Heineken Cup Weekend previews
Compiled by JOHN O'SULLIVAN
Toulon v Cardiff Blues
Stade Felix Mayol (1.35, red button Sky Sports)
The magnitude of the task facing the Blues can be gleaned from a Toulon replacements panel that includes Joe van Niekerk, Matt Giteau and David Smith, to name but three. Centre Mathieu Bastareaud was recalled to the French squad yesterday. Cardiff may draw some hope from the fact their hosts were beaten at home last weekend by Racing Metro. Unfortunately, the Welsh scrum won’t survive this test. Wexford-born, former Kilkenny College schoolboy Robin Copeland, was outstanding against Munster and it’ll be interesting to see how he mixes in this company.
Toulon: D Armitage; R Wulf, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz, A Palisson; J Wilkinson, F Michalak; X Chiocci, JC Orioli, C Hayman; J Suta, N Kennedy; P Gunther, S Armitage, C Masoe.
Cardiff Blues: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, G Evans, J Roberts, H Robinson; R Patchell, L Jones; S Hobbs, R Williams, B Bourrust; J Down, L Reed; J Navidi, S Warburton, R Copeland.
Referee: JP Doyle (England).
Verdict: Toulon to win.
Zebre v Biarritz Olympique
Stadio XXV Aprile (1.35, red button Sky Sports)
Biarritz must get a win and a bonus point if they are to threaten a place in the play-offs. They are without their American flyer Takudza Ngewnya and have elected to start Imanol Harinordoquy on the bench. Marcelo Bosch is at fullback ,with former England international Iain Balshaw moving to the right wing. Zebre will take heart from an excellent performance against the Ospreys in the Pro12 that saw them go down by the narrowest of margins. If they can replicate that performance then they have a chance of a first win in any competition. Biarritz can be brittle.
Zebre: P Buso; M Pratichetti, G Garcia, D Halangahu, S Sinoti; L Orquera, A Chillon; M Aguero, A Manici, D Ryan; Q Geldenhuys, M Van Vuren; F Ferrarini, M Bergamasco, J Sole.
Biarritz Olympique: M Bosch: I Balshaw, B Baby, D Traille, A Brew: JP Barraque, D Yachvili; F Barcella, JP Genevois, E Van Staden; J Thion, P Taele: M Lund, W Lauret, R Lakafia
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland).
Verdict: Biarritz to win.
Racing Metro 92 v Saracens
Stade de La Beaujoire, Nantes (3.40, Irish time, live on Sky Sports)
The French side take yet another home game on the road, this time to Nantes. Confidence levels should be high after they became the first side to beat Toulon at Stade Felix Mayol in the Top 14 last weekend. Juan Martin Hernandez replaces Jonathan Wisniewski at outhalf, while French international scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud is out injured. Racing simply must win to set up a cracking tie in Limerick next weekend. Saracens have an excellent set-piece and against a side who kick the ball more often than anyone else in the tournament that might be pivotal.
Racing Metro: B Fall; J Imhoff, H Chavancy, F Estebanez, S Bobo; JM Hernandez, S Descons; B Arous, D Szarzewski, L Ducalcon; F van der Merwe, J Qovu Nailiko; A Batut, A Galindo, M Matadigo.
Saracens: C Wyles; C Ashton, J Tomkins, B Baritt, D Strettle; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth; R Gill, S Brits, M Stevens; S Borthwick, M Botha; K Brown, W Fraser, E Joubert.
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).
Verdict: Saracens to win.
Clermont v Exeter Chiefs
Stade Marcel Michelin (6pm, red button Sky Sports)
The French side have been unassailable at home for some time and that’s not likely to be challenged this afternoon. They scalped the Chiefs 46-12 at Sandy Park earlier in the tournament and few would back against them getting another bonus point victory. One All Black Regan King replaces another Benson Stanley while Jamie Cudmore returns to the pack. Aurelien Rougerie is injured. Exeter have Gareth Steenson at outhalf and fellow Ulsterman Ian Whitten on the bench.
Clermont Auvergne: JM Buttin: S Sivivatu, R King, W Fofana, N Nalaga: B James, M Parra; T Domingo, B Kayser, D Zirakashvili; J Cudmore, N Hines; J Bonnaire, J Bardy, D Chouly.
Exeter Chiefs: L Arscott; G Camacho, P Dolman, J Shoemark, M Jess; G Steenson, K Barrett; B Moon, N Clark, H Tui; T Hayes, J Hanks; T Johnson, J Scaysbrook, R Baxter.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).
Verdict: Clermont to win
Ospreys v Leicester Tigers
Liberty stadium (3pm, Sky )
This is a game that the home side simply must win if they want to prolong their interest in the tournament. They managed the shock of the last European weekend when comfortably beating Toulouse and didn’t lose a league game over the Christmas period. Adam Jones is going to be a key figure as the Tigers go after their hosts’ scrum. Despite losing some big names the Ospreys have been difficult to beat. There’s no Geordan Murphy for Leicester but Niall Morris has established his place as a first choice wing on merit.
Ospreys: R Fussell; R Thomas, T Isaacs, A Bishop, E Walker; D Biggar, K Fotualii; R Bevington, R Hibbard, A Jones; I Gough, J King; R Jones, J Tipuric, J Bearman.
Leicester Tigers: M Tait; N Morris, M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Thompstone; T Flood, B Youngs; M Ayerza, T Youngs, D Cole; L Deacon, G Parling; S Mafi, J Salvi, J Crane.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland).
Verdict: Ospreys to win.
Toulouse v Benetton Treviso
Stade Earnest Wallon (3pm, Irish time, red button Sky Sports)
The only imponderable about this match-up is the final margin. Treviso have enjoyed some decent results in Europe but Toulouse know anything short of a bonus point will be viewed as a lost opportunity. They were beaten in Wales last time out in Europe and have slipped a little from their pomp but with Luke McAlister back in harness – Toulouse have lost every match he’s missed – they should win here with something to spare.
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, F Fritz, Y Jauzion, Y Huget; L McAlister, L Burgess; V Kakovin, G Botha, C Johnston; R Millo-Chluski, P Albacete; G Lamboley, Y Nyanga, L Picamoles.
Benetton Treviso: G Toniolatti; L Nitoglia, T Benvenuti, A Pratichetti, T Iannone; L Morisi, T Botes; M Muccignat, E Ceccato, A de Marchi; A Pavanello, V Bernabo; P Derbyshire, D Budd, R Barbieri.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).
Verdict: Toulouse to win