Champions Cup weekend preview

Max Chesterton
06 December 2018

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The third round of the European Rugby Champions Cup is almost upon us as six Guinness PRO14 sides prepare to rock the continent and continue their stunning starts to the competition.

Defending champions Leinster face a tricky trip to Bath Rugby after the Premiership side showed what they can do with two battling performances in Europe.

Munster are the only Guinness PRO14 side currently top of their pool after the first two rounds, but all that can change over the course of the next three days.

Here’s what the Guinness PRO14 outfits have lying ahead:

Edinburgh Rugby v Newcastle Falcons (Friday 7 December 19:45, BT Murrayfield Stadium)

Friday night sees high-flying Edinburgh take on English rivals Newcastle Falcons as Dave Rennie targets toppling the current Pool 1 leaders.

Falcons have been in imperious form in the competition on their first return to Europe’s biggest stage since 2005, by clinching back-to-back victories over Toulon and Montpellier.

Edinburgh have been no slouches themselves however, securing a huge win 40-14 win against triple winners Toulon and a bonus point in the defeat to Montpellier.

Rennie welcomes back ten of his international star names back into the set-up, including Bill Mata who played a key role in guiding Fiji to a historic victory over France only weeks ago.

Blair Kinghorn, Darcy Graham, Henry Pyrgos, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson all return to action, as South African duo Jaco van der Walt and Duhan van der Merwe are the only two to retain their positions in the starting line-up.

Ulster Rugby v Scarlets (Friday 7 December 19:45, Kingspan Stadium)

It’s not been a dream start to the Champions Cup for either Scarlets or Ulster Rugby, but both sides will be hoping to augment their points tallies when the two rivals face off.

They have already met once this season on the opening day of the season as John Cooney’s boot made the difference in a 15-13 win at the Kingspan.

The last five fixtures between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Scarlets’ only victory in Belfast since 2008 came in 2016.

Ulster welcome back Ireland stars Iain Henderson and Will Addison to the starting XV as Rory Best makes history by equalling Andrew Trimble’s club record of 71 European appearances.

Lyon v Glasgow Warriors (Saturday 8 December 13:00, Matmut Stadium de Gerland)

Glasgow Warriors have held their own to rise to the top of Conference A domestically and assert a seven-point lead over Munster, but their next challenge will be a tricky one against Lyon.

The Warriors have clinched one victory so far in Europe, and put in a creditable performance as they fell to a strong Saracens outfit, already ahead of their clash with the Top 14 side.

While Lyon have not had the best of starts to their Champions Cup campaign after losing twice, the French side do sit fourth in their league table after beating Pau last time out.

Bath Rugby v Leinster (Saturday 8 December 15:15, The Recreation Ground)

Two-time reigning champions Leinster face a potential banana skin against a Bath Rugby side that showed their mettle over the course of their first two fixtures.

Todd Blackadder’s side were narrowly edged out on the opening weekend in a 22-20 defeat to Toulouse as a catastrophic error from Freddie Burns gifted the Frenchmen the win.

A thrilling 35-35 draw followed at the Ricoh Arena, leaving Bath desperately in search of a much-needed win when the Champions roll into town.

But if their recent form is anything to go by, Leinster will travel to the Rec as the solid favourites after Bath have failed to win in six of their last seven outings in all competitions.

Leinster haven’t had everything their own way in Europe this year however, losing to Toulouse by a solitary point away from home after hammering Wasps 52-3 in the opener.

With both sides resting key men following the autumn internationals last time out, a raft of heavy hitters are set to feature and those star names could make the difference on Saturday.

Munster Rugby v Castres Olympique (Sunday 9 December 13:00, Thomond Park)

Munster and Castres meet for the sixth time in their history at the weekend, and historically it’s always been a fixture that the Thormond Park side have relished.

The Irish province have never lost to the Frenchmen, but they did draw 17-17 in last season’s Champions Cup in Castres.

Johann van der Graan will be hopeful of repeating the performance last time they met in January where the Red Army clinched a 48-3 triumph as James Cronin capped off a fine display.

Discipline will prove pivotal with Castres receiving a grand six yellow cards in their six matches with Munster.

Munster have shone so far in the competition with a win and a draw in the competition against Gloucester Rugby and Exeter Chiefs, and will look to cement their place at the top of Pool 2 when Castres come to town.

Saracens v Cardiff Blues (Sunday 9 December 13:00, Allianz Park)

There will be few tougher challenges in the Challenge Cup this season than the visit to Allianz Park for Cardiff Blues.

Saracens have not lost a game all season in any competition and boast a winning run stretching back to April when they were defeated by Leinster in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions Cup.

John Mulvihill will need his side to step up from their recent back-to-back defeats and show the form that saw the Blues down Zebre 37-0 in November if they are to succeed.

But Blues can take heart from their form against the Englishmen – winning two of their three previous meetings.

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