From Friday to Sunday, it promises to be wall-to-wall action, and as the busy festive period looms large, sides will be eager to put their best foot forward in this weekend’s clashes.
The spectacle that has caught the imagination of most rugby fans is the rematch of last season’s semi-final as Saracens travel to Munster on Saturday.
While Franklin’s Gardens will be oozing with anticipation as Guinness PRO14 Conference A table-toppers Leinster travel to face Premiership leaders Northampton.
Van Graan ready for Saracens test
The semi-final showdown between Munster and Saracens at the Ricoh Arena in April saw an Owen Farrell kicking masterclass as the fly-half guided the English side to a 32-16 success.
Ahead of Saturday’s meeting at Thomond Park, Munster head coach Johann van Graan knows exactly what to expect from the visitors, insisting his side will be up to the task.
“They have a good kicking game off nine and 10. They really suffocate you in all areas of the game and wait for mistakes,” the South African said.
“With Saracens there is no weakness, they pressure you into conceding penalties. Every area is a key area from their side. They had 17 players that went to the World Cup, nine of that squad played in a World Cup final.
“A physical challenge will never be a problem for Munster. That’s the challenge we love, that’s what the game is about. You have to respect the opposition because they are good.”
Defence key for Leinster against Saints
Saracens went on to beat Leinster in the final of last season’s competition and the Irish province are looking in good shape to repeat their run to the showpiece once again this campaign.
This weekend sees them travel to Northampton, who have been playing some scintillating rugby under Chris Boyd of late, with both sides locked on nine points at the top of Pool 1.
“We know the challenge we’re heading into,” said Leinster backs’ coach Felipe Contepomi. “I think it’s the in-form team of the Premiership, one of the most competitive leagues in Europe and the world.”
“We always put pressure on ourselves to perform.” 💪
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) December 3, 2019
“We know they’re in form, they’ve had a great start to the season and they’re playing good rugby.
“I wouldn’t be worried if we can defend the way the we did in the last two games, but sometimes the games flow like that and you need to be able to win games defending and scrapping them out.”
Ulster keen to build on momentum
Ireland and England will also do battle at the Kingspan Stadium, where Harlequins will travel to face Ulster.
After three consecutive victories, including a crucial 17-16 victory over Bath in their Champions Cup opener, the Ulstermen are in fine form at the moment.
And scrum-half John Cooney, who bagged 12 of those points himself at The Rec, knows the next two weekends will prove pivotal.
“It’s the back-to-back games that are the big ones,” he said.
“Last year we went away to Scarlets and put in a huge performance and then beat them at home as well, which really gave us a lot of momentum.
“We have good momentum now and it is important that we continue it and that we play with confidence.”
After an up-and-down start to the season, Glasgow Warriors make the trip to Western France to face La Rochelle, and will be looking to bounce back from a 34-18 defeat to Exeter Chiefs a fortnight ago.
Forwards coach John Dalziel said: “Europe means a lot to a lot of people. For both teams, it’s kind of last-chance saloon because we’ve both got to try to get a result.
“They [La Rochelle] had a big win last weekend and jumped up a few places in the French league, so they’ll be in confident mood.
“We just need to hit it this weekend with the clarity of where our shortfalls are, and I think we’ve nailed that. We’ll look to improve.”
Aki relishing future at Connacht
Finally, Connacht have received a boost before their trip to Gloucester this weekend with the news that Bundee Aki will be staying with the club after signing a new contract.
The Irish international has penned a new central contract which will see him remain at the club until the end of the 2022/23 season.
“This club has given me a lot since I arrived. This country has given me a lot as well so I think my family and myself just want to owe it back to them,” the Auckland-born centre said.
“Obviously we have unfinished business but obviously I see my future here in this club and great things used to happen over here and I truly believe we are going in the right direction.
“I was never in doubt where I wanted to be, this is where I am and this is where I want to stay for the next few years and make a few histories.”
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.