Euro battle set to break new ground
October 17, 2012
Saracens are off to Brussels this weekend © Getty Images
The first weekend of the Heineken Cup produced a flurry of excitement with 53 tries, 13 yellow cards and one red card. Ahead of the second round of European action, ESPNscrum provides a rundown of all the team news and views.
Saracens set out their stall last weekend with a powerful 45-0 win over Edinburgh but they will be playing Racing Metro in unfamiliar surroundings come Saturday. The ever-original side have opted to play their first 'home' match of the European season in the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels. Playing in a new ground will be nothing new for the Sarries players with the Aviva Premiership team hosting their 'home' matches at seven different grounds this season. Their opponents Metro were also on the road last weekend having swapped their traditional Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir ground for the Stade de France and in torrid conditions they downed Munster 22-17.
Owen Farrell is recalled to the Saracens centres with Charlie Hodgson and Neil de Kock are given the nod at half back. Joel Tomkins, Richard Wigglesworth and David Strettle move onto the bench alongside Alistair Hargreaves and Carlos Nieto. Chris Wyles will make his 100th appearance for the club.
Munster host Edinburgh at Thomond Park on Sunday and will hope to get their European campaign back on track. They are without Ronan O'Gara for the match after the fly-half limped off in the 33rd minute of their match with Metro last weekend with a hamstring injury. But Donncha O'Callaghan returns to partner Paul O'Connell in the second row. Edinburgh are also without their first-choice fly-half with Greig Laidlaw missing out with a shoulder injury and Gregor Hunter replacing him. Greig Tonks and Ben Atiga have recovered from hand and hip injuries to make their Heineken Cup debuts in the backline while Tim Visser is fit to start. Stuart McInally also replaces Ross Rennie at openside.
Toulouse overcame Leicester last weekend 23-9 in a match which launched 18-year-old centre Gael Fickou on to the European stage. He has been included in France's 33-man squad for the autumn internationals and is likely to part of the Toulouse squad for their trip to Treviso on Saturday. The Italians fell to the Ospreys in round one and managed to receive three yellow cards during their defeat. They will have to improve their discipline on Saturday if they are to stand any chance of securing a massive upset against the Top 14 champions. Clement Poitrenaud drops to the bench for Toulouse with Timoci Matanavou coming into their back three in the only change to the French side's backline. But up front only Romain Millo-Chluski, Thierry Dusautoir and Louis Picamoles retains their places.
On Sunday, Leicester play host to the Ospreys at Welford Road. While the welsh side have five points to their name after their round one 38-17 triumph over Treviso, Leicester have nothing to show for their efforts in France. Louis Deacon has recovered from hamstring and shoulder injuries to take his place among the substitutes while Thomas Waldrom again starts at openside flanker in a back-row with Steve Mafi and Jordan Crane. Toby Flood and Ben Youngs retain their places at half-back.
The Ospreys name the same starting XV that defeated Treviso but head coach Steve Tandy admitted Leicester at Welford Road would is an all together different prospect. He said: "We will need to lift our game considerably this weekend if we want to achieve anything up at Leicester, and we can't afford to slip off our game for large periods like we did last weekend or we will pay the price. Leicester won't give us any second chance.
Harlequins opened up their Heineken Cup campaign with a powerful 40-13 win over Biarritz and travel to Galway to face Connacht on Saturday - the team that ended their European dreams last season. Quins boss Conor O'Shea has insisted this week that revenge is not on the menu and his team are solely focused on coming away from a difficult trip with the win. Last weekend's match against Biarritz saw Kiwi fly-half Ben Botica take to the European stage with his fellow countryman Nick Evans forced off with an ankle injury and he is handed the fly-half reins for their trip to Galway. Elsewhere Sam Smith replaces the injured Ugo Monye on the wing in the only other change to Quins' starting line-up. Connacht make one change with Adrian Flavin replacing Ethienne Reynecke at prop.
Biarritz and Zebre are both without a point after round one and the French side will be favourites going into the match at the Parc des Sports Aguilera on Saturday. Zebre are yet to win a match in any competition this season and lost last weekend to Connacht in Italy 19-10. Damien Traille returns to Biarritz's midfield while Jean-Pascal Barraque replaces Julien Peyrelongue at fly-half.
Ulster and Northampton both enjoyed perfect starts to their Heineken Cup campaign last weekend and all four teams are in this pool play on Friday night. Northampton travel to Castres on the back of their 24-15 win over Glasgow last weekend but they have been forced into changes with Stephen Myler switching from fly-half to fullback as a result of an injury to James Wilson and Ryan Lamb filling the void at No.10. Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder is expecting a tough game in France, and isn't overly happy the fixture comes hot on the heels of Sunday's clash with Warriors. "The tournament scheduling has not been particularly kind to us in the first two rounds," he said, "and having just five days to prepare for a tough match is certainly not ideal."
Ulster journey to Scotstoun to the face Glasgow Warriors buoyed by the return of scrum-half Ruan Pienaar and No.8 Nick Williams to their starting line-up at the expense of Paul Marshall, man of the match in last weekend's victory over Castres, and Mike McComish who both drop to the bench. Stephen Ferris has failed to recover from a back injury so impressive youngster Iain Henderson retains his place at blindside flanker. Glasgow are waiting on the result of winger Tommy Seymour's disciplinary hearing before finalising their line-up with Byron McGuigan poised to step in. Elsewhere, Peter Murchie will start at outside centre and Alex Dunbar on the wing with Sean Lamont missing out with a facial injury. Up front, Tom Ryder gets the nod over Tim Swinson in the second row and Chris Fusaro comes in for John Barclay at openside.
Rob Kearney could play for Leinster on Saturday © Getty Images
Exeter came close to causing an almighty upset against Leinster last weekend but eventually fell 9-6 to the Heineken Cup champions at the RDS. And it will not get any easier for the Chiefs when they welcome Clermont Auvergne to Sandy Park. The Top 14 giants scored six tries against the Scarlets last Saturday to start their campaign on a winning note. For Exeter, it will be the first time they have hosted Heineken Cup rugby and will look to mark the occasion with what would be a huge victory. Head coach Rob Baxter makes one change to Exeter's starting XV with Dean Mumm making his first Heineken Cup start in place of James Hanks. Clermont make one change with Nathan Hines being replaced by Julien Pierre.
Leinster have Gordon D'Arcy back from injury and he will partner Brian O'Driscoll in the centres for their journey to the Parc Y Scarlets on Saturday but Rob Kearney remains on the sidelines. The other change to Leinster's starting line-up sees Sean Cronin come in at hooker. They are operating with a threadbare back-row with the likes of Sean O'Brien and Dominic Ryan sidelined. The Scarlets are without centre Jonathan Davies, who has a groin injury. Gareth Maule joins Scott Williams in midfield and Andy Fenby returns to the wing following a dead leg. Head coach Simon Easterby retains the same starting pack as in their loss to Clermont last weekend.
Toulon powered past Montpellier on Sunday evening with their galacticos line-up looking like they mean business in the Heineken Cup this year. They travel to Cardiff to face the Blues on Sunday with the region still hopeful of keeping one of their prize assets Jamie Roberts who is reportedly courting interest from across the Channel. Roberts has recoverd from a rib injury to take his place in the starting line-up. Wales skipper Sam Warburton dislocated his finger against Sale on Sunday but he has recovered in time to face the Top 14 big-spenders. Former Cardiff prop Gethin Jenkins starts at loose-head for Toulon while fellow Brits Jonny Wilkinson and Steffon and Delon Armitage all start for the French side.
In the other match in the pool last weekend, Sale snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with Danny Cipriani inspiring a second-half comeback against the Blues. Cipriani is given the No.10 shirt from the start as the Sharks face Montpellier in France on Sunday looking to make it two wins from two. Sam Tuitupou and Richie Gray are unavailable through injury, while Tom Brady returns on the right wing after suspension for the Sharks.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"The fairytale continued right to the end for the magic man." Tom Hamilton reports on the game that saw Brian O'Driscoll bid adieu with the Six Nations title
"It is a sign of how far this England team have come that they looked disappointed at the full-time whistle having just put 52 points on Italy." Tom Hamilton writes
We bring together a selection of the best pictures from the final round of the Six Nations and one which ended in Irish victory
"Some people have it from day one and Brian did." Tom Hamilton talks to the two players who made their Ireland debuts alongside Brian O'Driscoll back in June 1999