Last chance saloon for euro hopefuls
January 17, 2013
Toulouse's trip to Leicester looks to be the tie of the weekend © Getty Images
Benetton Treviso 17 - 14 Ospreys Leicester Tigers 9 - 5 Toulouse Munster 29 - 6 Racing Metro Saracens 40 - 7 Edinburgh Exeter Chiefs 20 - 29 Leinster Scarlets 0 - 29 Clermont Auvergne Cardiff Blues 26 - 14 Sale Sharks Montpellier 23 - 3 Toulon Castres 8 - 9 Ulster Glasgow 27 - 20 Northampton Saints Biarritz 9 - 16 Harlequins Connacht 25 - 20 Zebre
The final weekend of Heineken Cup action is nearly upon us with the four remaining quarter-final places set to be decided over an intense weekend of action. Ahead of the crunch clashes, ESPNscrum offers a run-down of all the latest team news and permutations.
Saracens are at the summit of Pool 1 thanks to their remarkable 37-28 victory over Racing Metro, a game which saw them fight back from 22-9 down at one stage. Any win over Edinburgh will be enough to secure their passage to the quarter-finals in a match that will be the last at their Vicarage Road home. Following his heroics last weekend, Owen Farrell reverts to the centres with fly-half Charlie Hodgson among those recalled to the starting XV and Joel Tomkins among those to drop to the bench.
Munster, who Ian Keatley at fly-half in place of the suspended Ronan O'Gara, entertain Racing Metro at Thomond Park in the other match in the pool and both sides still have a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages. Munster, on 15 points, have the better prospects than Metro who are in third on 12 points but if other results go their way, then the winner of this clash could be playing in the last eight. For Racing, who will be without the suspended Fabrice Estebanez for the clash, to progress they need to win the tie with a batch of tries while also hoping that Leicester, Leinster, Biarritz and Northampton do not win.
In what could potentially be the match of the weekend, Toulouse, who include Luke McAlister at inside centre and Lionel Beauxis at fly-half, travel to Welford Road to play the Leicester Tigers on Sunday. Top 14 champions Toulouse currently sit at the summit of the pool on 18 points but Leicester are hot on their heels with 16. The Tigers battled to a draw with the Ospreys last weekend while Toulouse came through their match with Treviso with a bonus point to their name after a nervy start. If Leicester win then they will be in the quarter-finals but Toulouse can still lose and go through which is reliant on results elsewhere.
Manu Tuilagi has been passed fit for the Tigers and lines up alongside Anthony Allen in the centres with the return of Thomas Waldrom at No.8 as the only change to Richard Cockerill's team. Dan Cole makes his 100th appearance for the Tigers while Louis Deacon captains the side. Elsewhere, the Ospreys are also in action on Sunday and they travel to Italy to play Treviso.
Harlequins secured a home quarter-final thanks to their 47-8 demolition of Connacht last weekend but their boss Conor O'Shea is adamant that they want to finish the pool stages with six wins from six to their name with top seeding also in their sights. They travel to France to take on Biarritz on Friday evening and Mike Brown will make his 200th appearance for the Aviva Premiership champions. He starts at fullback while Jordan Turner-Hall and George Lowe are re-united in midfield. Tom Guest starts at No.8 alongside fellow back-rowers Chris Robshaw and Maurie Fa'asavalu.
Biarritz have named a team packed with international talent with the likes of Imanol Harinordoquy, Dimitri Yachvili, Damien Traille and Taku Ngwenya all starting. In the pool's other match, Zebre travel to Connacht in search of their first win in any competition this season. Dan Parks returns for Connacht in one of three changes from the side that lost to Harlequins with Brett Wilkinson and Michael Kearney also included.
Ulster have already qualified for the knockout stages and a bonus point win will ensure a home tie in the next round. They travel to Castres on Saturday and will look to replicate their round one triumph when they beat the Top 14 side 41-17 and secured the bonus point in the process thanks to Ruan Pienaar's try. Pienaar shifts to fly-half for Ulster to accomodate scrum-half Paul Marshall with Paddy Jackson dropping to the bench. Elsewhere Michael Allen gets his first European start on the wing as Craig Gilroy moves to fullback in place of the injured Jared Payne.
Ulster will hope for a repeat of their round one win over Castres © Getty Images
Northampton Saints, who bolstered their front-row with the signing of Alex Corbisiero this week, are second on 14 points and they still have a chance of reaching the quarters. They need a bonus point win against Glasgow at the Scotstoun Stadium and also require Leinster, Munster, Leicester and Montpellier to all lose with the last failing to record a losing bonus point. They are boosted by an unchanged starting XV while Glasgow make 10 changes with Ruaridh Jackson and Niko Matawalu at half-back among those drafted in.
Clermont Auvergne are on the verge of a home quarter-final and need just a point to secure that spot. They travel to Wales to play the Scarlets with fullback Lee Byrne and Aurelien Rougerie back in the side after injury and will be hoping for a repeat of their round one heroics when they emerged from Llanelli with a 47-16 triumph. The Scarlets, meanwhile, welcome back winger George North as well as flanker Aaron Shingler but centre Scott Williams remains on the sidelines.
Leinster, the back-to-back Heineken Cup champions, are on 15 points and like Munster, their quarter-final prospects are reliant on other results. The Dubliners, who welcome back Richardt Strauss, Sean O'Brien and Kevin McLaughlin, will be searching for a bonus point win - preferably packed with tries as that is what decides who qualifies if the teams are locked on points - when they travel to Sandy Park to play the Exeter Chiefs and will be hopeful that other results go their way. For the Chiefs injured duo Phil Dollman and Gonzalo Camacho are replaced by Sireli Naqelevuki and Ian Whitten while Dean Mumm is preferred to James Hanks in the second row.
Toulon, like Clermont, need just a point to secure a home quarter-final but Montpellier can still win the group or qualify as best runner-up when the two come face-to-face in Stade Yves-du-Manoir on Saturday. Montpellier currently have the most points of the teams in second with 18 and any win will see them through. Jonny Wilkinson captains a Toulon side containing six Englishmen with Steffon and Delon Armitage, Simon Shaw and Andrew Sheridan all starting and Nick Kennedy on the bench.
Elsewhere in the pool, the Sale Sharks and Cardiff Blues will be playing for pride when the two meet at the Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday. Rob Miller is handed the No.10 shirt for the Sharks with Danny Cipriani on the bench along with Richie Gray and Mark Cueto while Lloyd Williams returns at scrum-half for the Blues.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter
While the Super Rugby season enters the all-important knockout phase, elsewhere pre-season training never looked so enjoyable. We round-up the best snaps in our Week in Pictures