LIMERICK, IRELAND – If the second round of European action lives up to the first, rugby fans are in for a treat this weekend. With more marquee matches headed our way, the new European Champions Cup is set to deliver another action-packed round, highlighted by Friday’s clash between Munster and Saracens. If you haven’t done so already, check out WatchESPN for live and replay coverage of all European Champions Cup matches- an unprecedented feature that massively improves the viewing experience for Americans used to watching a match a weekend on Fox Soccer Plus, or pirating video streams from shady sites online. For the rest of the season, RugbyWrapUp will be providing previews and recaps of every round’s European action.
Munster survived a major scare in Manchester last weekend, prevailing over Sale on a last second drop goal. Things only get tougher, though the men in red will have home field advantage against Saracens. Owen Farrell returns to the starting fifteen for Sarries, while Munster is expected to name a largely unchanged side. Anthony Foley will make sure his players understand that they cannot afford another slow start against an explosive Saracens back line. Chris Ashton and David Strettle both bagged two tries last weekend against Clermont, but were left out of Stuart Lancaster’s training squad. The two have been rampaging down the flanks, and will have a point to prove to England management if they hope to enter the World Cup picture.
Clermont returns to the comforts of the Stade Marcel Michelin on Sunday afternoon to face Sale, following their opening round loss to Saracens. Sale will be intent on playing spoiler, but Clermont’s home record is unmatched in recent years. Danny Cipriani is another man with a bone to pick with English management, after being left out in favor of Stephen Myler despite a hugely impressive display against Munster last season. Though it is early in the group stages, this match is a must-win for both sides.
SIX-PACK: The pack goes 4-2 in favor of Saracens as the two experts with Irish roots (Harrington and Yeats) back Munster. According to the experts, Clermont at Stade Michelin will be too much for Sale.
Castres had a hard time getting going in London against a stalwart Harlequins side, and they will not revel in facing Leinster in the second round. The three time European champions enter as strong favorites, though Castres showed marked improvement over their domestic form last weekend. As with Clermont, returning home will be massively helpful to the French side, but Leinster will feel good about their position in the pool if they can come away with a second victory.
Wasps were deservedly heartbroken after a second half collapse in Dublin. On Saturday, they will return to Adams Park for one of their final matches in London, facing neighboring rivals Harlequins. Quins proved a point last weekend, and Nick Evans was the round’s top scored with 20 points. Joe Marler’s captaincy still has some doubters though, and Harlequins have yet to take the next step on the European stage. The two sides met a month ago, with Quins prevailing 26-23 in a tight match at the Stoop.
SIX-PACK: Three is the key word in this pool. The six pack are split into two different packs of three for both the group matches.
Scarlets provided unexpectedly feisty resistance to defending European champions Toulon before succumbing to a 10 point defeat. They will host Leicester, who put domestic woes behind them to triumph over Ulster in the first round. The Tigers will be missing Manu Tuilangi, who is now expected to be out for up to three months with a groin injury. Scarlets and Leicester last met in January 2011, when the Tigers came away with a 32-18 victory at the Parc y Scarlets.
Toulon breathed a long sigh of relief after beating Scarlets, but will now have to face a desperate Ulster side. A second consecutive loss would likely damage Ulster’s hopes of advancing beyond repair, while Toulon were not at their brilliant best last weekend. Paddy Jackson will be responsible for dictating play, and Ulster will be looking to win a tough territorial battle.
SIX-PACK: Not all hope is lost for Scarlets as Yeats and Harrington foresee a win for them, while Loyd is the only one that forsees a Toulon win at Ravehill.
Glasgow were responsible for the most shocking display of the weekend when they dismantled Bath 37-10 at the Scotsun. They will look to continue that form against Montpellier, who lost their opening match against Toulouse. Montpellier is returning home, where they have been successful so far this year, winning their last four fixtures. If Glasgow can continue their sparkling form, they may be the season’s surprise European contenders.
Bath look to bounce back during a massive home clash against Toulouse. The match marks Toby Flood’s return to familiar English shores, where he enjoyed a great deal of success during a decade with Newcastle and Leicester. Toulouse’s domestic struggles did not translate to their European match, and another victory might prove that the team has turned a corner. Bath entered the pool as many pundit’s pick, but another victory would prove massively difficult to overcome. George Ford needs to impress if he hopes to start against the All Blacks on November 8, with this match representing his last chance to make an impression before entering England’s camp.
SIX-PACK: It is another even split as Montpellier and Glasgow are split down the middle. While Bath is slightly favored by 4-2 over Toulouse. Results will be interesting as the split may be key in opening up the leaderboard.
Ospreys kick off the action with a tough matchup against Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens. Jim Mallinder’s side was poor in Paris last weekend, while Ospreys were not tested against Treviso. The Saints have played impressive rugby in England so far this season, but their offensive flair deserted them in the first round. Ospreys are table toppers in the Pro12, and look to ride their halfback partnership to a win that would make their matches against Racing Metro effective pool deciders.
Racing Metro upped their game last weekend, but will not have to do so against the token Italian side in this year’s competition. Treviso continue their rapid devolution after years of incremental gains, as European rugby’s new economic order has ensured their irrelevance. It’s a sad state of affairs for the Pro12, but as Italy produces better players, they are being snapped up in England and France after a few developmental years with the domestic sides.
SIX-PACK: Racing are empathic favorites over Treviso, while all except Yeats and his English hatred denied another clean sweep for Northampton.
Here is a recap of the Six-Pack’s picks and Picks of the Week. Go bet the house on them.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.