Struggling Bath and Wasps searching for form ahead of European ties

John O’Sullivan’s team by team guide to the Irish provinces’ opponents this weekend

Wasps (v Munster, Coventry Building Society Arena 3.15, Sunday)

How are they doing in the league?

Lee Blackett’s side is ninth in the 13-club Gallagher English Premiership table with three victories from nine matches, including defeats in the last three league matches on the bounce. It can largely but not exclusively be explained by a lengthy injury list.

In terms of those six defeats there was only one match, a 56-15 shellacking by Saracens, in which they were completely overwhelmed. Last time out they lost 32-31 away to Worcester Warriors while in the previous game they had their pockets picked, 35-33 at home to Gloucester.

How is their injury profile ahead of the match?

At various points this season Wasps have been without 18 players due to injury including key players like Joe Launchbury, former All Black Malakai Fekitoa, Dan Robson, Paulo Odogwu, Tom Cruse and Jack Willis. Francois Hougaard (knee) returned to training this week having missed last weekend’s game against the Worcester Warriors but may not be fit.

Former All Black secondrow Vaea Fifita is struggling to make the Munster match. He limped off with a dead leg before the interval the last day. Alex McHenry, a son of former professional golfer John, is not permitted by mutual agreement to play against Munster having racked up four matches since arriving from the Irish province on a short-term loan.

A player to watch?

Outhalf Jacob Umaga is a talented young outhalf with the skills to run a game, place-kick and, as he demonstrated recently against Gloucester, score tries. The 23-year-old, who won a first England cap in July, is the son of former Samoan international Mike and the nephew of All Black great, Tana.

He is trying to eradicate basic errors that occasionally blemish performances – he went through a bad spell at the end of last season – and instead demonstrate a better representation of his ability. He couldn’t have a better tutor than Jimmy Gopperth.

Bath (v Leinster, Aviva Stadium 3.15, Saturday)

How are they doing in the league?

In a word, horribly: nine matches, no wins and rooted to the foot of the English Premiership, 10 points behind the Bristol Bears in second-last place. They have conceded 38 tries, an average of over four a game, and 237 points.

Four losing bonus points are all they have to show for their efforts to date. At the core of that disappointing run is an injury list that would hobble the best clubs. Patched-up once again they will travel to Dublin in hope rather than expectation. No one would blame head coach Neil Hatley if he makes injury weighted risk assessments.

How is their injury profile ahead of the match?

Anthony Watson, Cameron Redpath, Joe Cokanasiga, Talupe Faletau, Beno Obamo and Jaco Coetzee are just an example of the calibre of players missing through injury. Last week’s halfbacks Danny Cipriani (HIA) and Ben Spencer (arm) didn’t make it to the interval in that game. Josh McNally withdrew in the warm-up while Mike Williams (HIA) also didn’t finish the match.

Young outhalf Orlando Bailey and England internationals Jonathan Joseph, Ruadhri McConnochie, Spencer and McNally are expected to travel to Dublin, although Hatley won’t take too many risks given an already stretched roster.

A player to watch?

Sam Underhill. If Leinster don't protect their ball at the breakdown then there are few better players in world rugby to exploit the shortcoming than the England international openside flanker. Hampered by injury at various stages over the last year – he missed the 2021 Six Nations with a hip problem – he has been a standout player once again of late despite all the issues that Bath face.

The 25-year-old won the last of his 25 caps against Tonga at Twickenham last month. He is so quick to spot poaching opportunities, difficult to shift once over the ball and a superb tackler.

Clermont Auvergne (v Ulster, Stade Marcel Michelin 5.30, Irish time, Saturday)

How are they doing in the league?

Jono Gibbes’ arrival from La Rochelle to take over as director of rugby last summer has seen the club enjoy a mixed start to the season, winning six of 12 matches to lie sixth in the French Top 14. They lost three of their first four matches, but then flipped that streak with wins over Racing 92, Montpellier (away) and Pau while losing on the road to Stade Francais.

In the last month they have lost to both the league leaders Bordeaux Begles and the team at the foot of the table, Perpignan while recording wins over Toulon and Biarritz, both of whom are in the bottom four.

How is their injury profile ahead of the match?

Fijian born, French Test wing Alvereti Raka had been missing from the Clermont starting team since his two-try performances against Pau in late October until his return last weekend in the win over Biarritz. Outhalf Camille Lopez also missed several matches with Kerryman JJ Hanrahan – he came on and scored a try against Biarritz – starting three of the last five matches albeit that the French international was back in the 10 shirt for the most recent win.

Argentine lock Thomas Lavanini is suspended following his red card against Ireland. Veterans Morgan Parra and Kiwi number eight Fritz Lee are still first choice players when fit and there is plenty of French international ballast in a pack led by secondrow cum flanker Arthur Iturria, who appears to have taken over the captaincy from Sebastien Vahaamahina.

A player to watch?

Damian Penaud is such an elegant footballer and possesses the capacity to play in a variety of positions, including in recent times, the role of inside centre. Ostensibly a wing or fullback he has adapted to playing alongside former All Blacks centre George Moala of former Fijian Sevens player Apisai Naqalevu in the midfield.

The 25-year-old Penaud has scored 10 tries in 26 caps for France and it’ll be interesting to see where he starts on Saturday given that Raka, Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima and young Cheik Tiberghien seemed to be preferred options in the back three.

Stade Francais (v Connacht, Sportsground 1.0, Sunday)

How are they doing in the league?

They lie 10th in the French Top 14, five points clear of the bottom side Perpignan, following an unlikely victory last weekend against La Rochelle where they came back from a 20-6 deficit to win, 25-20. It arrested a run of three straight defeats for head coach Gonzalo Quesada’s charges. The Parisian club have lost seven of 12 matches, offering a volatile form-line with victories and defeats coming and going in bursts.

Stade Francais lost four of their first five games, won three in succession before tasting defeat in their next three matches against Pau, Montpellier and Biarritz. Last weekend’s surprise rally against Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle gives them some momentum ahead of their trip to Connacht.

How is their injury profile ahead of the match?

Sekou Macalou missed the game against La Rochelle through injury but is expected to be back for the trip to Galway. Argentine pivot Nicholas Sanchez missed the early part of the season but since his return has struggled to win back the 10 jersey from Joris Segonds, the 24-year-old French outhalf starting nine of the 12 matches.

French rugby’s embarrassment of riches at scrumhalf includes former underage international captain Arthur Colville while Fijian Waisea Nayacavelu, who scored two tries against La Rochelle, will prove a real handful for the Connacht defence. Marcus Kremer (Argentina) and the slightly underwhelming Ngani Laumape (New Zealand) are other standout names.

A player to watch?

Sekou Macalou’s career has been something of a slow burn to this point especially when recalling the fanfare that greeted his performances as an underage international, one of which was a fantastic solo try while playing an Under-20 international in Athlone six years ago. Now, 26, many would have suspected he’s have accumulated more than his six caps for France to date.

A brilliant athlete, the 6ft 5in flanker is really quick with a huge presence at lineout time. He also possesses the handling and lines of running that many backs would appreciate. He has just signed a very rare four-year contract extension with the Paris club.