Champions Cup - teams and predictions
ROUND TWO FRIDAY PREVIEWS: There will only be one European Champions Cup clash on Friday.
That will be the clash between Ulster and Northampton Saints in Belfast.
Friday’s other match between Montpellier and Leinster in France has been cancelled due to the number of new Covid-19 cases in Leinster’s playing squad.
Montpellier have been awarded a 28-0 win.
Meanwhile, Ulster will be seeking to protect a stunning home record on Friday.
They have won 13 of their last 15 home games in the competition – but did suffer defeat in their most recent Champions Cup match at the Kingspan Stadium, when they faced Stade Toulousain.
However, the Irish province will be reassured to note that they have not lost consecutive home games in the Champions Cup since 2014, when they lost to Saracens and then RC Toulon.
This will be the sixth clash between Ulster and Northampton in the Champions Cup (Ulster have won two with Northampton winning three) – but it’s the first meeting since the pool stage in 2012/13 – when each club picked up an away victory.
Northampton have won only two of their 10 away games against Irish teams in the Champions Cup, losing eight, but one of those wins came against Ulster, 10-9 in December 2012. They have lost their last three trips to Ireland, though, by an average margin of 31 points.
Northampton (2/2) and Ulster (7/7) were two of seven teams to record a 100 percent goal-kicking success rate in the opening round of this season’s Champions Cup; overall, only Racing 92 (8) made more successful placekicks than the Irish province.
Ulster’s James Hume topped the charts for the most offloads in the opening round of the 2021/22 Champions Cup with four, while only Antoine Dupont (11) beat more defenders than the 23-year-old centre (8).
“The very top teams in Europe and in domestic leagues are the teams that have big results and then back them up the next week,” Ulster assistant coach Dan Soper said.
“If we want to be a team that sits at the top table then that is what we need to do.
“You want to find that lovely balance where you win but you are still looking to push your game on and not be completely satisfied.
“We know we are not the finished article by any stretch, so we have got a lot that we can keep striving to get better at.”
Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd: “We’re going to have to look very carefully at those guys that we’ve been nurturing along for a couple of weeks now.
“We might have to give them a bit of time off to get them right for the next block, but we’ll take the best team we can to Ulster who is fit to play, and we know that we need to get some points from that game if we want to stay in the hunt in this competition.”
petition came in France; one of them was against Montpellier, back in October 2016, and the other was against Toulouse, in October 2018.
There are potentially five European debuts across Leo Cullen’s squad – with Academy back Jamie Osborne in line to make his from the start.
In other team news, Jimmy O’Brien starts at fullback, with James Lowe and Adam Byrne selected on the wings. After being out with a long-term injury, it will be Byrne’s first start in Europe since January 2019.
In the centre, Ciarán Frawley will partner 20-year-old Osborne, with Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne the halfbacks selected by Cullen.
In the pack, Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher and Andrew Porter are the front row selected with Ryan Baird and James Ryan behind them.
It will be Ryan’s first outing as captain of the side in Europe.
Max Deegan, Dan Leavy and Jack Conan are named in the back row with Conan making a welcome return from a quad injury and Leavy making his first European start in just over three years.
On the bench, there are a number of players in line for European debuts.
Vakh Abdaladze, Jack Dunne, Academy scrumhalf Cormac Foley and Scott Penny, are all in line to play their first games in the Champions Cup should they be introduced at the GGL Stadium.
“It’s great to see some of those young guys going so well because it’s so special for the families and all the rest to have had that opportunity,” Leinster coach Leo Cullen said.
“That’s one of the things that excites me most about doing the job that we do – seeing the young players come in and make their debuts in Europe.”
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Friday, December 17
Ulster v Northampton Saints
(Kingspan Stadium – Kick-off: 20.00; 20.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Ulster by 15 points
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Marcus Rea, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Sam Carter, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Greg Jones.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ollie Sleightholme, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Fraser Dingwall, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 George Furbank, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Tom Wood, 7 Lewis Ludlam (captain), 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 4 David Ribbans, 3 Ehren Painter, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 James Fish, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Alex Coles, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Tom James, 22 James Grayson, 23 Rory Hutchinson.
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy), Filippo Russo (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)