Heineken Cup returns to centre stage
December 7, 2012
Dimitri Yachvili is named at scrum-half for Biarritz ahead of their match with Connacht on Friday © Getty Images
With the November Tests now done and dusted, the Heineken Cup returns to centre stage on Friday evening. And ahead of the weekend's action, ESPNscrum provides a run-down of all the team news.
Saracens currently sit at the summit of Pool 1 with two wins from two but they come up against a team on Saturday who has a rich heritage on the European stage - Munster. Munster have a win and a loss to their name but they will hope to harness the passionate home Thomond Park support and get one over their Aviva Premiership rivals. Saracens have recalled their English contingent with Alex Goode, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell and Chris Ashton all starting. Munster have also called on some of their charges who were in action over the Test period with Ronan O'Gara, Simon Zebo, Peter O'Mahony and Keith Earls all starting.
Elsewhere in Pool 1, Racing Metro host Edinburgh in Paris. The Scottish side have endured a woeful start to their Heineken Cup campaign with two defeats out of two and no points to their name both in the pool and on the scoreboard. They are seventh in the RaboDirect PRO12 and won last weekend against Connacht while Racing are in a similar position in the Top 14 in ninth. Scottish flyer Tim Visser starts for Edinburgh with the likes of Ross Ford, David Denton and Matt Scott also getting the nod. The French side name Olly Barkley at fly-half while Pumas duo Juan Martin Hernandez and Juan Imhoff also line-up in their backs.
Toulouse are in charge of Pool 2 with two wins from two and entertain the Ospreys on Saturday. The Welsh side are without a host of players with Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones and Ian Evans all sidelined, but they have called on Welsh international duo Justin Tipuric and Ryan Jones for the match. Kahn Fotauli'i and Dan Biggar link up at half-back while Campbell Johnstone makes his first start for the Welsh region. Toulouse have called on French internationals Yannick Nyanga, Louis Picamoles, Vincent Clerc and Florian Fritz for the clash with Luke McAlister set to start at fly-half.
Elsewhere in the Pool, Treviso travel to Welford Road and face the Leicester Tigers on Sunday. George Ford gets the nod at fly-half with Toby Flood sidelined while Mathew Tait starts at fullback. Four of England's players who shone against the All Blacks are also included with Manu Tuilagi, the Youngs brothers Ben and Tom and Geoff Parling all starting.
Harlequins are in control of Pool 3 and travel to Zebre on Saturday and look hot favourites to record their third win in as many games with the Italian side currently without a victory in either the Heineken Cup or the PRO12. Mike Brown and Danny Care return from international duty with England to start for Quins at full-back and scrum-half respectively, while Matt Hopper is joined in the centres by Tom Casson. No.8 Nick Easter continues as captain in a forward pack that is unchanged from last week's match with Worcester Warriors. Ugo Monye and Ben Botica return from injury and are named among the replacements.
Biarritz journey to Connacht on Friday evening and will hope to tame the elements in Galway. The Irish side throw international Mike McCarthy straight back into the mix for the match against the Top 14 side while Dan Parks skippers the team from fly-half. Biarritz have named a host of internationals in their XV with Dimitri Yachvili looking to guide the team from scrum-half. Imanol Harinordoquy is among the replacements while Iain Balshaw, Taku Ngwenya and Aled Brew will hope to get plenty of ball in the backs.
Sean Maitland is named on the bench for Glasgow © PA Photos
All four teams in this Pool run out on Friday evening and it is all to play for. Ulster are at the summit on nine points while Northampton are in second with six points to their name and Glasgow third with four. In the pick of Friday night's matches, Northampton welcome Ulster to Franklin's Gardens. Ulster are currently unbeaten this season in all competitions but will have to cope without star flanker Stephen Ferris who is set for an indeterminate amount of time on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on his ankle. But Ulster still boast a myriad of stars in their team with the likes of Tommy Bowe and Ruan Pienaar. Craig Gilroy is named on the bench fresh from his impressive showing in the autumn Tests while Roger Wilson will come up against his former side after being named at No.8.
Northampton include Ben Foden and Dylan Hartley in their XV after they sat out the autumn Tests due to injury while Ryan Lamb gets the nod over Stephen Myler at fly-half. And the Saints have also called upon Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes fresh from their heroics against the All Blacks.
Glasgow include ex-Crusader flyer Sean Maitland on their bench while Josh Strauss starts at No.8. They also boast a strong Scotland contingent with Stuart Hogg getting the nod at outside centre and Al Kellock anchoring the second-row. Castres also feature a Scottish international in their team with Max Evans starting against his former side on the wing. Former Worcester Warriors winger Marcel Garvey is named on the flank while Antonie Claassen starts at No.8.
Clermont Auvergne and Leinster are running away with this Pool and they will come face-to-face in France on Sunday. The match sees Leinster boss Joe Schmidt face the team he used to coach while current Clermont boss Vern Cotter is relishing the chance to see his charges come up against the reigning Heineken Cup champions.
"Qualifying from the Pool will depend on this double header," said Cotter. "They, as we have done, have long marked this date in the calendar. My players are very excited, focused and motivated by the idea of playing this match."
Jonathan Sexton will make his 100th appearance for Leinster after being named at fly-half and he partners Isaac Boss in the half backs. Leo Cullen leads the team and is named in an all-Ireland pack which features seven internationals as well as Ireland 'A' lock Damian Browne. Mike Ross starts in the front row alongside Sean Cronin and Cian Healy. Clermont have named a strong side for the match with Lee Byrne lining up alongside Sitiveni Sivivatu and Napolioni Nalaga in their back three. Nathan Hines, who has served his six-week ban for stamping, starts in the pack alongside Jamie Cudmore.
Prior to Sunday's match, the Exeter Chiefs face the Scarlets in Wales with both teams having a solitary point to their name. The Chiefs have recalled Simon Alcott, Hoani Tui, Damian Welch and Tom Johnson in the pack while backs Gonzalo Camacho and Sireli Naqelevuki are also included from the outset. The Scarlets are without George North, who is injured, but have called on returning internationals Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Liam Williams, Matthew Rees, Rhys Priestland, Aaron Shingler, Tavis Knoyle, Sione Timani and Samson Lee.
Toulon top Pool 6 and they face the Sale Sharks on Saturday at the Salford City Stadium. Their domestic fortunes could not be more different with Toulon in first place in the Top 14 while Sale sit at the foot of the Premiership and the French side have named a team packed with stars and some familiar faces to Sharks supporters. Former Sale trio Andrew Sheridan, Sebastien Bruno and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe all start while Jonny Wilkinson, Steffon Armitage and Carl Hayman also feature. Sale have named Rob Miller at fly-half with Danny Cipriani on the bench. Richie Gray gets the nod in the second-row while Ross Harrison continues at loose-head.
Elsewhere in the Pool, the Cardiff Blues welcome Montpellier to the Arms Park. Montpellier have one win to their name in the Heineken Cup this term while the Blues are currently without a victory and they will have to cope without three of their star players for the match. Wales trio Bradley Davies, Leigh Halfpenny and Jamie Roberts have all been ruled out but they still boast Wales duo Sam Warburton and Alex Cuthbert in their XV. Montpellier have opted against handing immediate recalls to their French contingent with Mamuka Gorgodze and ex-Scotland international Johnnie Beattie two notable inclusions.
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