Euro battle returns to centre stage
January 11, 2013
Saracens skipper Steve Borthwick will lead his side into battle against Racing Metro in Nantes on Saturday © Getty Images
Ospreys 15 - 15 Leicester Tigers Toulouse 35 - 14 Benetton Treviso Edinburgh 17 - 26 Munster Clermont Auvergne 46 - 3 Exeter Chiefs Leinster 33 - 14 Scarlets Racing Metro 28 - 37 Saracens Harlequins 47 - 8 Connacht Toulon 45 - 25 Cardiff Blues Zebre 6 - 32 Biarritz Northampton Saints 18 - 12 Castres Sale Sharks 6 - 27 Montpellier Ulster 23 - 6 Glasgow
In around 10 days time we will know who has done enough to earn a place in the quarter-finals of this season's Heineken Cup - but before that, there are two more rounds of season-defining pool stage action with plenty to play for. ESPNscrum gives a rundown of all the team news ahead of this weekend's action.
Just three points separate first-placed Saracens from Munster in third place with the Premiership side set to meet second-placed Racing Metro in Nantes this weekend. Racing will enter the game buoyed having downed Top 14 powerhouses Toulon 19-15 on Sunday. Chris Ashton, Richard Wigglesworth, Rhys Gill and Mouritz Botha all return for Sarries who will hope to replicate their 30-13 triumph over Metro back in round two of the competition.
Elsewhere in Pool 1, Munster travel to Edinburgh on Sunday bolstered by the return of winger Simon Zebo and lock Donncha O'Callaghan among others. Welsh international scrum-half Richie Rees, stand-off Greig Laidlaw and centre Ben Cairns start for the Scottish side who have endured a woeful European campaign so far and are without a point after four matches. Munster fell at home to the Cardiff Blues in the last round of RaboDirect PRO12 action and will be hoping to keep their Heineken Cup aspirations on track with a big win at Murrayfield.
The Ospreys will go into their clash with the Leicester Tigers at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday knowing that they need a win to keep their quarter-final dreams alive with the Tigers five points above them at the summit of Pool 2. "We've got to be absolutely spot-on in everything we do, our preparation, our attitude and our attention to detail," said Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy, who will be without centre Ashley Beck due to an ankle ligament injury but welcomes back flanker Justin Tipuric.
The Tigers have named a strong side with Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Geoff Parling, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Allen, Marcos Ayerza, Julian Salvi and Jordan Crane all returning to the starting line-up. When the two teams met back in round two of the competition, Toby Flood - who avoided a ban this week for his tackle on Andy Goode - inspired the Premiership side to victory and with the Six Nations just around the corner he will be looking to put in an impressive performance in front of the watching England management.
Elsewhere in the pool, Toulouse, who are second with 13 points to their name - one behind the Tigers - host Treviso at the Stade Ernest Wallon. The Top 14 champions lost to the Ospreys in the last round of action and lie third in the French league so they will want to get a bonus point win under their belt ahead of their mouth-watering match with the Tigers next week. Guy Noves' team is packed with experience with the backline including Yannick Jauzion and Clement Poitrenaud while Louis Picamoles partners Yannick Nyana in their back-row.
Connacht's Dan Parks finds it hard going against Harlequins © PA Photos
Harlequins' place in the knockout stages of the competition is all but secured with Conor O'Shea's men currently holding a 10 point advantage at the top of Pool 3. They entertain Connacht at the Stoop on Saturday and a win would go a long to helping them secure a home quarter-final. Their last meeting with the Irish province saw Quins prevail 30-22 in blustery conditions in Galway. O'Shea's men are at the summit of the Premiership and look good candidates to go into the last eight as one of the top seeds. Ugo Monye makes his 200th appearance for Quins while Matt Hopper and Tom Casson start in the centres. Olly Kohn is named in the second row, while Maurie Fa'asavalu joins Nick Easter and captain, Chris Robshaw in the back row. Connacht swap change three with Johnny O'Connor, Tiernan O'Halloran and Matthew Jarvis starting.
Meanwhile, Biarritz travel to Italy to play Zebre on Saturday. The Italians are without a win in any competition this season so the Top 14 giants will hope for more of the same after they beat Zebre 38-17 back in round two. The likes of Dimitri Yachvili, Iain Balshaw, Damien Traille and Aled Brew start for the French while Gonzalo Garcia, who earned an Italy recall this week, gets the nod at outside centre for Zebre.
Ulster are one of Europe's form sides and they host Glasgow Warriors at Ravenhill on Friday evening. They are three points ahead of Castres in second and five in front of Saints who lie in third and their coach Mark Anscombe has named a strong XV with Jared Payne forming a back three with Craig Gilroy and Andrew Trimble. Darren Cave starts in the centres alongside Paddy Wallace while Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar form the half-backs. Tom Court, John Afoa and Rory Best link up in the front-row with Iain Henderson and Lewis Stevenson in the locks. Robbie Diack, Chris Henry and Nick Williams form the back-row. Glasgow have changed six from the side that defeated Treviso at the weekend. Duncan Weir, Peter Horne, Tom Ryder, Peter Murchie, Sean Maitland and James Eddie all start while the Warriors have named just a seven-man bench as they have only one fit replacement prop at their disposal.
Also on Friday, Castres will travel to Franklin's Gardens to take on Jim Mallinder's Northampton Saints. The French team have named a strong XV for the trip with scrum-half Rory Kockott, who is reportedly keen on leaving the Top 14 side, starting in the half-back berth. Scotland's Max Evans takes one wing berth while Marcel Garvey is on the other flank. In the pack, powerhouses Joe Tekori and Antonie Claassen both start. And for Northampton, they have drafted in winger James Wilson for the match in place of Ken Pisi while Samu Manoa starts at lock alongside Courtney Lawes. Tom Wood also gets the nod and lines up in the back-row alongside Phil Dowson and Calum Clark.
Wesley Fofana's try secured Clermont a huge win in round four © Getty Images
Clermont Auvergne will play the Exeter Chiefs in France on Saturday and the Top 14 side are arguably the favourites to win the competition after their hugely impressive first few rounds which have seen them collect four wins from four. While they smashed the Chiefs 46-12 back in round two, their round four win over Leinster in the Aviva Stadium was one of the most impressive victories the tournament has witnessed in recent years. They are eight points clear at the top of the pool and a win over the Chiefs will see them into the knockout stages of the competition.
Clermont's team is packed with stars with Sitiveni Sivivatu and Napolioni Nalaga linking up on the wing while Morgan Parra partners Brock James at half-back. Damien Chouly takes the No.8 jersey while Jamie Cudmore and Nathan Hines link up in the locks. For Exeter, Haydn Thomas is injured so Kevin Barrett starts while Jason Shoemark gets the nod in place of Ian Whitten. Tom Hayes starts in the second-row while Dean Mumm drops to the bench.
Leinster will look to keep their slim hopes of a spot in the knockout stages of the competition alive when they host the Scarlets on Saturday. The back-to-back Heineken Cup champions are second in Pool 5 but have just 10 points to their name. And they are in good form heading into the match with the Welsh region having hammered Edinburgh last week in the PRO12. Fergus McFadden starts for Leinster with Brian O'Driscoll named among the replacements. Luke Fitzgerald also gets the nod and he will play his first Heineken Cup game this season with Isa Nacewa linking up with him in their backline. Rob McCusker captains the Scarlets while Aled Thomas continues to deputise for the injured Rhys Priestland.
Top 14 league leaders Toulon also sit at the summit of Pool 6 and they welcome the Cardiff Blues on Saturday. Bernard Laporte's side hold a five point advantage at the top of the group and a bonus point win would edge them closer to securing a home quarter-final. Toulon fell to Racing Metro last weekend so they will be looking to make amends in front of their passionate supporters while the Blues' hopes of qualification are non-existent as they sit at the foot of the pool with just a point to their name.
Toulon have opted to shuffle their pack for the clash with Gethin Jenkins and Andrew Sheridan both missing out so Xavier Chiocci starts at loose-head. Frederic Michalak partners Jonny Wilkinson at half-back while Nick Kennedy links up with Jose Suta in their second-row. The Blues change four with Leigh Halfpenny, Gavin Evans, Alex Cuthbert and James Down all starting.
Elsewhere in the pool, Sale host Montpellier on Friday. The Sharks are focused on trying to secure their Premiership survival and this is shown in their team selection with boss Steve Diamond opting to make a host of changes from the side that lost to Saracens at the weekend. Danny Cipriani's keeps his place at fly-half but they have named a youthful pack with 20-year-old Josh Beaumont making his debut at No.8 and James Doyle at blindside. Richie Gray gets the nod in the second-row alongside Tom Holmes. Montpellier's XV, who are five points off Toulon, includes the likes of Johnnie Beattie, Mamuka Gorgodze, Francois Trinh-Duc and Fulgence Ouedraogo.
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