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Dublin: 11°C Friday 16 April 2021

5 talking points ahead of the return of Champions Cup rugby

Can Connacht keep their 100% record and will Munster and Leicester produce another classic?

ROUND THREE OF the European Rugby Champions Cup kicked off last night and we’re set for a feast of continental action over the next two weekends.

With Leinster having already played, the remaining three provinces all have tough fixtures to deal with this weekend with Ulster playing Clermont, Munster hosting Leicester and Connacht travelling to Coventry to face Wasps.

But what are the main talking points ahead of the big games?

1. Who will provide the Ulster spark in the absence of Trimble and Gilroy?

Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

Ulster already knew they’d be planning for the visit of Clermont without Jaryd Payne but were dealt a further blow this week when Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy failed to recover from injuries picked up over the past few weeks.

Les Kiss’s side bounced back from their round one beating at the hands of Bordeaux with victory over Exeter last time out and know that today’s game is already must-win.

The team will, however, be boosted by the return of Paddy Jackson and Rory Best to the starting XV after both were rested last weekend. If Jackson can be accurate with his kicks, that could be the difference between the sides.

2. Can Conor Murray build on a brilliant November?

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It’s fair to say Conor Murray enjoyed last month. After playing a key role in the historic first-ever win over the All Blacks, he steered a steady ship to ensure Ireland finished the year on a positive note with victory over Australia.

The 27-year-old has 19 tries in 90 appearances for his province and was decisive in helping Munster to victory in their one European Rugby Champions Cup game so far, a 38-17 defeat of Glasgow on an emotional day in Thomond Park.

Despite playing just one game, Munster still top Pool 1 and Murray’s performance against Leicester today will go a long way towards ensuring they stay there.

3. Can Leicester and Munster produce another classic?

Source: Edd Armitage/YouTube

These two teams have met six times in European competition with the Tigers currently leading the series 4-2.

The most famous encounter happened all the way back in 2002 when Neil Back’s unpunished infringement cost Munster a Heineken Cup win.

Last year in the pool stages, Leicester won both games and Munster will be looking to avenge those defeats today.

4. How will Connacht react to Pat Lam’s decision?

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s played two, won two for Connacht so far in this season’s competition but the province was rocked this week by the news that Pat Lam is set to leave his role as head coach when the current campaign comes to an end.

Facing Wasps on the road was already going to be a tough task, especially as the Coventry side have been so free-scoring in their opening two games.

However, the team need only look back to the first round of fixtures and their thrilling victory over Toulouse to show that they can live with the very best in Europe.

5. How to solve a problem like Kurtley Beale?

Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Earlier this year, Wasps announced the signing of the 60-times-capped Australian international to much fanfare only to see him immediately suffer a knee injury that has kept him from playing until this weekend.

How much rust will play a role remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting the utility back has an X-factor unlike most in world rugby.

With his ability to score on any play, keeping the 27-year-old quiet will be key to any Connacht victory.

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