Rugby Union: Weekend Preview

Round 3 games, Covid permitting, start on Friday evening when Cardiff and Harlequins clash in Pool B of the Champions Cup at the Arms Park.

Third in the Gallagher Premiership and the current champions, surely Quins will be favourites following their outstanding win against Exeter. So watch out for more match winning displays from fly half Marcus Smith and South African centre Andre Esterhuizen against Cardiff, badly beaten by Edinburgh in their league last game.

Friday also sees mighty Munster take on Castres Olympique, beaten by the Irishmen 19-13 in their first meeting, and with classy forwards, like Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Beirne,Munster, although playing away, should squeeze through.

The pick of Saturday’s matches sees Wasps taking on reigning Heineken Cup holders Toulouse

It would be foolish to dismiss Wasps’ chances following their shock-win on Sunday against Leicester Tigers in the Gallagher Premiership.

Wasps, coached by Lee Blackett, ended the Tigers’ unbeaten run of 11 consecutive wins in the league and with home advantage, who says they can’t achieve another major surprise?

Common sense tells you that Toulouse with two world class half backs in Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack should be favourites, but with growing home support attending their stadium in Coventry, Wasps will be highly competitive.

The Tigers themselves travel to Connacht for their return game having started their Heineken campaign with wins against Connacht and Bordeaux Begles,and having lost their unbeaten run, Leicester’s coach Steve Borthwick and his squad have an extra incentive to inflict another defeat in Pool B on the Irish.

In Pool A on Saturday, Exeter Chiefs, European Champions in 2020,and still smarting from their last minute defeat by Harlequins, have a good opportunity to gain revenge against Glasgow Warriors who won 22-7 in their first meeting, but the Scots put more than 30 points past Ospreys in their last league game, so expect them to live up to their name at Sandy Park.

Bath,celebrating their first victory in the Premiership, are also competing in Pool A this Saturday..away to La Rochelle..and should therefore be more optimistic as will Bristol Bears, still in Pool A, who showed strong signs of returning to decent form during their Premiership victory against Sale Sharks..

At home again, Bristol confront Stade Francais, and in front of another big crowd at Ashton Gate, the Bears should win a close contest.The other Pool A game on Saturday is in Swansea between Ospreys and Racing 92 whose form in the France’s Top 14 is wins and seven defeats..a narrow win for Ospreys, or will Racing win their third game in the Cup?

Sunday sees Leinster, Scarlets, Northampton, Ulster, and Sale all in Heineken Cup action

Leinster, champions in 2018, 2012 and 2011, always relish action against high quality French opposition, and with their clash against Montpellier being in Dublin, they’ll be justifiably confident. Expect eye-catching performances from forwards Jack Conan, Tadhg Furlong and Josh van der Flier in this Pool A encounter.

Still in Pool A, Northampton Saints, boosted by thrashing Newcastle Falcons, take on Ulster at Franklin’s Gardens. The Saints’ record so far in the Heineken is weak. Defeats by Ulster 27-22 and by 45-14 against Racing 92, so a big improvement is needed.

The other game in Pool A has Sale Sharks travelling to Clermont Auvergne, currently mid-table in the Top 14.Can the Manchester club, coached by Alex Sanderson, bounce back from their defeat at Bristol?

It’ll be a hard job in France, but may be fly half AG MacGinty can produce some magic and set up a second win in the Cup for his side.

Meanwhile, the Pool B match this Sunday could not be tougher for the Scarlets who are scheduled to battle against Bordeaux Begles, the in-form team in the Top 14.

They lead the league with 11 wins in 14 and with home advantage should overcome the Welshmen.

European Challenge Cup

Friday – Biarritz v Newcastle Falcons, Brive v Pau

Saturday – Worcester v Toulon, Benetton v Dragons, Perpignan v Lyon, London Irish v Edinburgh