5 reasons we’re ridiculously excited about this weekend’s Champions Cup action
It’s a big weekend for Irish rugby…
With the autumn internationals just finished, you could be forgiven for being a touch downbeat for the last couple of days over the prospect of no high-octane rugby.
But, you’re wrong to be all upset because there is actually Champions Cup action on this weekend with big games for all three of the Irish provinces involved in the competition.
Here's what's at stake for the Irish teams:
Munster take on French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne in Thomand Park on Saturday and will be looking to add to the wins they picked up against Saracens and Sale Sharks in rounds one and two.
Ulster go into Saturday’s match with the Scarlets knowing that anything less than a win will mean the end of their interest in the competition following back to back losses against Leicester and Toulon.
And finally Leinster will face Harlequins at the Stoop on Sunday in their third round tie against the London based side. Leinster had wins over Castres and Wasps in rounds one and two and a win in the Stoop would further cement their position as top dogs in the group.
A stellar weekend of rugby is ahead of us, but what exactly are we looking forward to? Is it the historic rivalry between Clermont and Munster? The expected backlash from Ulster after their poor start? Or the intriguing battle between Conor O’Shea and Matt O’Connor on Sunday?
Saturday evening in Thomand Park
Many of the great Munster performances over the years have come on a Saturday evening under lights in Limerick (I said many, not all, before you all jump down my throat). They have one of the most important games of their pool on Saturday and it will be class to hear the atmosphere of the crowd in the ground on Saturday evening.
Video via Sean Ryan.
They probably won’t need it, but the boisterous Thomand Park crowd will have the players rightly revved up for the game and if the rugby on the pitch matches the crowd’s enthusiasm, we will have a game to remember on our hands.
The Clermont backline
How often do you get to see such an array of talent take to the pitch? Probably only when Toulon and Clermont come to town and neither team have travelled down South in the last few years, so this is a big deal for the Munster faithful.
As well as Morgan Parra at nine, they also have Napolioni Nalaga, Benson Stanley and Jonathan Davies and that’s not even mentioning the old warhorse Aurelien Rougerie. Their backline resources are frightening and although part of us want them to play awfully and knock on every single ball, a very small, minute part us wants to see them click just once and produce some magic.
Luke Fitzgerald return
How long have we been waiting for this? Yes, you have guessed correctly, quite a while. One of the most talented players in Ireland has endured a career blighted by injury and that trend continued this year. After a few almost comebacks over the last while we may finally see the Leinster man line out in the Champions Cup.
Video via stephenbenjamincole.
If Fitzgerald can get a good run of injury-free games together, he stands a great chance of making the World Cup squad next year as Joe Schmidt is known to be a big fan of the versatile back. Centre and wing are areas where he will be hoping to make an impact if he lines out and we can’t wait.
What can Ulster produce?
OK, we’ve been waiting to see a spark from Ulster this season to ignite their Champions Cup challenge and remove them from the spiral of indifference that has clouded their season so far. We thought that the Leicester game might be the kick in the hole they needed to get aggressive and start performing.
Obviously we were wrong as they were comprehensively defeated by Toulon in the next game. They need a win, preferably by a bonus point if they are to have any smidgen of hope to get out of this group. If they can’t produce some fireworks on Saturday, they never will…
The Battle of the full-backs at the Stoop
Mike Brown and Rob Kearney will be direct opponents on Sunday at the Stoop and the clash of the pair is mouth-watering to say the least. They are two of the best full-backs in Europe on their day and their tussle will be a fantastic sub-plot to the drama that will unfold when the two teams collide.
Kearney has been electric this year and he will no doubt be landing some bombs on Brown to contest them and see who has the upper hand in the aerial duel. Brown hasn’t quite reached last year’s form but he is still a quality operator even if his temperament can be somewhat suspect.
We think Rob will edge it…