Thursday 19 October 2017

How the Irish provinces are set ahead of Champions Cup weekend

Noel Reid was in try-scoring form for Leinster at the weekend. Matt O'Connor's side host Castres at the RDS this Saturday.
Noel Reid was in try-scoring form for Leinster at the weekend. Matt O'Connor's side host Castres at the RDS this Saturday.
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Munster have no room for error, Leinster aiming to move top while Ulster face daunting trip to Toulon.

Pool 1 - Munster have no room for error

A routine victory in Italy may not have tested much

of Munster’s mettle but there were plenty of positives for Anthony Foley to take from it as they prepare for their must-win game against Saracens on Saturday.

Keith Earls (right) and James Cronin both returned from injury, while Dave O’Callaghan’s impressive display will add to Foley’s selection headaches.

Saracens have become a much more rounded team in recent seasons and playing on their artificial 4G surface will bring about its own challenges.

Owen Farrell missed their defeat to Gloucester last Friday but Mark McCall is “very confident” he will be fit in time for this weekend.

A win in London on Saturday before a home game against Sale would put Munster in with a decent chance of emerging from this ‘Pool of Death’.

Leaders Clermont Auvergne will be expected to beat a Sale side who caused a major upset on Saturday by comprehensibly beating Premiership champions Northampton Saints (20-7).

Pool 2 - Leinster aiming to move top

It’s dangerous to dismiss the challenge of Castres but deep down Matt O’Connor will surely be eyeing up a bonus-point home win.

Castres’ fall from grace continues by the week. They shipped another 49 points in the Top 14 last Friday and are now down to 13th in the table whilst showing little signs of improvement.

They will arrive in Dublin on Saturday for an evening kick-off with their focus likely to be on domestic survival. Leinster must ruthlessly exploit that and claim the maximum available points.

Later on that evening, Harlequins will host Wasps and both sides still harbour major hopes of advancing to the latter stages.

Quins impressed in a 32-12 bonus-point win over Leicester while Wasps conceded 39 points in their defeat to Bath. Wasps have injury concerns over winger Sailosi Tagicakibau and flanker Sam Jones.

As predicted, this pool is going right to the wire but a Quins win on Saturday would keep them in pole position.

Pool 3 - Ulster face daunting trip

The Toulon juggernaut shows absolutely no signs of slowing down but Neil Doak (left) must somehow plot a way to cause a major upset when Ulster visit the Stade Felix Mayol on Saturday.

Ulster have been one of the most disappointing sides in the competition this season and they must try and salvage some pride from a pool that has seen them lose three of their four games.

Toulon warmed up for the visit of Ulster with a 32-23 win over Racing Metro but Bakkies Botha and Guilhem Guirado were both forced off in the first half , while Ulster were pushed all the way by Treviso.

A patchy performance in Northern Italy will not fill Ulster fans with much confidence ahead of a daunting trip to France.

The French side will almost certainly finish top of the pool. The Scarlets and Leicester Tigers currently have eight points each and both will be hoping Ulster can spring a surprise in the south of France.

Pool 4 - Glasgow and Bath playing catch up

Toulouse remain the only side in the competition with a 100pc winning record and they put that on the line against Bath on Sunday.

The English side were in devastating form against Wasps last weekend and Sam Burgess scored his first try since switching codes from rugby league.

Mike Ford expects Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni both to recover from injuries picked up in the win while Toulouse will know that they cannot afford to be as indisciplined as they were against La Rochelle last time out.

Glasgow host a Montpellier side whose European interests were ended long before they ever got started. The French side are rooted to the foot of the table and have conceded a whopping 107 points in their four games to date.

Many had expected Glasgow to finally announce themselves on the European stage this season and although they have impressed in fits and starts, a bonus-point home win and an upset in Toulouse would give them a glimmer of hope of overtaking the four time European winners next week.

Pool 5 - Racing and Saints continue their duel

One of the more interesting sub-plots of the inaugural Champions Cup has been Racing Metro and Northampton Saints’ battle for supremacy.

Both sides are likely to advance from this pool but it remains to be seen who will claim top spot and with it a home quarter-final.

Saints play host to Racing in the final game next weekend but first must manoeuvre their way past a testing trip to Swansea to face Ospreys.

They currently hold a single-point lead over Racing but the French side, who remain unbeaten in the competition this season, will be fully expected to pick up a bonus point at home to Treviso on Sunday.

Johnny Sexton will again miss out as he follows the return-to-play protocols, but if results go as expected this weekend, both Racing and Northampton could well be level on points going into the last round which would be a fitting climax to what has been a fascinating duel.

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