5 reasons we’re excited about this weekend’s Champions Cup action
It’s that time of the week again folks, the time when you get to hear the main reasons we are (and you should be) excited about this weekend’s Champions Cup action.
Munster had a very disappointing loss to Clermont last weekend in Thomond Park with the way they played more infuriating than the result. They were physically battered as Jono Gibbes and his Clermont side had Munster’s number and dominated the collisions, the breakdown and most of the game.
Leinster also lost away to Harlequins and will be looking to reverse that result in the Aviva stadium on Saturday night. Only for a lack of accuracy last weekend, Leinster could easily have come away with a win at the Stoop but as it is, they are still in the hunt for the top spot in the group providing they win on Saturday.
Ulster did what was expected of them and defeated a limited Scarlet’s team in Ravenhill, securing a bonus point in the process. The return of Ruan Pienaar and the finishing of Tommy Bowe laid the foundation for a solid win.
So what is there to look forward to this weekend? The return fixtures of last weekend and much much more.
We won’t lie to you, most of our excitement this week involves centres and their partnerships…
Sam Burgess makes his starting bow for Bath…
This is one of the biggest moments in Northern Hemisphere rugby for quite a long time. Sam Burgess, the human wrecking ball himself, makes his first start in Bath colours tonight. The former rugby league star has made a couple of cameo appearances off the bench for the English side but this is where we will see if he will adapt to rugby union or go scurrying back to league like so many of his comrades.
We think he will be a huge success in the long run if he sticks with it. He has the size, athleticism and skills to make a huge impact in the game for both Bath and, down the line, with England. He just has to watch the swinging arm when he goes into tackles. Against Montpellier last weekend he was lucky to get away with a few instances of it and with the TMO having more input, he is unlikely to get away with it much longer…
Video via AP7 Montages.
JJ Hanrahan starting for Munster
JJ has been in the news this week for his proposed move to Northampton Saints. But his eyes will have to be firmly on the prize on Sunday when Munster take on Clermont in the cauldron that is the Stade Marcel Michelin. We will see on Sunday if Hanrahan has a right to be upset at his lack of game time or if Foley is correct in his team selections.
Hanrahan has huge potential and it is great to see him get the nod, albeit one out from where he would probably like to be. The run straight experiment with Denis Hurley against Clermont was a dramatic failure so we will see if a ball playing first centre makes any difference against the Clermont juggernaut.
Luke Fitzgerald and Ian Madigan in the centres for Leinster
Is this a possible future 12/13 combination for Ireland? We mentioned above about JJ Hanrahan being a ball playing centre and Ian Madigan definitely falls into that category as well. The versatile back is one of the most exciting players on show every time he takes the pitch. His footwork and fend are deceptively good and allows him to get over the gain line regularly despite his relatively small frame.
Fitzgerald has often been touted as a potential star at 13 but injury has severely curtailed his game time over the last two years. His selection at 13 is an exciting move by Matt O’Connor and a sign of ambition from Leinster. They tried to play a bit more expansive last week but they were far too inaccurate to pull off their plays. Fitzgerald has all the tools to thrive at 13 and it will be enthralling to see how him and Madigan combine on Saturday.
The Stade Marcel Michelin atmosphere
There is nothing quite like the atmosphere you get down in the South of France where the very air is hostile and you can feel the crowd baying for blood. Clermont Auvergne play in the fortress that is the Stade Marcel Michelin. They simply do not lose in this venue, so if Munster do pull off a result, it will go down as one of the greatest achievements in the provinces history.
Video via Auvergne Sports.
The atmosphere in the 18,300 capacity stadium is one of the best in Europe and it makes you feel like every time Clermont attack, they will score. It just creates such a pressurised environment for opposition teams and it really makes the game more intense and frantic.
Luke Marshall makes a long awaited return to Ulster
We won’t lie, we have feared for Luke Marshall’s career at various times over the last two years following a series of concussions. Now, it's great to see him back in the team following a long layoff with a knee injury. He takes up the mantle at 12 following an elbow injury to Stuart McCloskey and a concussion to Stuart Olding.
We won’t be expecting too much of the Irish international too soon but it is great to see him back in the side and hopefully he can get a run of games together to establish his place in Ulster and the national team.