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Thu 5 Dec 2019 | 03:50

PREVIEW: European Cup, Round Three

PREVIEW: European Cup, Round Three
Thu 5 Dec 2019 | 03:50
PREVIEW: European Cup, Round Three

CHAMPIONS CUP: Clermont fullback Nick Abendanon is looking forward to what he calls a “special” return to the Recreation Ground to face old side Bath in the European Champions Cup this weekend.

Abendanon, 33, who has two international caps with England to his name, left the Premiership club in 2014 after nine seasons and is set to play his 50th game in the top-tier competition on Friday.

“I came through the academy there, I went to university there. It’s a town I keep very close to my heart, it will be nice to go back and play at the Rec for probably the last time,” he said earlier this week.

“It’s special. When I found out we had Bath in our Pool I had a big smile on my face.”

Clermont are second in Pool Three after a swashbuckling home victory over Harlequins and a turgid defeat at Ulster while 1998 champions Bath are looking for their first victory of the European campaign.

The French side are the tournament’s top points scorers but Abendanon says they will be changing their open gameplan due to the poor conditions predicted for the English south-west.

“It will be rotten weather. There will be a lot of rain so we have to adapt our play a bit,” he said.

“We’re going to apply a gameplan that’s not what we’re used to. But it’s necessary because it’s a very important match if we are to get out of our pool. We have to win there.”

Uncertain future

With his contract up in July Abendanon said on Tuesday he is expecting to leave Stade Marcel-Michelin at the end of the campaign but the club’s president Eric de Cromieres denied his departure was set in stone.

“It’s true that he hasn’t received a contract extension offer but that’s not to say it’s not in the pipeline,” de Cromieres told RMC Sport.

Elsewhere this weekend in a re-run of the 2011 Final, the top two sides in Pool One meet at Franklin’s Gardens as record four-time winners Leinster head to 2000 champions Northampton.

Later on Saturday, in Pool Four two-time winners Munster host reigning champions Saracens, who have been fined and deducted points in the English Premiership for breaking salary cap rules.

On Sunday, World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe could feature for Toulouse for the first time this season as the Top 14 title holders welcome Montpellier in an all-French affair in Pool 5.

We look at all the Round Three matches!

Friday, December 6:

Bath v Clermont
(Recreation Ground, Bath – Kick-off: 19.45; 20.45 France time)

Bath and Clermont have met three times in European competition, clashing in the semifinal of the Challenge Cup in 2004 – when they shared one win apiece over the two legs with the Top 14 side progressing on points aggregate – as well as the 2007 final which was won by Clermont.

Friday night’s match will be Bath’s 100th in the Champions Cup, and they are the fifth Premiership club to reach a century of matches in the competition after Leicester Tigers, Wasps, Northampton Saints and Saracens.

Clermont have won seven of their last eight games against Premiership opposition in the pool stage of the Champions Cup, with those seven victories coming by an average margin of 24 points.

Bath’s last six games against Top 14 clubs in the Champions Cup have been decided by margins of five points or fewer. However, Bath have come out on top just once in that run (L4).

Bath (13/13) and Clermont (15/15) are two of just six teams with a 100 percent scrum success rate after two rounds.

Clermont are the top point scorers (66) while they’ve crossed for the joint most tries (eight, level with Exeter Chiefs).

No club has won more turnovers this season than Clermont (17, level with Montpellier).


Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Francois Louw (captain), 7 Josh Bayliss, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Josh McNally, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Matt Garvey, 20 Rhys Davies, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Aled Brew.

Clermont Auvergne: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Samuel Ezeala, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 George Moala, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra (captain), 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Alexandre Fischer, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Yohan Beheregaray, 1 Loni Uhila.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Giorgi Beria, 18 Davit Zirakashvili, 19 Julien Ruaud, 20 Faifili Levave, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Peter Betham, 23 Apisai Naqalevu.

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)

Saturday, December 7:

Lyon v Benetton
(Matmut Stadium de Gerland, Lyon – Kick-off: 14.00)

Lyon and Benetton have never met in European competition, and this will be just the third time the Top 14 side have faced Italian opposition.

Lyon are still searching for their win in the Champions Cup having lost each of their eight fixtures so far.

Benetton have won just once away to Top 14 opposition in the Champions Cup.

Lyon’s Virgile Bruni has won 15 line-outs this season, more than any other player.

Benetton hooker Epalahame Faiva has scored three tries, more than any other forward in the competition.


Lyon: 15 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 14 Toby Arnold, 13 Thibaut Regard, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Xavier Mignot, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Baptiste Couilloud (captain), 8 Carl Fearns, 7 Patrick Sobela, 6 Dylan Cretin, 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Killian Geraci, 3 Clément Ric, 2 Jeremie Maurouard, 1 Raphael Chaume
Replacements: 16 Mickael Ivaldi, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Loann Goujon, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Jonathan Pélissié, 22 Pato Fernandez, 23 Rudi Wulf

Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Antonio Rizzi, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Federico Zani, 1 Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Charly Trussardi, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Luca Morisi

Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant referees: Andrew Jackson (England), Wayne Falla (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

Northampton Saints v Leinster
(Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton – Kick-off: 13.00)

Leinster have won their last eight pool games against Premiership opposition in the Champions Cup, with their last such defeat coming in Round Six in 2015/16 against Wasps.

Northampton have won their opening two games and they’ve not enjoyed a longer winning run in Europe’s top flight since four straight victories during the 2014/15 pool stage.

Leinster have won 18 of their last 20 Champions Cup games (L2), with their only defeats coming last season away to Toulouse in the pool stage and against Saracens in the final.

Saints have kicked nine penalty goals in the opening two rounds, more than any other side.

Leinster have the best tackle success rate this season, completing 90 percent of attempts.

Garry Ringrose (Leinster) is one of three players to score three tries this season (also Benetton’s Epalahame Faiva and Joe Simpson of Gloucester).

Three of the six players to make 5+ clean breaks could feature in this match – Northampton Saints duo Cobus Reinach and Tom Collins, and Leinster’s Josh van der Flier (five each).


Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Tom Collins, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Ehren Painter, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Alex Coles, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Connor Tupai, 22 James Grayson, 23 Piers Francis

Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Rob Kearney

Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Assistant referees: Ludovic Cayre (France), Cédric Marchat (France)
TMO: Patrick Dellac (France)

Ulster v Harlequins
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 15.15)

Ulster and Harlequins have faced each other on five previous occasions, with the Irish province winning the last three meetings.

Ulster have won each of their last six Champions Cup matches, with five of them coming by five points or fewer.

Harlequins come into this match aiming to win back-to-back Champions Cup matches for the first time since 2014.

The English side are one of five yet to miss a kick at goal this season.

Ulster will be without the suspended Will Addison, and he has made the most carries of any back this season.


Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Sean Reidy, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Matt Rea, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Matt Faddes

Harlequins: 15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 James Lang, 11 Gabriel Ibitoye, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Semi Kunatani, 5 Tex Cavubati, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Elia Elia, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jack Musk, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Simon Kerrod, 19 Dino Lamb, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Francis Saili, 23 Vereniki Goneva

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen (Scotland), Dave Sutherland (Scotland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)

La Rochelle v Glasgow Warriors
(Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle – Kick-off: 16.15; 15.15 UK & Ireland time)

Glasgow Warriors have won five of their last seven matches against Top 14 opposition in the Champions Cup.

Each of La Rochelle’s nine Champions Cup matches have been won by the side leading at half-time.

La Rochelle have made the most offloads of any side this season, while only Exeter have made fewer than Glasgow.

La Rochelle’s Arthur Retiere has beaten the joint most defenders in the Champions Cup.


La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Vincent Rattez, 13 Jérémy Sinzelle, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 Pierre Boudehent, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Alexi Bales, 8 Victor Vito (captain), 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Zeno Kieft, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 4 Thomas Jolmes, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Jean-Charles Orioli, 1 Dany Priso
Replacements: 16 Brendan Lebrun, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Thomas Lavault, 20 Paul Boudehent, 21 Tawera Kerr Barlow, 22 Brock James, 23 Brieuc Plessis-Couillaud

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Tommy Seymour, 14 Niko Matawalu, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (captain), 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Alex Allan
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Rob Harley, 20 Tom Gordon, 21 Ali Price, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Kyle Steyn

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Adam Leal (England), Phil Watters (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Ospreys v Racing 92
(Liberty Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 17.30; 18.30 France time)

Ospreys and Racing 92 have met on two previous occasions in the Champions Cup, clashing in the 2014/15 pool stage.

Ospreys lost their home game in the Champions Cup. However they haven’t lost consecutive matches at home since 2004.

Racing have lost just one of their last 11 pool games.

Racing have made more breaks and beaten more defenders than any other side, while Ospreys are bottom in both of them stats.

Olly Cracknell has made 44 tackles, five more than any other player.


Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Dan Lydiate (captain), 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Scott Otten, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Gheorghe Gajion, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Luke Price, 23 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler

Racing 92: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Henry Chavancy (captain), 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Boris Palu, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Teddy Baubigny, 1 Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16 Kevin Le Guen, 17 Hassane Kolingar, 18 Ali Oz, 19 Fabien Sanconnie, 20 Yoan Tanga, 21 Teddy Iribaren, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Olivier Klemenczak

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Rob O’Sullivan (Ireland), Eddie Hogan O’Connell (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)

Munster v Saracens
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 17.30)

Munster have lost just two of their last 37 home games in the pool stage of the Champions Cup, against Clermont in 2014/15 and Leicester Tigers in 2015/16 (W34, D1), and are unbeaten in each of their last 11 such matches (W10, D1).

Saracens have won 14 of their 23 fixtures against Irish opposition in the Champions Cup, and only Toulouse (P34 W16) have won more matches against the provinces.

Munster are unbeaten in their last six pool games against Premiership opposition (W5, D1), winning their last three in a row.

Saracens lost their last away game against Racing 92 in Round One. However, they have not lost consecutive away games in a Champions Cup campaign since 2005/06.

Munster have missed just 31 tackles in the tournament this season, fewer than any other club, and only Leinster (90 percent) and Bath (89.1 percent) have a better tackle success rate than Johann van Graan’s side (88.6 percent).

Munster are one of just six clubs with a 100 percent scrum success rate, winning each of the 11 scrums on their own put-in.

Munster’s CJ Stander has made 47 carries after two rounds, 10 more than any other player in the competition.


Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Liam O’Connor, 18 John Ryan, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Sammy Arnold, 23 Arno Botha

Saracens: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Rotimi Segun, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Manu Vunipola, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Nick Isiekwe, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Titi Lamositele, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Kapeli Pifeleti, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Josh Ibuanokpe, 19 Joel Kpoku, 20 Sean Reffell, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Max Malins, 23 Nick Tompkins

Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Pierre Brousset (France), Vincent Blasco Baqué (France)
TMO: Denis Grenouillet (France)

Sunday, December 8:

Gloucester v Connacht
(Kingsholm Stadium, Connacht – Kick-off: 13.00)


Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Ben Morgan (captain), 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Val Rapava-Ruskin.
Replacements: 16 Todd Gleave, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Alex Craig, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Matt Banahan.

Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Kyle Godwin, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Joe Maksymiw, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Jonny Murphy, 17 Matthew Burke, 18 Dominic Robertson McCoy, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Stephen Kerins, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Tom Daly.

Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Maxime Chalon (France), Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy (France)
TMO: Éric Gauzins (France)

Sale Sharks v Exeter Chiefs
(AJ Bell Stadium, Sale – Kick-off: 15.15)


Sale Sharks: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Ben Curry, 6 Tom Curry, 5 James Phillips, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Matthew Postlewhaite, 20 Cameron Neild, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Luke James, 23 Denny Solomona.

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Dave Dennis (captain), 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Don Armand, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Olly Woodburn.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Thomas Charabas (France), Sébastien Minery (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)

Toulouse v Montpellier
(Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse – Kick-off: 16.15)


Toulouse: TBC

Montpellier: TBC

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)

@ChampionsCup & AFP

PV: 2587

Preview: European Cup, Round Three | Rugby365