European Rugby Weekend Preview

European Rugby Weekend Preview

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Ulster and Saracens kick off round two of the European Champions Cup this Friday night – with plenty of scores still to settle.

©INPHO/Presseye/Darren Kidd

©INPHO/Presseye/Darren Kidd

While Saracens arrive at the Kingspan Stadium having downed Toulouse 32-7 last time out, Ulster are yet to feature in Europe this term with their opening clash with Oyannax being postponed due to the tragic attacks in Paris.

And as they bid to get off to the perfect start Ulster will know that is easier said than done against a Saracens side who beat them in successive quarter-finals in Europe’s premier competition in 2013 and 2014.

But Ulster’s Nick Williams insists revenge is not on the minds of the players as they prepare to welcome the Premiership champions.

“There is no element of revenge,” the Kiwi back rower said. “It’s a new competition, a new team with new personnel.

“We’ll leave the past where it is and let the future take care of itself.

We’ve had some good tussles with them in the past and they are an outstanding outfit – well organised in all areas of the pitch and well directed by Owen Farrell at ten.

“They have a very physical pack, they like to play a direct style and they are always tough to play against.

“You look for a weakness in their team but you struggle to find one.

“Toulouse were maybe a bit emotional given the events that occurred in France and they maybe played the way Saracens wanted them to.”

The following day Leinster tackle the runners-up to Saracens in last year’s Premiership – Bath – and they are currently sweating over the fitness of Sean O’Brien and captain Isa Nacewa.

Leinster were humbled 33-6 by Wasps at the RDS Arena in their opening European run out with just two Jonathan Sexton penalties to show for their efforts.

And Jamie Heaslip was in no mood to pull any punches after the defeat, admitting Leinster must be much better as they travel to Bath.

“The first half I thought we actually got to the gain line very well and placed them under a lot of pressure,” Heaslip said after the Wasps defeat.
“We got into their 22 quite a bit, but then we’d turn it over with a knock-on or we just weren’t accurate at the breakdown and that would just relinquish pressure and they’d just kick it back and we’d have to go again. They’re a hard side to break down and we just weren’t good enough at certain parts of the game.
“We’d get ourselves into good positions only to turn it over and not take advantage of the position that we got ourselves into, which was frustrating. And then they’d get a score against the flow of the game.

“A side like them, they’re so quick, all they need is half a break and they punish you. And that’s what happens at this level. We simply weren’t good enough and just have to be better now against Bath.”

Munster were due to travel to Stade Francais on Sunday but that game has been postponed, while Connacht will be glad to be in more familiar surroundings on Saturday as they host Brive at the Sportsground in the Challenge Cup.

Connacht secured a bonus point in their opener against Enisei-ETM as they won 31-14 in sub-zero conditions in an historic first European rugby game played in Russia.

But the journey home from Siberia saw the squad delayed in making the return trip of the 6000-mile adventure and Pat Lam will be hopeful his side have plenty left in the tank as Brive come to town.

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