We welcome back the Challenge and Champions Cup this weekend. With some of the 6 nations squads having been announced these games are a big opportunity for some of those named players to impress their respective national coaches. I have put together a brief run through of the Champions Cup games that are taking place on Saturday and Sunday.
Saracens vs Ulster
A clash between the top two clubs in the group this tie has got me salivating. Encounters between these sides are usually pulsating and some key match ups in this game could be replicated for the England vs Ireland game in the 6 nations. Saracens have named 7 EPS players in their starting XV. The key match ups will be Ashton vs Trimble, Barritt vs McCloskey, Farrell vs Jackson, Best vs George and Itoje vs Van Der Merwe. Both teams like to play a high tempo game so this should be exciting but with Saracens defence I predict a home win by 7 points.
Bordeaux Begles vs Exeter
It is notoriously hard for sides to go to France and get a result against the home team, but Exeter seem to have found their form again recently with Thomas Waldrom scoring tries for fun. Saying that Exeter has selected some less experienced players in Max Bodilly and Will Hooley. Additionally, Bordeaux will be looking for a reaction after their loss to Clermont in the last round. I think Bordeaux will win by 10.
Leicester vs Treviso
As with any game against an Italian side a measure of success would be a four try bonus point win, and this will not be any different for the Tigers especially considering Manu Tuiliagi is back in the starting lineup. Tom Youngs will also be wanting to prove a point to Eddie Jones after being dropped so expect a big score from Leicester in this game. A Leicester win by at least 20 points.
Leinster vs Bath
There isn’t much to play for, for both sides in this game but it is a chance for Bath to remind some form and Leinster have been playing very well in the Pro12 recently. Expect both sides to give it a go and for there to be some serious points scored. An interesting match up to keep an eye on will be Joseph vs Te’o as this could be a future England selection decision once Te’o moves to Worcester next year. Leinster to win by less than 5.
Munster vs Stade Francais
Munster have not been the force they used to be this season but their record at home is exceptional and French teams don’t always travel to well so there is plenty of potential for an upset in this game. The big match up will be CJ Stander vs Sergio Parisse. I’m plumping for a home win by 5.
Northampton vs Glasgow
I would expect to see big games from Tom Wood and Luther Burrell after being overlooked by England and Dylan Hartley is back in the starting lineup so this could be Northampton back to their spiky best. Glasgow love the free running open game so expect a contrast in styles with this one where the condition of the pitch could help decide the outcome. Jonny Gray vs Courtney Lawes will certainly be one to watch and could have round 2 during England vs Scotland at Murrayfield on the 6th of February. Northampton to muscle their way to victory by less than 7 points.
Racing 92 vs Scarlets
Both sides have shown some good form recently with Scarlets going strong at the top end of the Pro12 and Racing being guided very well by Dan Carter. With Racing being at home I would expect them to take the victory but key match ups will be Eddy Ben Arous vs Samson Lee and Aaron Shingler vs Yannick Nyanga.
Toulon vs Wasps
A top of the group clash where last time this fixture took place in the South of France, Wasps nearly beat the champions at home. It is hard to look past a home victory but Bath ran the hosts close last week so there could be a backlash and Wasps are missing their talisman James Haskell and Joe Launchbury. The main match up I can’t wait to see is Steffon Armitage vs George Smith, this would give an insight into how good Steffon Armitage really is. I would say a Toulon home win by 10.