Vital weekend looms in Heineken Cup
December 9, 2009
Stade wing Ollie Phillips scores against Bath in the previous round of action © Getty Images
The Heineken Cup is back following November's Test match action and Europe's top club competition looks set to provide another thrilling weekend of thrills as the teams enter the vital back-to-back round of fixtures.
Kicking off with a bang on Friday is Perpignan's trip to face Munster at their fortress-like home, Thomond Park, in Pool 1. The French champions have won one, lost one after the first round of matches and face a stuttering Munster side fresh from a domestic defeat to the Ospreys. Click Here for our Game of the Week preview.
Also on Friday, Bryan Redpath's Gloucester travel to face Glasgow in a must-win Pool 2 game for the Guinness Premiership side. They have one victory to their name but were routed by Biarritz in their last European fixture.
Redpath moves All Black Carlos Spencer to full back to replace Olly Morgan, while Peter Buxton comes in at blindside with Alasdair Strokosch moving to openside. Glasgow recall Scotland captain Chris Cusiter, while Peter Murchie takes over on the wing from Alex Dunbar and Dan Turner comes in for Tim Barker in the second row.
Saturday's action is headlined by two titanic showdowns, with French heavyweights Toulouse travelling to face Cardiff Blues at the Cardiff City Stadium in a re-run of last year's quarter-final and the Scarlets looking to take further hold at the top of Pool 6 with the visit of champions Leinster.
Toulouse's Pool 5 meeting with Cardiff is a vital game for the Welsh side, who have the psychological advantage after defeating their visitors at the Millennium Stadium last season. Les Toulousains are unbeaten so far in Europe and will put one foot in to the quarter-final draw with victory. Cardiff need a win at home before heading to France next weekend and are handily placed four points behind their rivals.
Martyn Williams makes his 100th appearance for the Blues, while winger Tom James plays for the 50th time. Dai Young welcomes Barbarians' trio of Jamie Roberts, Andy Powell and Leigh Halfpenny into the ranks but he is without Bradley Davies, John Yapp and Maama Molitika for the rematch of last season's last eight clash. Tom Shanklin was initially dropped, but an injury to New Zealander Casey Lualala gives the Wales star a reprieve. Toulouse have brought a stellar cast to the Welsh capital with a stunning backline including their back three of Cedric Heymans, Maxime Medard and Vincent Clerc.
Scarlets have been one of the surprise packages in this season's competition and go in to the game off the back of a superb away victory over London Irish at the Madejski Stadium. Leinster fell to the Exiles at home in round one and will need to pick up the points at Parc y Scarlets. Winger Andy Fernby has been declared fit for the Scarlets who have deregistered long term injury victim Regan King in order to accomodate the promotion of North Walian backrow Rob McCusker to the bench in their only change.
As expected, Shaun Berne replaces the injured Jonathan Sexton at out-half for the champions, while Isa Nacewa is on the left wing in place of long term injury victim Luke Fitzgerald. Springbok CJ van der Linde makes his first Heineken Cup start alongside John Fogarty and Cian Healy, while Nathan Hines keeps Malcolm O'Kelly on the bench.
London Irish are in France on Saturday as they face winless Brive at the Parc Municipal. A win is vital for Toby Booth's side after Leinster picked up the points last time out to make it a three-horse race. All Black prop Clarke Dermody returns to an all international tight five for the Premiership side, while Chris Malone has been selected to run the backline. Brive have picked a strong side to try and revive their campaign despite the absence of England's Andy Goode, with promising youngster Alexis Palisson on the wing and Argentina fullback Horacio Agulla starting.
In Saturday's other action Ospreys travel to face Viadana at the Stadio Luigi Zafanella in search of a bonus-point win in Pool 3 and the Welsh side will give Springbok scrum-half Ricky Januarie his debut if he can prove his fitness. But James Hook is absent to be with his partner who is due to give birth, while Ryan Jones, Shane Williams and Lee Byrne are on the lengthy injury list. Jerry Collins will lead the side, while Jamie Nutbrown is on standby to replace Januarie if he doesn't make it after making a speedy return of his own.
Ulster look to put some pressure on Pool 4 leaders Stade Francais at Ravenhill. Brian McLoughlin has made a host of changes to his side for the visit of Stade, with Nigel Brady replacing Andy Kyriacou at hooker, Declan Fitzpatrick in for the injured BJ Botha, Ed O'Donoghue replacing Ryan Caldwell. Lions' star Stephen Ferris returns from injury to the with David Pollock moving to openside and number 8 Chris Henry captaining the team. Andrew Trimble comes in for the injured Timoci Nagusa on the wing.
Sunday's key clash takes place at the Stade Marcel Michelin where Leicester Tigers are the visitors to Clermont Auvergne. Tigers head coach Richard Cockerill played two seasons for Les Jaunards and will be all too aware of the task facing his men. He'll be delighted to call on stellar names Alesana Tuilagi and Martin Castrogiovanni who return to the starting line-up. A losing bonus-point would not be the end of the world for Cockerill's charges as they scrap with Clermont and the Ospreys for top spot in Pool 3. The French side have named a star-studded side including Julien Bonnaire, Aurelien Rougerie and Jason White for the clash.
Also in France on Sunday, Biarritz will aim to keep their 100% record alive with the visit of the Dragons to the Parc des Sports Aguilera. Dragons' lock Luke Chateris misses out, meaning flanker Gavin Thomas leads the side. Biarritz will be without talismanic Imanol Harinordoquy for the clash as the No.8 has a knee injury but they can still call on Damien Traille, Dimitri Yachvilli and Benoit August for the tie.
Edinburgh can heap further woe on Bath at the Rec on Sunday following the home side's last-gasp loss to Stade, while Sale need to pick up the points against Harlequins at the Stoop.
Bath will miss their suspended giant winger Matt Banahan who is replaced by Jack Cuthbert, while blindside flanker Andy Beattie makes his 200th appearance for the club. Phil Godman returns to lead the Scots' backline, while Lion Ross Ford and John Houston return to the fold.
'Quins are without Danny Care after the club suspended the England scrum-half pending a citing hearing, but they welcome captain Will Skinner back to the fold. Lewis Stevenson replaces the injured James Percival at lock and Chris Brooker and Ugo Monye return to the backline. Sale's cause will be strengthened by the returning Dwayne Peel, Mark Cueto, Matt Tait, Lee Thomas and Chris Jones for the early kick off.
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