Preview: Euro Cup, Round Five


heineken-cupIt is crunch time in Europe’s premier club tournament, as we enter Round Five of the Euro Cup.

The build-up this week may have shone the spotlight on the heavyweight Anglo-French clashes – between Toulouse and Saracens, and Harlequins and ASM Clermont Auvergne – but two other French giants will also be in crucial matches.

Defending European champions Toulon host Cardiff Blues in Nice on Saturday, while French champions Castres  are at home to Leinster on Sunday.

Key pair Rory Kockott and Antonie Claassen will be missing for Castres when they host Leinster.

The news is a boost to the Irish province, who could secure a place in the quarterfinals with a game to spare if they win and Northampton fail to come away from Ospreys with a victory.

Both South African scrumhalf Kockott and South African-born France international flank Claassen missed Castres’s last match against Bordeaux-Begles in the French Top 14 due to injury.

“It’s still a bit too soon for them,” said Castres coach David Darricarrere.

Kockott has a calf problem, while Claassen is suffering from a knee injury.

South African back row forward Pedrie Wannenburg also looks set to miss the clash due to a thigh problem, but fullback Geoffrey Palis, who Monday earned a call-up to the France pre-Six Nations training camp, should recover in time from a dislocated thumb.

* Meanwhile Wales’ British & Irish Lions wing Alex Cuthbert said he can’t wait to tangle with Toulon on Saturday.

The Cardiff Blues star has already helped his region post a spectacular 19-15 win over the French giants in Round Two and now he is preparing for a double-whammy.

“You have to look forward to playing the best team in Europe – you can’t be afraid of it. I’m looking forward to it and I can’t wait to play down there,” Cuthbert told the Cardiff Blues website.

“When you play against them there is an expectation that they will get the win, but we got the win at home. It is important that we take confidence from that. I am sure that win was unexpected by a lot of people.

“We know we beat them at home and I am sure Toulon will be looking to correct that and get one back on us. But we have put ourselves in a good position in the group.”

The Blues had a disastrous start to their European campaign with a heavy defeat at Exeter Chiefs, but a hat-trick of wins over the champions and back-to-back against Glasgow Warriors has hauled them back to within two points of the lead in the Pool.

They were beaten twice by Toulon last season, but picked up a try bonus point at Stade Mayol when they touched down four times in a 45-25 defeat. And Cuthbert believes that if they can once again convert their chances, and tighten up their defence, they can cause Toulon more trouble.

“We need to ensure that when opportunities come up we utilise them. Watching Toulon’s game against Exeter, the Chiefs had a lot of chances and they took a couple of them and were still in the game,” added Cuthbert.

“We had a good feeling when we went down to Exeter, as it was the first Heineken Cup game, but unfortunately we didn’t really turn up on that day.

“It’s not easy to get a win up at Glasgow, but we did that and we need to keep that form going. We are hungry in the Heineken Cup – we have that sniff of the quarter-finals and we want to do ourselves proud.”

We look at all the Round Five matches!

Friday, January 10

Ulster v Montpellier
(Ravenhill – Kick-off: 20.00; 20.00 GMT)

Montpellier have made 39 clean breaks in this tournament, more than any other club.

Ulster conceded fewer penalties per game (7.8) than any other side in the first four rounds.

Only Saracens (142) have scored more points in the first four rounds than Ulster (130) this season, with Paddy Jackson the joint top point scorer so far (55).

Darren Cave came up with more try assists (four) than any other player in Rounds One to Four.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Tim Wigglesworth (England), Stuart Terheege (England)
TMO: Sean Davey (England)

Racing Métro 92 v Scarlets
(Stade Yves-du-Manoir – Kick-off: 21.00; 20.00 GMT)

These two sides played out a 26-26 draw earlier this season – their only previous meeting in this competition.

It was Racing’s first draw in the European Cup and the Scarlets’ second (16-16 v Ulster, 2008).

Racing have made fewer carries (62) and metres (258) per match than any other side in the tournament to date.

Racing, who have had the least amount of average possession per game (11m 49s), have also made the fewest clean breaks (10) and beaten the fewest defenders (24).

Scarlets have produced 19 off-loads – the lowest total in the tournament.

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Martin Fox (England), Robin Goodliffe (England)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)

Saturday, January 11

Harlequins v ASM Clermont Auvergne
(The Twickenham Stoop – Kick-off: 13.35; 13.35 GMT)

Clermont have made more carries (140) and metres (547) per game than any other side in this season’s edition of the competition.

They’ve also spent the most time in possession (20m 58s).

Clermont’s scrum success rate is 97 percent, a tournament high figure.

Sitiveni Sivivatu made more metres (417) than any other player in Rounds 1 to 4. Mike Brown was third in that chart (321m).

Chris Robshaw (56 – joint 2nd) and Sitiveni Sivivatu (56 – 4th) are among the top ball carriers in the competition (prior to

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

Benetton Treviso v Leicester Tigers
(Stadio Comunale di Monigo – Kick-off: 14.35; 13.35 GMT)

Leicester have won all seven of their European Cup matches against Treviso, including a 34-3 win earlier this season.

The aggregate score of those seven games is 289-101 in favour of the English club.

The Italians have scored just 16 points so far, fewer than any other side in the competition.

Treviso have the worst line-out (68 percent) and scrum (67 percent) success rates in the tournament.

Leicester have produced 18 line-out steals in this tournament, more than any other club.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Christophe Berdos (France), Tual Trainini (France)
TMO: Bruno Bessot (France)

Exeter Chiefs v Glasgow Warriors
(Sandy Park Stadium – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)

Glasgow won the only previous European Cup meeting between the clubs by 20-16 in Round Two.

Exeter’s tackling success rate of 81 percent is the lowest in the European Cup.

Dave Ewers made more carries (60) than any other player in the opening four rounds.

Only two players have made more clean breaks than Nikola Matawalu (16) after the first four rounds of action.

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eddie Hogan O’Connell (Ireland), Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
TMO: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)

Connacht v Zebre
(The Sportsground – Kick-off: 15.40; 15.40 GMT)

Connacht have won all three of their meetings with Zebre in the competition, including a 33-6 win away from home in Round Two.

Connacht have produced 30 kicks from hand per match so far this season, more than any other club in the European Cup.

Exeter (81 percent) are the only side to have a worse tackling success rate than Zebre (82 percent) this season.

Connacht have made (533) and missed (95) more tackles than any other side this season.

Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: David Changleng (Scotland), Graeme Marshall (Scotland)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Scotland)

Toulon v Cardiff Blues
(Allianz Riviera – Kick-off: 16.40; 15.40 GMT)

No player has won more turnovers than Steffon Armitage (10) this season.

Toulon are undefeated at home in the European Cup (P9 W9).

In 2013, the French club played nine European Cup ties, winning seven and losing two.

Cardiff are on a three-match winning run in this tournament. The last time they won four on the bounce was in 2011.

Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Assistant referees: Steve Lee (England), Andrew Pearce (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

Edinburgh v Perpignan
(Murrayfield – Kick-off: 18.00; 18.00 GMT)

Perpignan have won two of their three meetings with Edinburgh (L1), including a 31-14 success in the Scottish capital earlier this season.

Edinburgh’s Cornell Du Preez is the top tackler in the tournament heading into Round 5, having completed 58 of his 62 attempted tackles.

Teammate Grant Gilchrist has made the most tackles without a miss so far (43).

Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), Richard Kerr (Ireland)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)

Gloucester v Munster
(Kingsholm – Kick-off: 18.00; 18.00 GMT)

Gloucester have lost their last three European Cup ties against Munster including a 26-10 defeat at Thomond Park earlier this season.

Gloucester’s tackling success rate of 91 percent is the joint-highest in the tournament (along with Leinster).

Gloucester’s line-out success rate (90 percent) is the best in the competition, compared to just 81 percent by Munster (16th best).

Munster have the best ball retention rate at the breakdown, winning 96 percent of rucks when taking the ball into contact.

Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Gareth Simmons (Wales)

Sunday, January 12

Ospreys v Northampton Saints
(Liberty Stadium – Kick-off: 12.45, 12.45 GMT)

Northampton triumphed 27-16 against Ospreys in Round 2 – the only previous meeting between the sides in the competition.

Ospreys are yet to miss a kick at goal this season with Dan Biggar landing all 17 of his attempts.

Northampton have won more line-outs per game (15.3) than any other side after four rounds.

Biggar is the joint-top point-scorer in the tournament so far with 55 (Paddy Jackson of Ulster also has 55).

Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant referees: Patrick Péchambert (France), Jean-Luc Rebollal (France)
TMO: Gilles Cogné (France)

Castres Olympique v Leinster
(Stade Pierre Antoine – Kick-off: 13.45; 12.45 GMT)

All three previous meetings between these sides have been won by the home team (Leinster W2).

Leinster have a tackling success rate of 91 percent this season, a joint-high in the tournament along with Gloucester.

Castres have the worst ball retention rate at the ruck this season (90 percent).

Leinster have lost just one of their last four away games in France (W2 D1).

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Jon Mason (Wales)
TMO: Derek Bevan (Wales)

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

Saracens are the tournament’s top scorers so far, they have scored 17 tries and average 35.5 points per game.

Toulouse have the worst goal-kicking success rate in the tournament (56 percent).

Toulouse average 29 defenders beaten per game this season, more than any other team and way above the average of 15.9.

Louis Picamoles leads the defenders beaten chart after four rounds, evading 22 tackles so far.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland), Olly Hodges (Ireland)
TMO: Jude Quinn (Ireland)

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