Rugby Preview: Champions Cup Round 5

ILLTUD Dafydd glances at European rugby’s premier competition as the race for the Quarter-Finals reaches its double-weekend climax.

Leicester Tigers vs Llanelli Scarlets, Friday 19:45 SkySports

Arguably the most intriguing game of Round 5 kicks-off the round with both sides level on 8 points in Pool 3 – five points behind leaders Toulon. The Tigers and the Scarlets alike need to win to harbour any hope of qualification through to the last eight, with the home side looking the most likely as they face an Ulster side (this qualification is already in sight for the Belfast team) next week. Richard Cockerill has named former Scarlet Owen Williams on the bench, whilst in-form Welsh full-back is out injured for the traveling Guinness Pro 12 outfit. Twenty-year old Ryan Elias comes up against Italian international Leonardo Ghiraldini and the athletic power of Vereniki Goneva goes head-to-head at outside centre against the deft play-making abilities of Regan King. The Scarlets beat tonight’s hosts in Round 2 and I think Leicester will return the favour ar Welford Road tonight, a losing bonus point could be crucial for Wayne Pivac’s side nonetheless.

Saracens vs Munster Rugby, Saturday 13:00 BTSport

In Round 2, Munster beat Saracens by 15-3, but following the Irish province’s two losses to Clermont, Saracens sit second, three point ahead of Anthony Foley’s team. In truth, Munster need to win in London to keep their EuERCCropean hopes alive whilst a Saracens victory would keep them in touching distance with Clermont, who face Sale in Manchester. Owen Farrell is back in for the home side after missing last week’s last minute defeat at Gloucester and Munster have no recognised scrum-half on their bench. Young Irish openside, Tommy O’Donnell, has been touted for a spot in Joe Schmidt’s Irish squad fro the upcoming Six Nations and a good performance against a back-row trio of Billy Vunipola, Jacques Burger and Kelly Brown would help his cause. Munster need another historic European win to maintain their European journey in what could be Paul O’Connell’s final European fixture as the Irish second-row was questioned once again this week about his plans for retirement.

Toulouse vs Bath Rugby, Sunday 15:15 BTSport

Toulouse is the only unbeaten side left in this season European Champions Cup after four rounds of play, which highlights the competitive edge of the newly-introduced system whilst Bath have two wins and, without a win on Sunday, will not qualify for the final eight. The away side come off a very good home win last week in which league convert Sam Burgess crossed the white line, but he is not named in Bath’s match-day 23, whilst le Rouge et Noir scraped past La Rochelle last Saturday and Guy Noves has Englishman Toby Flood at outside-half. The monster Matt Banahan lines up against European rugby highest try-scorer Vincent Clerc. Toulouse will go five from five on Sunday, but one can never cancel out a team that has George Ford at outside-half, especially if the game becomes loose.

Ospreys vs Northampton, Sunday 17:30, BT Sport

Guinnes Pro12 leaders go up against the Aviva Premiership’s leaders in a fixture that whets the appetite as the Ospreys could keep their slim hopes of quarter-final qualification alive with a win, whilst Jim Mallinder’s side will most probably seal qualification with a win. Dan Lydiate is not included in the Liberty Stadium-based squad as he is cup tied with an all-new front-row being introduced after Dmitri Arhip found it tough going in the scrums last weekend.  Welshman George North is on the wing for Saints, Dylan Hartley continues to captain the side, whilst Courtenay Lawes is still unavailable. If the Ospreys still believe in their slight hope of qualification the win is attainable, but the slightest glimmers of doubt will allow Northampton to win and most probably set up a home quarter-final for themselves.