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European Champions Cup: Opponents preview – Round Six

Rich Dore
18 January 2018

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After five rounds of pulsating action the climax to the European Champions Cup pool stages is almost here, with the Guinness PRO14 sides gearing up for action and quarter-final spots up for grabs.

Alun Wyn Jones

Every team still involved has plenty to play for and this is always one of the best weekends in the global rugby calendar, with a fair share of crazy results always being delivered.

There are seven opponents standing in the way of the Guinness PRO14 sides, and we take a look at each here.

SATURDAY

Glasgow Warriors v Exeter Chiefs

Kick-off: 1pm

Venue: Scotstoun Stadium

Glasgow Warriors’ hopes of progression in this competition were extinguished a while ago but they will be playing for pride in this one in front of a home crowd at Scotstoun.

The Warriors were well beaten by Leinster last week and will be targeting a much-improved performance in Round Six, but in their way stands English Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs.

Exeter are still in contention for a quarter-final spot and need a win in this one, and to really boost their chances a bonus point will be required in order to finish as one of the best three runners-up in the pools.

With that in mind Exeter will no doubt target a win at first but also need to score tries, so expect an open game as two excellent rugby-playing sides come together.

Montpellier v Leinster Rugby

Kick-off: 1pm

Venue: Altrad Stadium

Leinster, the favourites for the Champions Cup crown at this stage, are the only side to have qualified for the last eight and have done so thanks to five wins from five.

A home quarter-final is guaranteed but Leo Cullen’s men will want to keep up winning momentum and secure their spot as No.1 seeds, whereas Montpellier are in desperate need of a bonus-point win to qualify.

Vern Cotter’s men were well-beaten on the road in Exeter last weekend but are an altogether different prospect at home, and will look to use their giant pack to power through Leinster.

Montpellier’s squad oozes class and there are threats all over the pitch, from gigantic Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo to All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden or France superstar No.8 Louis Picamoles.

Clermont Auvergne v Ospreys

Kick-off: Stade Marcel-Michelin

Venue: 3.15pm

What a game this is set to be! Ospreys are second in Pool Two and trail leaders Clermont by three points, with both sides targeting a win to progress to the next stage.

The Ospreys have been in stellar form in Europe this season, continued in last week’s draw against Saracens, and fear no-one as they approach this do-or-die clash.

A trip to the Stade Marcel-Michelin is always a daunting one and Clermont are rarely beaten there, but the French side did lose out to struggling English outfit Northampton Saints last week which hints at a chink in their armour.

Damien Chouly, Alexandre Lapandry and Fritz Lee make up one of the most fearsome back-rows in the game, which, when punctuated by the quality of scrum-half Morgan Parra behind them, makes Clermont one of the strongest teams in Europe.

Scarlets v Toulon

Kick-off: 5.30pm

Venue: Parc y Scarlets

Many observers fancy this encounter as one of the clashes of the weekend, with Scarlets and Toulon in a straight shootout to see who will win Pool Five.

Scarlets were fantastic in their demolition job on Bath last weekend but Toulon were also impressive in their Round Five victory – rendering Benetton Rugby scoreless.

When these teams met in Round One a thrilling game ensued, with Toulon racing into an 18-3 lead but Scarlets almost causing the comeback of all comebacks, eventually succumbing 21-20.

The three-time winners have one of the best squads in world rugby, and Wayne Pivac’s side will need to be wary of the threat posed by bullocking winger Josua Tuisova, as well as the power of Guilhem Guirado and hulking South African No.8 Duane Vermeulen.

Benetton Rugby v Bath Rugby

Kick-off: 5.30pm

Venue: Stadio Comunale di Monigo

Benetton’s hopes of progression in the Champions Cup are long over and the Italian club are still looking for a first win in the competition this season, they will hope to get it against Bath on Saturday.

You could argue that Bath have more to play for with the English side still retaining a faint hope of progression to the quarter-finals, but their task looks difficult with 13 points accrued so far.

The 1998 European Cup winners won the reverse fixture 23-0 back in Round One, with Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder one of the wisest minds in the game.

The English club have tended to play a tight, counter-attacking game this season, which came unstuck against Scarlets’ movement last week – a definite hint at how they might be outmanoeuvred this weekend.

SUNDAY

Munster Rugby v Castres

Kick-off: 1pm

Venue: Thomond Park

Munster go into this one occupying top spot in their pool but still need a big win to boost their chances in the competition, the first goal being to win the pool and the second being to earn a home quarter-final.

In their way stand Castres, who can still qualify if they were to earn a bonus-point win, and the French side will no doubt throw everything they have at Munster.

In all likelihood the Limerick side will have too much, and are rarely beaten at Thomond Park, but Castres have some classy players including French internationals Anthony Jelonch and Geoffrey Palis.

Wasps v Ulster Rugby

Kick-off: 3.15pm

Venue: Ricoh Arena

This game looks set to be cracker with Ulster targeting a win to keep their spot at the top of Pool One and Wasps targeting a bonus-point win to somehow claw their way back into contention.

Wasps are an excellent side, especially at home at the Ricoh Arena, and will look to play wide as often as possible spurred on by the versatile passing game of fly-half Danny Cipriani.

Dai Young’s men, who lost out to Exeter in last season’s English Premiership final, also have forward power in the shape of captain Joe Launchbury and South African No.8 Nizaam Carr.

Wasps are also possessing of a deadly back three that boasts the international class of Springbok full-back Willie Le Roux and lightning-fast winger Christian Wade.

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie

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