Stormers chasing full house
NEWS: The Stormers are under pressure as they chase a full house when they host London Irish in this weekend’s second round of the Champions Cup in Cape Town on Saturday evening.
Their failure to pick up at least a bonus point in an otherwise anticipated defeat to Clermont Auvergne at the Marcel Michelin Stadium last week means their fellow South African teams, who won last week, face less pressure as they travel, albeit that both those victories were at home.
Leinster are flying after their big away win over Racing 92 but their two fellow Irish provinces will join the URC title holders in facing down pressure.
Bulls director of rugby Jake White managed to get away with his decision to field a second string team last week against Lyon, so there’s less risk inherent in him taking a similar team to Exeter to face the formidable English champions, the Exeter Chiefs. A loss will put him under pressure to beat Exeter at home in January, but he probably reckons he can bank on the Bulls’ staunchest ally in matches against overseas teams, the altitude.
Away wins are like gold in this competition and Leinster got off to a rollicking away on French soil last week as they banked a full house of five log points against Racing, but for Ulster, who were thrashed by the Sale Sharks, it is backs to the wall time as they host LaRochelle at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
Their home ground is seen as an Ulster advantage against most teams and it will need to be this week as LaRochelle arrive as the defending Champions Cup champions and were comprehensive winners against Northampton Saints in the first round. There was some fighting talk from Ulster coach Dan McFarland in the buildup to the game, and he argues that it is just small things that his team needs to get right if they want to turn the corner.
Perhaps he is right too, for although Ulster lost to Leinster away in the URC the week prior to the start of the Champions Cup, they dominated the first half at an RDS Arena venue that is not kind to visiting teams. They imploded in the second half of that game, but pushing Leinster, who are unbeaten at the top of the URC log, is not an easy thing to do.
LaRochelle of course thwarted Leinster’s drive to the European title off the last move of a pulsating final in Marseille last season so there’s probably not much separating those two teams. McFarland will also console himself with the knowledge that both his team’s consecutive defeats were away from home.
Munster were at home when they lost to Toulouse last week. Toulouse have a great history in the Champions Cup so they are not a team you should feel ashamed to lose to, and Munster did pick up a losing bonus point. But it was nonetheless a home defeat, which lifts the ante for Munster as they head away to Northampton, where the Saints will be smarting and determined after their big loss to LaRochelle.
There are some other URC teams who were competitive against good sides last week but who are now under pressure. Edinburgh lost by four points away to Saracens, which meant they grabbed the losing bonus point that almost seen as obligatory for away trips in the group stages. But the Scots will be under pressure as they host Castres, beaten at home by Exeter in the first round, at the DAM Health Stadium. On last week’s form Edinburgh should be confident they can do the job against the French team.
The Welsh URC Shield champions, the Ospreys, lost at home in Swansea to Leicester Tigers last week, so they are under the kosh as they head this week to the south of France for their clash with Montpellier.
The action starts this week with Bordeaux Begles hosting the Sharks late on Friday night, a game that clashes with Leinster’s home game against Gloucester, and concludes on Sunday night with Racing 92 heading to London and a clash with Harlequins that is now a must win for them if they want to stay in a competition they reached the semifinal stage of last season before being knocked out at home by the eventual champions.
Weekend Champions Cup fixtures
Bordeaux Begles v Sharks (Friday, 22.00)
Leinster v Gloucester (Friday, 22.00)
Exeter v Bulls (Saturday, 15.00)
Edinburgh v Castres (Saturday, 15.00)
Lyon v Saracens (Saturday, 17.15)
Leicester v Clermont-Auvergne (Saturday, 17.15)
Ulster v LaRochelle (Saturday, 19.30)
Stormers v London Irish (Saturday, 19.30)
Montpellier v Ospreys (Saturday, 22.00)
Toulouse v Sale Sharks (Sunday, 15.00)
Northampton v Munster (Sunday, 15.00)
Harlequins v Racing 92 (Sunday, 19.30)