A reunion between old friends highlights Champions Cup action

Luke Baker
21 November 2019

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European rugby returned with a bang last weekend and Round 2 provides an opportunity to either bounce back from or build on the opening salvo.

Teams will be jostling for position in the Champions Cup ahead of the all-important December double-headers, so it’s a crunch weekend.

The seven Guinness PRO14 currently competing at Europe’s top table will flex their muscles on Friday and Saturday, and we’ve provided you with a quick hit of things to look out for.


Ulster v Clermont Auvergne, 7:45pm, Kingspan Stadium

The eyes of the rugby world will be on the Kingspan Stadium on Friday night as the lone Champions Cup clash sees Ulster host Clermont.

Both teams secured Round 1 wins over English Premiership teams, albeit in contrasting fashions, as Clermont pumped a woefully overmatched Harlequins side 53-21 and Ulster squeezed past Bath 17-16 at the Rec.

Victory for Dan McFarland and co on Friday night would go a long way to securing Pool 3 supremacy, so this is one not to be missed.

Player to look out for: Jacob Stockdale’s brilliant last-gasp interception sealed victory over Bath a week ago and the prolific try scorer will be looking to open his attacking tally this weekend.

Fast fact: Ulster have won 28 or their last 32 home matches in the Champions Cup pool stage, including their last six on the bounce.


Benetton Rugby v Northampton Saints, 1pm (UK), Stadio Comunale di Monigo

Benetton haven’t won a Champions Cup match since the 2014-15 campaign and while they’re clearly better than that record suggests, and have spent time outside the competition, it’s time to turn potential into results.

A woeful record against English opposition will need to be overcome in Treviso but Northampton Saints are a notoriously up-and-down team, so the Italians could find themselves with a real chance of victory.

The ‘good Saints’ turned up in Round 1 as Lyon were dispatched 25-14 at Franklin’s Gardens, while there was no shame in Benetton’s 33-19 defeat at Leinster – have you tried winning at the RDS…?

This could be one of the most fascinating matches of the weekend.

Player to look out for: Jayden Hayward moonlighted as a centre during the World Cup for Italy, although whether Conor O’Shea’s successor at the Azzurri continues that experiment remains to be seen. Either way, Hayward was back in the 15 jersey for Benetton last week and impressed with his incisive running in defeat.

Fast fact: Benetton’s last Champions Cup win at home against Premiership opposition came in December 2004 against Bath. They’ve lost 12 consecutive fixtures when hosting English clubs since.

Saracens v Ospreys, 1pm, Allianz Park

A trip to Allianz Park has traditionally been one of the most daunting tasks in European rugby but with Saracens’ salary cap woes potentially shifting their focus closer to home this season, there could be an opportunity for Ospreys to cash in.

That is of course predicated on Allen Clarke’s men overcoming not only a dismal road record in the Champions Cup but also an indifferent start to this season as a whole.

They went down 32-13 to Munster a week ago but a young Saracens side were also outclassed 30-10 at Racing 92, so both teams know their qualification hopes will already be in dire straits, if not all but extinguished, with defeat on Saturday afternoon.

Player to look out for: Ospreys may finally be able to welcome back some of their World Cups stars this week but if not, Dan Lydiate’s experience in the back row will be pivotal.

Fast fact: Ospreys have won only one of their last 23 Champions Cup games away from home and haven’t beaten Saracens in the competition in five previous attempts.

Toulouse v Connacht, 1pm (UK), Stade Ernest-Wallon

Connacht will be on a high after an injury-depleted side still managed to beat Montpellier last time out in one of the iconic European days at the Sportsground.

A trip to face a Toulouse side fresh off a memorable win of their own away to Gloucester provides quite the challenge but Connacht have won their first away game of the pool stage in each of their three previous Champions Cup campaigns.

They undoubtedly will be underdogs at the Stade Ernest-Wallon but since when has that tag ever done anything but galvanise the Galwegians?

Player to look out for: Caolin Blade was scintillating at scrum-half in the Montpellier victory and he’ll need to produce an even more impressive display to steer the Irishmen to victory in France.

Fast fact: Toulouse have won four of their previous six Champions Cup clashes against Connacht.

Lyon v Leinster, 3:15pm (UK), Stadium de Gerland

A first at Stadium de Gerland this weekend as Lyon and Leinster square off in a never-before-seen fixture that could go a long way to determining both sides’ chances of reaching the knockouts.

You’ll hardly find two more contrasting sides in the competition – European royalty in the from of four-time winners and perennial knockout contenders Leinster taking on a team with just seven games of Champions Cup experience in their history, all of those defeats, in Lyon.

Winless in the Champions Cup they may be but Lyon are currently top of the Top 14 – undefeated in nine matches this term – and will be desperate to avenge the 25-14 defeat to Northampton Saints last weekend. Underestimate them at your peril.

Player to look out for: All the evidence suggests it’s literally impossible to stop dynamic Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher scoring tries as he crossed on his European debut a week ago to casually add to the six dot-downs he already has in the Guinness PRO14 this term…

Fast fact: This will be the first time Lyon have faced Irish opposition in Europe but they’ve lost their last four home games in European action on the bounce.

Exeter Chiefs v Glasgow Warriors, 3:15pm, Sandy Park

Welcome to the Stuart Hogg revenge game!

Fate gave the rugby world a lovely gift when, soon after Hogg announced he was leaving Glasgow for Exeter, the sides were drawn together in the Champions Cup.

The flying full-back’s return to Scotstoun in the new year will be the ultimate must-see moment but him squaring off against his old team-mates in his new home this weekend is not a bad appetiser.

“It will be pretty exciting to go down there and see Stuart Hogg again,” admitted Glasgow skipper Callum Gibbins this week. “I’m sure there’ll be a little bit around that!

Oh, and for good measure, both the Chiefs and Warriors recorded Round 1 victories – meaning an early leg-up in Pool 2 is there for the taking. Grab the popcorn!

Player to look out for: Hogg, Stuart – see above…

Fast fact: All four of the previous Champions Cup meetings between the teams have been decided by a single-digit margin.

Munster v Racing 92, 5:30pm, Thomond Park

A couple of familiar faces – in the form of Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan – will also be up against their old friends in Saturday’s late afternoon contest at Thomond Park.

Munster celebrated securing a four-try bonus point in the dying moments away at Ospreys as if they’d just won the Champions Cup and that’s partly because finishing above Racing 92 in Pool 4 will be a hellacious task, where a single point could prove key.

Both these European heavyweights notched up a perfect five in Round 1 and Munster know they can’t really afford to give up a victory on home soil to their big rivals one week on.

Expect Johann van Graan’s troops to be both pumped up and well-prepared heading into this contest.

Player to look out for: Props don’t get enough love – ask any of them, they’ll tell you that in an instant… Consider this an attempt to start rectifying that – Jeremy Loughman was brilliant a week ago, dominating at the set-piece, breakdown and even grabbing himself a try, so what will the Munster star do as an encore?

Fast fact: Munster have won 30 of 31 home games against Top 14 opposition in the Champions Cup – including the last seven on the spin.

Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!

General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.

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