DUBLIN, IRELAND (via Los Angeles) — After a breakout week of the 2017-18 European Rugby Champions Cup, action returns this weekend for Round 2 matches across the continent. Will La Rochelle continue shocking the pundits after winning their first ever Champions Cup match, or will they be tamed by the Ulstermen? Can the Glasgow Warriors rebound as they host Pro14 rivals, Leinster? Get ready for all of the weekend’s action with our match previews below and follow along with our Expert Panel as they choose the winners of each Round 2 match.
Glasgow vs. Leinster
Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
After a close loss last weekend, the Glasgow Warriors look to get their first win of the European season against Celtic League arrival, Leinster.
The Warriors traveled to southern England last weekend to take on the Exeter Chiefs, but came up short due to a lack of explosive offense. Thankfully, Glasgow will have one of their most potent attacking forces, Stuart Hogg, back for the first time this season after recovering from a shoulder operation. He’ll be joined with Sam Johnson and Leo Sarte at center and wing, respectively, in the hopes of getting Glasgow their break through victory.
For the Irish visitors, Jonathan Sexton will return at fly-half after suffering from a dead leg injury that kept him out against Montpellier last week. Joey Carbery Will also get his first start of the European campaign, replacing Isa Nacewa who leaves the starting lineup due to a midweek injury.
Glasgow and Leinster have met six times in European competition, but Glasgow has not won a match against their Irish rivals cents 1999. Even with history against them, the Warriors will certainly make Saturday morning’s contest a close one.
Clermont vs. Saints
Stade Marcel-Michelin, Clermont
Courtney Lawes will make his 200th appearance for the Northampton Saints on Saturday as his side travels to Central friends to take on last season’s finalists, Clermont. Despite a recent run of poor form in Europe, the Saints will be poised to show Lawes a positive performance in such a milestone match.
Northampton will not have an easy task on their hands playing in France, though. Clermont have not lost a match at home to non-French opposition since losing to Sale in 2008, a record of 23 victorious matches in a row.
For Clermont, New Zealander Isaia Toeava will make his first start at full-back right behind Damian Penaud, who is filling in for French international Wesley Fofana at outside-center. Camille Lopez resumes his spot at fly-half and will partner with fellow French international, Morgan Parra, at scrum-half.
For the Saints, Harry Mallinder steps in at full-back to replace Ahsee Tuala. Tom Wood returns to his normal spot at flanker with Jamie Gibson leaving on injury. Most importantly, Piers Francis Will make his debut at flight-half for the Saints, having played at center in Aviva Premiership play.
Treviso vs. Toulon
Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso
After some successes during league play in the Guinness Pro14 but struggles so far in Europe, Treviso will have to put on the performance of their lives as they take on three-time champions, Toulon
Treviso were soundly defeated in their first match against bath by a score of 23-0, unable to generate the offense that has seen them score a few victories in league play so far. Italian international, Ian McKinley (Congratulations on the call up), returns to his spot at fly-half outside scrum-half Edoardo Gori. Other Italian internationals Luca Bigi, Marco Lazzaroni, and Braam Steyn also start for Treviso at hooker, lock, and flanker respectively.
Toulon enters into Saturday’s match off the back of a strong 21-20 victory over eternal Guinness Pro12 Champions, Scarlets. Although they did not look as impressive as expected, Toulon showed moments of brilliance through Ma’a Nonu and Josua Tuisova in the backs and Facundo Isa and Guilhem Girardo in the forwards. Chris Ashton starts once again at full-back behind outside-center Mathieu Bastareaud who will captain the side.
This is the first time that Toulon Will ever face Italian opposition in European competition, while Treviso have lost their last nine games against French opponents since 2011.
Leicester vs. Castres
After both sides lost last weekend’s respective fixtures, both Leicester and Castres will be roaring to get their first win of the 2017-18 European Rugby Champions Cup when the two meet on Saturday at Welford Road.
With Mike Williams suspended for one week for unnecessarily charging into Racing’s Henry Chavancy during a ruck, Leicester brings in Tom Cole to play flanker opposite captain Tom Young’s. The only other change for the Tigers comes with the replacement of Matt Smith at outside-Center, Gareth Owen stepping into his role.
With a big set of forwards, the Tigers looks set to challenge the physical strength of their French visitors.
Castres come into Saturday’s match tied for second place in Pool 4 after tying Irish side, Munster, 17-17 at home. It was a battering and bruising performance for the French side, and they will need to throw their weight around again if they are to play down the Tigers’ attacking prowess. History will be stacked against them to, having lost 14 of their last 15 trips to England stretching back to 2001. If they can manage to repeat the best parts of their performance against Munster, then Castres could give a stiff challenge to the English hosts.
Munster vs. Racing 92
Thomond Park, Limerick
Munster will play their Record-breaking 160th European Cup Match on Saturday against French giant, Racing 92. The two teams are rather familiar with each other having been grouped together in last year’s pool stages; Munster won both of the clashes last season.
For the Munstermen, Tommy O’Donnell is set to make his 150th start for the Irish province, resuming his usual position at flanker. He’ll be joined along side fellow stalwarts Peter O’Mahony & CJ Stander in the back row with fellow Irish internationals Dave Kilcoyne and Billy Holland in front of him at prop and second row, respectively. Niall Scannell has been ruled out due to thumb injury and will be replaced by Rhys Marshall while Ian Keatley returns to command the backs at fly-half in the absence of Tyler Blyendaal.
Racing 92 will look to get back in business with the return of Dan Carter who had been out with a calf strain. He will partner with Maxime Machenaud at scrum-half, the same combination that helped the French club reach their first ever European cup final back in 2015.
The French side only make one other change for Saturday’s match, Pat Lambie making his way to full-back. The only other change comes with Joe Rokocoko and Louis Dupichot switching wings.
The French club has not won away in the last four matches, and have not once again’s Irish opponents in their last three matches.
Saracens vs. Ospreys
Allianz Park, London
Two-time reigning champions, Saracens, will play their first home match of this European Rugby Champions Cup season as the host Welsh outfit, Ospreys. Saracens currently sits atop Pool 2 with five points after their resounding 57-13 bonus point victory over Northampton last weekend. Ospreys, however, set third in the pool with a losing bonus point from their close match against Clermont.
The Ospreys have been forced to make a few changes in the side that showed up against Toulon in the French Riviera last weekend. Tom Habberfield moves into scrum-half to replace Rhys Webb. In the forwards, James King steps into #8 to replace the injured Dan Baker.
*Previews for Sunday’s matches will be posted once rosters are made available on Saturday*
Ps…. Here is Week #19’s Part I of our weekly show, starring Chris Wyles:
Here is Week #19 Part II
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