Preview: European Cup, Round Three

December 5, 2013
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Although rugby in the south is in a silent hibernation, the guys up north are taking too the field again to continue the Premiere European competition this weekend.

Toulouse, Ulster and Leinster will be giving their all to keep in their winning ways. These three sides are the only sides not to have lost a game this season in the competition. 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.

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)

Castres v Ospreys
(Stade Pierre Antoin – Kick-off: 21.00; 20.00 GMT)

Saturday, December 7

Exeter Chiefs v Toulon
(Sandy Park – Kick-off: 13.35; 13.35 GMT)

Zebre v Saracens
(Stadio XXV Aprile – Kick-off: 14.35; 13.35 GMT)

Clermont Auvergne v Scarlets
(Stade Marcel Michelin – Kick-off: 14.35; 13.35 GMT)

Racing Metro v Harlequins
(Stade Marcel Michelin – Kick-off: 16.40; 15.40 GMT)

Northampton Saints v Leinster
(Franklin’s Gardens – Kick-off: 18.00; 18.00 GMT)

Ulster v Treviso
(Ravenhill – Kick-off: 18.00; 18.00 GMT)

Sunday, December 8

Munster v Perpignan
(Thomond Park – Kick-off: 12.45; 12.45 GMT)

Edinburgh v Gloucester
(Murrayfield – Kick-off: 13.00; 13.00 GMT)

Toulouse v Connacht
(Stade Ernest Wallon – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 GMT)

Leicester Tigers v Montpellier
(Welford Road – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)

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