Preview: European Cup, Round Three
Preview: European Cup, Round ThreeSHARE
Toulouse, Ulster and Leinster will be out to continue their winning ways in Round Three of the European Cup this weekend.
As a mark of respect to the late Nelson Mandela and following the tribute by the IRB on behalf of the rugby family, ERC have requested that all clubs playing in this weekend's European Cup and European Challenge Cup matches observe a minute's silence prior to kick-off.
The three European powerhouses are the only sides to have won all of their matches thus far in what has been yet another pulsating pool stage.
Traditionally, the back to back rounds go a long way to deciding which of Europe’s elite clubs qualify for the knock-out stage with increased hope of making it to the Cardiff 2014 Final at the Millennium Stadium next May.
The return fixtures concept, which was pioneered in 1999/2000, has become an unmissable feature of the European calendar and this season’s clashes see the top two clubs in three of the six pools battling it out for honours.
In Pool One, Leinster and Northampton Saints renew their rivalry with a reprise of the memorable 2011 final when they meet at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday, while in Pool Two, Exeter Chiefs take on reigning champions, Toulon, in a sell-out tie at Sandy Park also on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in Pool Six at Thomond Park on Sunday, Munster Rugby host Perpignan in what has all the makings of a typically full-on contest.
Going into the back to back games, Irish clubs lead the way with a win percentage of 75 from eight games to date, while France are next on 58 per cent from 12 matches
Scotland are on 50 per cent from four games with English clubs on 41 per cent with five wins from 12 games.
The Ospreys head to France this Friday with their hopes close to being extinguished by the halfway mark of the campaign.
Back-to-back defeats to Leinster and Northampton Saints have left them marooned at the bottom of Pool One and another reverse would all but end their European involvement before the knockout stages.
Steve Tandy's troops have failed to pick up a single point so far after a 19-9 Liberty Stadium loss to the triple European Cup kings and a 27-16 defeat to the Saints at Franklin's Gardens.
The region haven't reached the last eight since 2010 and successive wins against Castres would now appear to be a must if they are to put that right this time around.
Castres began with a win over Northampton in Round One and were unlucky not to pick up at least a losing bonus point at Leinster last time out so victory this week is vital to their own chances of a first European Cup quarterfinal place since 2002.
Serge Milhas' men haven't lost at home all season, with Grenoble, Stade Francais, Toulon and Racing Metro joining Northampton and Biarritz in falling short at the Stade Pierre Antione.
Round Three fixtures and teams:
Friday, December 6
Cardiff Blues v Glasgow Warriors
(Cardiff Arms Park – Kick-off: 20.00; 20.00 GMT)
Cardiff Blues: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Rory Watts-Jones, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Chris Dicomidis, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Sam Hobbs (captain).
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Gabriel Ascarate, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Niko Matawalu, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Al Kellock (captain), 4 Tom Ryder, 3 Moray Low, 2 Dougie Hall, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Jon Welsh, 18 Ed Kalman, 19 Leone Nakarawa, 20 Tyrone Holmes, 21 Ryan Wilson, 22 Chris Cusiter, 23 Ruaridh Jackson.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Eanna O'Dowd (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Castres v Ospreys
(Stade Pierre Antoin – Kick-off: 21.00; 20.00 GMT)
Castres: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Marcel Garvey, 13 Romain Cabannes (captain), 12 Paul Bonnefond, 11 Remi Grosso, 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Piula Faasalele, 6 Ibrahim Diarra, 5 Richie Gray, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Karena Wihongi, 2 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 1 Mihaita Lazar.
Replacements: 16 Michael Coetzee, 17 Yannick Forestier, 18 Anton Peikrishvili, 19 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 20 Yannick Caballero, 21 Julien Tomas, 22 Seremaia Bai, 23 Geoffrey Palis.
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Aisea Natoga, 13 Tom Isaacs, 12 Ben John, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ryan Jones, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Tyler Ardron, 5 James King, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Dan Suter, 19 Morgan Allen, 20 Sam Lewis, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Matthew Morgan, 23 Tom Grabham.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Olly Hodges (Ireland)
TMO: Jude Quinn (Ireland)
Saturday, December 7
Exeter Chiefs v Toulon
(Sandy Park – Kick-off: 13.35; 13.35 GMT)
Exeter Chiefs: TBC
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eddie Hogan-O'Connell (Ireland), Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Zebre v Saracens
(Stadio XXV Aprile – Kick-off: 14.35; 13.35 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant referees: Patrick Pechambert (France), Jean-Luc Rebollal (France)
TMO: Daniel Irazoqui (France)
Clermont Auvergne v Scarlets
(Stade Marcel Michelin – Kick-off: 14.35; 13.35 GMT)
Clermont Auvergne: TBC
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant referees: Martin Fox (England), Kevin Stewart (England)
Racing Metro v Harlequins
(Stade Marcel Michelin – Kick-off: 16.40; 15.40 GMT)
Racing Metro: TBC
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Simon Rees (Wales)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
Northampton Saints v Leinster
(Franklin's Gardens – Kick-off: 18.00; 18.00 GMT)
Northampton Saints: TBC
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Jonathan Mason (Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Ulster v Treviso
(Ravenhill – Kick-off: 18.00; 18.00 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: David Rose (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)
Sunday, December 8
Munster v Perpignan
(Thomond Park – Kick-off: 12.45; 12.45 GMT)
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Assistant referees: Tim Wigglesworth (England), Stuart Terheege (England)
TMO: Sean Davey (England)
Edinburgh v Gloucester
(Murrayfield – Kick-off: 13.00; 13.00 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Sébastien Clouté (France), Jérôme Lamirand (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)
Toulouse v Connacht
(Stade Ernest Wallon – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 GMT)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Stefano Pennè (Italy), Elia Rizzo (Italy)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
Leicester Tigers v Montpellier
(Welford Road – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers: TBC
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)