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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019

Heineken Cup cheat sheet: Your guide to this weekend's European rugby action

Our four provinces are facing into a pivotal fortnight of the season, here’s all you need to know.

Image: ©INPHO/CathalNoonan

Northampton v Ulster

When: Tonight 8.0 pm

Where can I watch? Sky Sports 2,

The story so far:

Ulster are sitting pretty atop both Pro12 and Heineken Cup Pool 4. In 12 games this season, they have yet to do anything other than win.

But the recent weeks have brought worrying performances and another, less impressive, tally of a dozen wins has come into focus. In 52 games away from home in the Heineken Cup, the northern province have won just 12, so they are looking for lucky number 13 in more ways than one.

Head coach Mark Anscombe has been left hoping that the return of his full first-team squad to competitive duty this week will provide a sharp upturn in performance for what is bound to be a pivotal fortnight in his début season.

Northampton’s players have bounced back after sliding to defeat at the hands of London Irish, Saracens and Leicester before the international break. With the big names taking the limelight, they have sneaked back up the table with wins over struggling Sale Sharks and London Welsh.

Team news: The Saints welcome back England’s Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes to the pack while there is also a welcome return for Ben Foden, who missed England’s autumn series with injury, and Samoan pair; George and Ken Pisi. Andrew Trimble will line up directly opposite the latter in Anscombe’s most contentious selection call.

For this difficult away trip Trimble’s extra experience and physicality is preferred to the elusive quality of Craig Gilroy. Anscombe has shown trust in youth elsewhere, though, as Iain Henderson is picked ahead of the rejuvenated Nick Williams in order to give the visitors an extra line-out option.

Northampton: B Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, D Waldouck, J Elliott; R Lamb, M Roberts: S Tonga’uiha, D Hartley (capt), B Mujati, S Manoa, C Lawes; C Clark, T Wood, GJ van Velze.

Replacements: M Haywood, A Waller, P Doran-Jones, M Sorenson, P Dowson, L Dickson, S Myler, T May.

Ulster: J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; P Jackson, R Pienaar: T Court, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), D Tuohy; I Henderson, C Henry, R Wilson.

Replacements: Nigel Brady, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Robbie Diack, Nick Williams Nanai, Paul Marshall, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy.

Connacht v Biarritz

When: Tonight 8.0 pm

Where can I watch? Through the red button on Sky Sports 2.

The story so far: After two games, both teams have a win over Zebre and a defeat to Harlequins under their belt. Yet Biarritz remain a point better off by virtue of their win over the Italian side coming at home with a bonus point.

Connacht come into this game off the back of a one-point home defeat to Edinburgh, but it was a game which was so nearly won and was only settled by Dan Parks late drop-goal miss. You can read more with our big match preview, here.

Team news: Biarritz carry nowhere near the threat they did for much of the past decade and are searching for their first win away from home since the August victory over struggling Agen.

However, the Basque side do welcome back Dimitri Yachvili and, on the bench, Imanol Harinordoquy. So they can’t be all bad. The captain’s partner at half back is Leinster reject Mathew Berquist and it will be his task to get powerful backs like Aled Brew and Marcelo Bosch to burst through their young counterparts.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood has been able to recall Mike McCarthy and Fetu’u Vainikolo after impressive international displays for Ireland and Tonga respectively. The duo are the only personnel changes to the side which lost out to Edinburgh. Injured captain Gavin Duffy and flanker Johnny O’Conner make way.

Connacht: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, D Poolman, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks (capt), K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, R Loughney, M Kearney, M McCarthy, A Browne, W Faloon, E McKeon.

Replacements: E Reynecke, D Buckley, J Cooney, D Qualter, J O’Connor, P O’Donohoe, M Nikora, M Jarvis.

Biarritz Olympique: I Balshaw; T Ngwenya, C Gimenez, M Bosch, A Brew; M Berquist, D Yachvili (capt): F Barcella, B August, F Gomez Kodela, E Lund, T Dubarry, W Lauret, B Guyot, R Lakafia.

Replacements:  JP Genevois, T Synaeghel, W Blaauw, P Taele, i Harinordoquy, Y Lesgourgues, JP Barraque, S Burotu.

Cian Healy speaking to the media in Dublin this week. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Munster v Saracens

When: Saturday: 6.0 pm.

Where can I watch? Sky Sports 1.

The story so far: There’s no escaping it. Saracens, with two European wins from two and a host England backs returning off the back of beating the All Blacks, look a daunting prospect. Even the imposing history of Thomond Park does not make this fixture much easier looking for Munster.

Though Rob Penney’s side have found their game-plan difficult to implement away from home, at Thomond Park they have made it work. The only home defeat of the season came a fortnight ago in Musgrave Park, the rain-sodden conditions providing the exact opposite of the setting Penney’s brand of rugby is built for.

Saracens come into this game having lost just one game in six domestically, and they sit just a point behind Harlequins at the top of the Aviva Premiership.

Team news: Giving the time of year, every team is bringing back its top talent to the fold, but that can go double for Sarries with a back-line of Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell. Add to that hooker Schalk Brits, chomping at the bit after getting limited game time with the Springboks, tight-head Matt Stevens and lock Mouritz Botha, and you have an eight-man unit desperate to make big hits.

Munster intend to meet the challenge head on with James Downey preferred to Casey Laulala in the center. But the southern province’s traditional strength has become a weakness of late. The back row has a patched together feel to it with James Coughlan thrown back into the mix after injury while Peter O’Mahoney is picked at openside in the absence of CJ Stander, Niall Ronan and Sean Dougall.

Munster: F Jones; D Howlett (capt), K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; R O’Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, D Ryan; Dave O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony, J Coughlan.

Replacements: D Varley, W du Preez, S Archer, B Holland, P Butler, D Williams, I Keatley, C Laulala.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, O Farrell, B Barritt, C Wyles; C Hodgson, N de Kock: R Gill, S Brits, M Stevens, S Borthwick (capt), M Botha, K Brown, W Fraser, E Joubert.

Replacements: J Smit, M Vunipola, P Du Plessis, G Kruis, A Saull, R Wigglesworth, J Tomkins, D Strettle.

Clertmont Auvergne v Leinster

When: Sunday 3.0 pm

Where can I watch? Sky Sports 2.

The story so far: Something has to give at the Stade Marcel Michelin on Sunday. These two powerhouses of European rugby enter the third round of games undefeated.

Leinster have the bare eight points after scraping over the line against Exeter Chiefs at the RDS and impressively beating Llanelli at Parc y Scarlets. There was nothing quite as impressive as the manner in which Clermont ruthlessly pulled the Scarlets apart in round one after Morgan Stoddart was red carded in the first half. And despite all the talking up of the Chiefs’ threat at Sandy Park, Vern Cotter’s men went and got a bonus point there too.

It’s pointless talking about Leinster’s Pro12 form going into this double-header as they have proved that they are a different beast when defending their European crown.

Team news: Cotter’s former apprentice Joe Schmidt has opted to retain Gordon D’Arcy at outside center with Kiwi import Andrew Goodman filling the number 12 spot. With back-line options diminishing, Ian Madigan is given another shot at influencing the game from fullback with only Fionn Carr and Andrew Conway providing cover from the bench.

Alongside those benched outside backs will be Eoin Reddan as Schmidt continues to pick Isaac Boss as his preferred scrum-half away from home. In the pack Sean O’Brien’s rehabilitation has been enough to earn him a starting place ahead of Shane Jennings and Sean Cronin is also included from the start after a frustrating November series.

Leinster: I Madigan; F McFadden, G D’Arcy, A Goodman, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; L Cullen (capt), D Browne; K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.

Replacements: R Strauss, J McGrath, M Bent, D Toner, S Jennings, E Reddan, F Carr, A Conway.

Clermont: L Byrne; S Sivivatu, A Rougerie (capt), W Fofana, N Nalaga; B James, M Parra; V Debaty, B Kayser, D Zirakashvili; J Cudmore, N Hines; J Bonnaire, A Lapandry, D Chouly.

Replacements: T Paulo, R Chaume, D Kotze, J Pierre, J Bardy, L Radosavljevic, D Skrela, R King.

Preview: Nothing for Connacht to fear from broken Biarritz

Heineken Cup: 3 key battles Ulster must win against Northampton

Clermont are ‘undoubtedly’ the favourites says Leinster coach Schmidt

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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