Wednesday 21 March 2018

Video: Brent Pope previews the weekend's Champions Cup action

Independent Newsdesk

Independent Newsdesk

Brent Pope casts his eye over the Irish provinces on the first weekend of European action.

Sales Sharks v Munster (Saturday 1pm)

Munster are so hard to predict. They can just turn it on when no-one expects. They are a big-game team.

They are lucky they have got Sale away first. The pressure will come on the home team and that is when they can strike.

I don't think the early kick-off helps but I think Munster will have a bit too much for Sale. The biggest thing they got out of their win over Leinster in the PRO12 was that they got some confidence.

Peter O'Mahony celebrates after Munster won a late scrum during their victory against Leinster

They had been stuttering at home and lost a couple of games, the fortress of Thomond Park wasn't what it quite was and it would have given them huge confidence.

I'd be confident Munster will win that.

Leicester v Ulster (Saturday 5.15pm)

Ulster have a great record against Leinster. The English outfit are going through their troubles with their coach Richard Cockerill being criticised for old-fashioned training sessions.

Leicester have had a lot of injuries and had a lot of international players away with Argentina and other countries. They have had a couple of good results since and Welford Road is never an easy place to go to.

Ulster’s Dan Tuohy braces himself for the challenge of Jamie Gibson at Welford Road yesterday. Photo: Oliver McVeigh

Ulster are one of the form teams of the moment and it will be the tightest game of the pool.

Ulster's problems in this competition in recent years has been psychological. Where Munster and Leinster seem to step up, in recent years unfortunately Ulster seem to step down.

I think there is less pressure on them this year and they are just bubbling under which is a nice way to be.

They certainly have the squad to get to the last four, but it will be difficult against teams like Toulon with their budgets. 

Leinster v Wasps (Saturday, 5.15pm)

If their injuries don't clear up they probably won't emerge from the pool, it's as simple as that. Zane Kirchner is back, Rob Kearney is back and they are lucky they have replacements for the front row, but the absentees are so vital to the team.

The inexperienced players have really got to step up and come to the fore. Leinster have been reliant on key players to perform such as Sean O'Brien, Cian Healy, Isa Nacewa and Brian O'Driscoll. The new guys will have to show their credentials.

Wasps have been a bit spasmodic this season, they beat Northampton at home and then travel away and don't perform. They have a clutch of international stars like Christian Wade, Joe Launchbury and James Haskell.

Joe Launchbury is expected to be back in the Wasps line-up after recovering from his minor car accident last weekend

Wasp's England international Joe Launchbury

My worry is that the will have to move it up a lot of gears from the level they performed at against Munster. Wasps will have done their homework and look to attack around the fringes with their powerful pack.

Leinster will have to move the ball around at pace and tire Wasps down in order to achieve victory.

Connacht v La Rochelle (Challenge Cup, Saturday 5pm)

I think what Pat Lam is trying to do there is very admirable. He's trying to mould together experienced players with the young guys. Someone like Mils Muliana is a world class addition and is in there as a talismanic influence to the likes of Robbie Henshaw.

They have a hard-nosed pack with guys that have been around the block, with a good mix of young backs.

Dominic Ryan, Leinster, is tackled by Matt Healy, left, and Robbie Henshaw, Connacht.

They are very hard to beat, they dig in and dig in. The team spirit is great at the moment, though it always is when you are winning.

They will go a a long way in this competition and may well qualify for the Champions Cup through their Guinness PRO12 form.

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