Champions Cup - Opening Round Picks

With the Champions Cup kicking off tomorrow, we take a look at the three games you need to catch over the weekend.

By Peter Randall
12th November 2015
By Peter Randall
12th November 2015

With the Champions Cup kicking off tomorrow, we take a look at the three games you need to catch over the weekend.

Leicester v Stade Francais 

This game is so particularly interesting because both sides have really come out fighting in tough situations this season. Stade recently beat Clermont Auvergne, albeit by 5 points, but it was a notable victory nonetheless. Stade boast some fantastic players including Bok fly-half Morné Steyn. However, Sergio Parisse has been linked with a move away from the club. After plying his trade there for ten years, the 32 year-old has admitted his future may lie elsewhere. Will this play on the minds of the perennial French under-achievers? Probably not, but still, Leicester on a Friday night is a grim prospect even when you’re not playing rugby, let alone when you are coming up against a side that will be smarting from a very weak showing last week. Leicester will try and keep the game tight and nasty, and Stade will be looking to play fast and loose with Fofana in line to cause havoc. It really could go either way, and will be a fascinating battle of two very differing styles. 

Match up to watch: 

Jordan Crane v Sergio Parisse 

Jordan Crane is, in essence, a stand-in for the injured Fonua, but the former bit-part England man has the nouse and skill to make this a real contest. Crane is a seasoned operator at the base of the scrum, and will in no way have given up on displacing Ben Morgan or Billy Vunipola in the England squad for the Six Nations. He comes up against arguably the best number 8 in the world in Parisse, and so this duel will be a bombastic affair.  

Pete’s Prediction – Leicester to scrape through by 3-5 points after a bruising and highly unpleasant affair.  

Saracens v Toulouse

The clash of the titans – Saracens, unbeaten since pre-season, are taking on a side that decimated Grenoble 52 – 12 at the weekend. Toulouse did wobble against Pau this season, but they are second in the Top 14, have Toby Flood guiding them from 10, a squad chock-full of huge lumps in the pack and have conceded the fewest points in the French Top Flight. But this will be far from a battle of defences – both sides have very exciting players in their back line, and despite the usual petty moaning about Saracens and ‘anti-rugby’ (that seems to be the in-vogue phrase) Sarries always pull out all the stops at home on their artificial turf. Expect them to run the ball – after all, we all know that French teams are not fit enough… 

Match up to watch: 

Imanol Harinordoquy v Will Fraser 

This is a battle between the old dog and the young pretender. Imanol (I’m not typing out that surname again) has been around for donkey’s years, and is far from a traditional 7. He may not even be picked there this weekend, but this is the duel that will take place. He has been a talisman for years for each of the teams he has played for, from France to the Barbarians, and he works very hard and carries even harder. As good a lineout option as a second-row (where he has also played) he is a jack of all trades and a master of each. Fraser will play himself into the England Six Nations starting line up if he keeps injury from the door. I hate the phrase “genuine openside” because it means very little, but he is, and he wins turnovers for fun and is very aggressive in the loose and terrifying for opposition fly-halves. Toby Flood should be nervous. 

Pete’s Prediction: Carnage, but a Saracens victory going owing to the home (artificial pitch) advantage into the last twenty minutes by a decent 10 points or so.  

Racing Metro 92 v Glasgow 

It may seem mad to ignore the absolute belter happening on Sunday between Bath and Toulon, and that does get a very special mention, but almost every game with Toulon or Bath in will be worthy of interest, and the game at the Rec might be a tad more exciting anyway. But onto this one. 

Racing have not really unleashed all their potential so far this season, but still have exceeded expectations in keeping hold of third place and beaten Toulon away from home, and played absolutely fantastically –  though there is more to come one feels. Glasgow have got nowhere near the place they should be in the table, but here is an opportunity for them to really put a stamp on the European competition for Scottish clubs. And team with Casey Laulala and Joe Rokocoko will cause problems, but Glasgow have their own livewires in Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour, not to mention the insanely talented offloader Leone Nakarawa. This will be fast-paced and exciting with two excellent sides going hammer and tongs. 

Match up to watch:

Brice Dulin v Stuart Hogg 

What a duel. Two internationals, both often the source of inspiration for any attacking moves within their side, but both with a very different style. Dulin blows very hot and cold, but when he blows hot, he blows very, very hot. Hogg is electric, very, very exciting and potential a Lion on both the next tours. Hogg has led the way with the new crop of Scottish internationals being seen as genuinely world-class players, and he will score a lot of points in this competition one feels. 

Pete’s Prediction: A mad, fast-paced encounter with a lot of tries – with Glasgow coming out on top.

The Rugby Magazine

Filed under: Champions Cup
Written by: Peter Randall
Follow: @uxbridgewolf · @therugbymag

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