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Five players who can hurt Ireland's Champions Cup dreams

All four provinces are in a strong position to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition – so long as they can navigate a path past this lot.

Leicester's young star, Freddie Steward.
Leicester's young star, Freddie Steward.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Updated 22 hours ago

1: Freddie Steward (LeicesterTigers)

After emerging in the last 12 months, Steward became a surprising star of England’s autumn series, all the while helping Leicester stay unbeaten in this campaign until last weekend.

Now aged 21, his relocation from full-back to wing today will be a source of interest, where his 16st, 6ft 4in frame offers Tigers an additional safety option in the backfield once Jack Carty launches his bombs. “The high ball is a big part (of my job),” he said a few weeks ago, “but there’s other stuff to do as well.”

He’s well able for it. The kid has gas, a decent boot and the ability to pick clever lines, like the one that led to Marcus Smith finding him with a pass that resulted in a try against the Wallabies in November.

2: Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints)

If he’s in the mood, Ulster are in trouble. There’s always been a nagging suspicion, though, that the Welshman has reserved his best form for international rugby. He was superb for Wales in last year’s Six Nations – leading to his selection as the starting ten for the Lions in South Africa. But so many Welsh players impersonate Clark Kent for their club, Superman for their country. Ulster hope Biggar sticks to that habit today. Otherwise they are in trouble.

dan-biggar Dan Biggar in action for Wales against Fiji. Source: Ashley Crowden/INPHO

3: Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)

England captain in Owen Farrell’s absence in November, Lawes had a brilliant 2021, playing well for the Lions in South Africa, influencing games physically, not just in his tackles and carries, also in the ugly stuff, defending mauls, cleaning out rucks. Ulster’s lineout has functioned pretty well this season – their maul causing Munster bother in the first half last week. Let’s see how well it goes with this guy – who’ll win his 250th cap for Northampton today – leading the resistance.

4: Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers)

After making his 100th appearance for the club last weekend, Genge heads to Galway with the knowledge that Leicester’s scrum was way superior to Connacht’s when these sides met last month.

In this respect, the contest between the 31-times capped England international and Connacht’s Irish cap, Finlay Bealham, is clearly going to be the key one. Had Connacht even achieved parity in this department a month ago, they’d have won the game.

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These things are easier said than done. Having served his time, Genge is now England’s first choice loosehead. Tigers have also made him their club captain and the added responsibility has increased his confidence. It all adds up to make Bealham’s task a massive one. Stop Genge, you go some way to stopping the Tigers.

leicester-tigers-ellis-genge-is-tackled-by-montpelliers-jacques-du-plessis Leicester's Ellis Genge on the charge. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

5: Guilhem Guirado (Montpellier)

The first thing Leinster fans will have asked when they looked at the Montpellier team selected yesterday is ‘where are the stars?’ The answer is back in France.

The familiar names – Bouthier, Vincent, Pollard, Reinach, Camara, Willemse, Haoaus – are out for one reason or another. At 35, Guirado isn’t finished just yet, although his best days are behind him. Still, if Montpellier are do anything tomorrow – an unlikely scenario – then his poise at the lineout and power in the scrum will be vital to their cause. Don’t expect much other than Leinster dishing out a hammering, though.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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