San Diego, CA – The fields of France will be lined with ruggers this weekend as the European Rugby Champions Cup heads to French soil for a lightning round of fixtures rescheduled after the Paris terrorist attacks. All five of this weekend’s fixtures will be played in various venues around France and are sure to make for some scintillating rugby as the knockout stages approach! Every game of the weekend has at least one team vying for a playoff position, so it’s sure to be a classic weekend of European rugby. Check out our Expert Panel Picks and see how each of the weekend’s games shapes up ahead of the fixtures (big thanks to Junior Blaber for compiling the table below)…
Racing 92 v Glasgow Warriors
Stade Yves-du-Manoir, Paris
9 January 2016
With regular starting center Peter Horne out with an injury, Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend has selected Scotland fly half Finn Russell to start alongside Mark Bennett in midfield. Townsend has made three additional changes to the forwards ahead of the fixture in Paris, naming Pat MacArther to start at hooker, Leone Nakarawa to return to the second row after two weeks of injury, and Adam Ashe to jump in at number eight for an injured Josh Strauss. The Warriors are in position to overtake Racing for first place in pool 3 with a win as they sit just three points behind leaders Racing and one point below second-place Northampton. As for Racing, they are riding a wave of success heading into the reschedule fixtures this weekend having gone atop the French Top 14 thanks to their win over Bordeaux-Begles last weekend. The only change to the French side’s lineup is the reinclusion of Welsh scrum half Mike Phillips returning from a week’s break and rest. Hooker Dimitri Szarzewski stated is belief his team midweek saying, “Glasgow will be a very different test but for sure it is always nice to be top of the table. It may be only temporary but we would like to make it more permanent and continue the good feeling we have in Europe.” Racing’s form has been fantastic of late and Glasgow will have to give everything in their power to stop the highflying Frenchmen.
Stade Français v Munster
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris
9 January 2016
In wake of what has been a poor season thus far, Munster head coach Anthony Foley has made six changes to his side for the reschedule Champions Cup game against SF Paris. The inclusion of Irish internationals Keith Earls, Conner Murray and other stalwarts Dave Foley and Andrew Conway will provide a much-needed boost to the lagging province who are 13 points behind pool 4 leaders Leicester. Rory Scanell and Francis Saili in the wing and centre, respectively, need to have big performances against a Parisian backline that has scored 13 tries over the last 7 games. For Anthony Foley’s men, the key to success will be limiting the incredibly high error count they have amassed this season, a record that does not look so bright on paper for the Munstermen. On a better note, though, Munster has a bit of momentum they can carry from last week’s grueling defeat of Ulster in Belfast that could spur them to victory this week. Stade Francais’ European Rugby Champions Cup campaign has brightened since the mauling they suffered at the hands of Leicester in Round 1, bouncing back to win two on the drop against Treviso home and away. The Parisian side has had struggles of late with their creativity, but the do-or-die situation that currently presents itself will force them into innovation if they are to make it to the knockout stages.
Oyonnax v Ulster
Stade Charles Mathon
10 October 2016
French Top 14 side Oyonnax looks to shake the run of bad form they’ve had over the duration of this season both in Europe and domestically when they face a bruised and battered Ulster side coming off a tough loss to Munster in the Pro12. European Rugby Champions Cup newcomers Oyonnax are currently bottom of pool 4 after suffering back-to-back defeats against Saracens last month, combined with a loss against Toulouse in round two. To pile on the bad news, they lost to Grenoble in their most recent Top 14 fixture, conceding five tries in the process. They are, at the moment, running thin on players after mounting injuries ever since their first pool fixture against Toulouse. The French side is hoping to claim their first champions victory in their first ever outing against a Irish opponent in European rugby. Ulster’ rugby director Les Kiss has made the changes in preparation for their overseas clash, rewarding Sammy Arnold to start opposite returning winger Craig Gilroy on the wing. Ian Humphreys and Paul Marshall return to the starting lineup after weeks of sitting out behind normal starters Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar, both of who are named on an experienced replacements’ panel. Ulster will see this as a perfect opportunity to springboard their way into the knockout rounds.
RC Toulon v Bath
10 January 2016
Steffon Armitage, Frédéric Michalak, Sébastien Tillous-Borde and Maxime Mermoz are on the bench this week. ‘Tis the confidence Toulon have heading into Sunday’s picture against Aviva Premiership side Bath. The English side are traveling to the Côte d’Azur without a tight forward in Dave Attwood and the sensational Fijian scrum-half Niko Matawalu. Both sides are level on 8 points in pool 5, six point behind leaders Wasps. Bath have managed to drop for the last six games domestically and will head to southern France with much less confidence than desired before the colossal clash versus three-time reigning champions Toulon.
Final Score (Spoilers): Bordeaux-Begles 10 v 23 ASM Clermont Auvergne
Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux
8 January 2016
Preview (for those who haven’t watched yet): Bordeaux’ Head coach, Raphael Ibanez, and his surging Top 14 side have won six of their last seven matches at home this season and look to continue the streak against French rivals Clermont Auvergne. The only other meeting between these two teams this season ended in a 26–26 draw at Clermont fortress Stade Marcel-Michelin, a positive result that has spurred a lagging team into life. The addition of Australian international Adam Ashley-Cooper in the center and the addition of Jefferson Poirot in the front row has given Bordeaux new life, pushing them on the attack where they’ve scored 20 tries in the last eight fixtures. On the other side of the ball, Clermont head coach Franc Azéma and his men in yellow have had several ups and downs the season, everything from a bitter loss to Exeter on the road in the Champions Cup and domestic league wins against the likes of Toulon and Racing. The addition of English international David Strettle into the fold has proved extremely beneficial for the men in yellow, and the rising forms of forward Jonathan Davies and center/winger Wesley Fofana have helped steady what has been a mercurial ship thus far.