European rugby is reborn

LAST night saw European Club Rugby start anew with Gloucester trashing Brive at Kingsholm by 55 points to nil, Brive putting out a second-string side with David Humprheys, the Cherry and Whites Director of Rugby naming a near-first string fifteen. The new tournaments, The European Champions Cup and the European Challenge Cup is run by European Professional Club Rugby, with more focus on equal financial rewards for the leagues, as opposed to national union or federation. Here are some of the weekend’s highlights

European Champions Cup

20140826133542!European_Rugby_Champions_Cup_LogoSaracens vs ASM Clermont-Auvergne, Saturday at 15:15

In a repeat of last year’s semi-final in Twickenham, Top 14 leaders, Clermont head back to London to face a similar Saracens side they lost to 46 to 6 last April. The Auvergne outfit have seen many changes since that dreadful afternoon, their head coach, Vern Cotter now coaches the Scotland national team, as Nathan Hines, Gerard Vosloo and Regan King have left Stade Marcel-Michelin. In place they have Jono Gibbes and Frank Azema, both being joint head coaches, Jonathan Davies has arrived from West Wales and Sebastian Vahaamina joined from relegated USA Perpignan in the second-row. Davies is not included in Saturday’s 23-man squad, nor is French international scrum-half Morgan Parra, due to a shoulder injury, which seems him ruled out for at least month. Saracens have named an all-international back-row, as you;d expect from last year’s runners-up, Charlie Hodgson keep current England outside-half, Owen Farrell on the bench after a very good start for the former Sale Sharks number 10.  Summer acquisition, Jim Hamilton is on the bench for the Allianz Park team and Mark McCall is looking for a positive start to this year’s tournament.

Without Parra at 9, les jaunards have suffered in the past, if Billy Vunipola decides to attack Camille Lopez, Sarries should get the win, just.

Leicester Tigers vs Ulster, Saturday 19:45

Another repeat of a fixture from last season sees struggling Leicester welcome Ulster to Welford Road. The Belfast side travelled to the Midlands last January and came away with a 22-19 win, the first away win for a team there in seven years. Leicester season has started worryingly for fans, and Richard Cockerill, despite the former hooker  and current Coach, denying any pressure on him after 3 losses in 6 games, including a 45-0 defeat at Bath and a home loss to London Irish. Ben Youngs captains the Tigers and Dan Cole is out injured, but with Freddie Burns and Owen Williams both playing, creativity should be plentiful Brad Thorn returns to European Cup Rugby after winning the trophy with Leinster in 2012. The Ulstermen sit 3rd in the Guinness Pro12 table, with 4 wins from 6, Jared Payne has found himself moving to the 13 position, the same man who was red-carded in last year’s Quarter-Final loss to the Saracens last season for a dangerous tackle, Ruan Pienaar is still ruled out, and Ulster’s back-row of Robbie Diack, Chris Henry and Nick Williams are into their third season together, so should put enough pressure on the Tigers’ breakdown.

Expect a tight affair under the Welford Road floodlights, Leicester versus Ulster is slowly becoming a traditional European rivalry and Leicester will get their revenge, if Freddie Burns finds his form, but currently, its a big if for the former Gloucester man.

European Challenge Cup

Bordeaux-Begles vs Edinburgh, Friday 19:00

This match stood out only due to the home teams current domestic, Top 14 form. Raphael Ibanez’s side sit 3rd in Le Championnat, four point from top, they demolished table-topping Clermont-Auvergne two weekends ago at Stade Chaban Delmas and are the league’s top point scorers. Top 14 sides have recently, generally taken the Challenge Cup lightly, fielding second-string sides, like Brive did last night, and focusing on retaining their Top 14 statuses. Ibanez has made plenty of changes to his starting 15 but Lionel Beauxis retains the fly-half jersey and the experienced Felix Le Bourhis has done similarly in the 13 shirt, he has named an all-new front-row so we will see how they do at Bordeaux-Begles traditional home ground of Stade Andre Moga. Edinburgh have only finished victorious in matches twice this season, with last week’s home win over the Dragons sure to add some confidence to Alan Solomons’ side.

Both teams have experimental 23s for tonight but French sides rarely lose at home, in Europe or in the Top 14, so Bordeaux-Begles to carry their domestic form onto the European front, a 10-point win to les bordelais.

The reasoning for restructuring have been a plenty, but one was to make the competitions more competitive, for the good of the spectators, both television and live and there are barley any matches which are easy to call, especially in the Champions Cup. European Rugby is reborn, let’s hope it gets a good (second) christening.