact. Woakes will probably be missing on England duty, but so long as Chopra, Wright, and Clarke make the final cut for the Champions Trophy Warwickshire should be challenging once again.
Miles Dilworth: This is one of the most difficult competitions to call and this year more so than most, as at least sixof the nine teams will feel that they are in with a chance. Last year’s winners Warwickshire have kept their squad together but it is so tough to win such a competitive trophy back-to-back, whilst Nottinghamshire and Somerset will be there or thereabouts as always. My London bias is pushing me towards the two clubs either side of the Thames. Middlesex have a fantastic seam attack, but they lack a quality spinner and a reliable middle order, Surrey have possibly the strongest squad but are still inexperienced. Despite their opening loss to Durham, I’m going to lump for Somerset.