On Saturday January 12th the RDS will fill to welcome two serial champions of European rugby.
Leinster face their toughest challenge yet in their quest to claim back to back Champions Cups against a blossoming Toulouse side.
The main talking point is that Leinster are without a host of stars through injury or suspension. Captain Johnny Sexton (tendon), Rob Kearney (quad), Dan Leavy (calf), Devin Toner (ankle), and Robbie Henshaw (hamstring) miss out through injury while James Lowe is suspended.
In Sexton’s absence Ross Byrne has been handed the number 10 jersey, with Rhys Ruddock captaining the side, while Jordan Larmour slots in at full-back. Dave Kearney and Adam Byrne will occupy the wings, with Scott Fardy and James Ryan at 4 and 5 respectively.
Although, Lowe will be sorely missed, his absence has allowed for Leinster to name Jamison Gibson-Park as their replacement scrum-half. Alongside him on the bench is 22-year-old Conor O’Brien, who comes into the side after his impressive showing against Ulster last weekend.
On the other hand, the French giants, currently second in the Top 14, are bursting with confidence after going 12 games unbeaten and having key players in the team that did not feature in their 28-27 win over their opponents in October.
Most noticeably, All Black Jerome Kaino starts at number 8, after missing the first clash with Leinster. Maxime Medard switches to full-back after scoring two tries in the previous clash from the wing.
Yoann Huget is named on the wing, with Thomas Ramos and Antoine Dupont coming in for Zack Holmes and Sebastien Bezy, to start at fly-half and scrum-half respectively.
Both teams have incredible power in the backs and forwards and Leinster head coach Stuart Lancaster has noted his team will have to be at the top of their game to cope with the challenge Toulouse pose.
“We pride ourselves in our ability to play unstructured rugby but they are at a different level”, Lancaster told the Irish Times earlier this week. Adding “the big thing for me is being on point defensively as well”.
Both these teams are hunting for their fifth European cup and although Leinster are missing their star names this is without a doubt the clash of the weekend. Whoever comes out on top here may well be the team lifting the trophy in Newcastle in May.
Exeter Ace Signs Contract Extension
Following the news that England star Harry Williams has agreed a new deal with Exeter Chiefs another star player has committed his future to the Premiership giants
The eight-cap England international has agreed a new “long-term” deal that will see him remain at Sandy Park for the foreseeable future and he is delighted to be staying at his hometown club.
“Obviously, I’m delighted. To be at one club your whole career is pretty rare these days. The fact it’s my hometown club as well, it’s brilliant, and I feel very privileged to be part of the Chiefs. Luckily for me, I’ve been part of a brilliant journey – one which I know has plenty of miles still to go. What we have achieved as a club, as a team, and as individuals, it’s taken a huge amount of work and effort, but everyone has seen the result,” he said to the club’s website.
Moon has been with the Chiefs since his time in the academy and has managed to pick up an incredible 259 appearances for the club, notching 11 tries in that time.
He has been part of the team since their time in the English second-tier and has helped them rise up the ranks, culminating in a Premiership crown in 2017.
It is further good news for the current Premiership league leaders after fellow England international Harry Williams signed a contract extension with the club over the weekend as the Chiefs build toward the future.
EPCR Confirm European Competition Postponements
European Rugby have announced that the latter stages of the Champions and Challenge Cups will be pushed back due to coronavirus
EPCR have released a statement to confirm that the semi-final and final stages of this year’s Champions and Challenge Cup will be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Last week it was announced that the quarter-final stage set to take place across the first weekend of April would be suspended and now the final stages have followed suit as expected the ECPR have confirmed.
“Following a conference call on Monday, the EPCR board can reconfirm the suspension of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournaments and has furthermore decided to postpone the semi-final matches, as well as the 2020 Marseille finals, which were due to be played on the weekends of 1/2/3 May and 22/23 May respectively. In making the decision, the board is abiding by the official directives and recommendations of the relevant authorities in its territories to restrict the Covid-19 pandemic. In light of the earlier postponement of its quarter-final matches and with fixtures in Europe’s professional league competitions currently suspended due to the public health crisis, EPCR believes it necessary to provide as much clarity as possible to all stakeholders regarding the knockout stages of its tournaments. To that end, EPCR is working with the leagues and unions to restructure a conclusion to its season as part of a wider rescheduling of the remainder of the season in Europe, with all contingencies underpinned by the requirement to protect the health and welfare of players, club staff, match officials, supporters and the wider rugby community. EPCR remains committed to completing the 2019/20 Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup season, and it is planned to reschedule the quarter-final and semi-final matches, as well as the Marseille finals, in line with fixtures in the professional league competitions, subject to advice from government and local authorities,” the statement read.
The final weekend was set to take place in Marseille and reports last weekend had claimed that officials were still hopeful of finishing there on the chosen date.
However, even with this announcement it is hard to see when they will conclude the European season as all domestic leagues have been suspended until further notice and the clock is ticking toward the start of next season as it appears unlikely that any rugby will be played in the foreseeable future.
Saracens Face EPCR Misconduct Hearing
Saracens are set to face yet another hearing but this time it’s on the European front
Saracens are set to face a misconduct hearing with the EPCR today at 18 00 the European Rugby body have confirmed.
The reigning Champions Cup holders are in trouble after they informed officials earlier in the week that they may have fielded an ineligible player during their Champions Cup win over Racing 92 last month which sealed them a quarter-final place.
The player in question is Titi Lamositele, who came off the bench in the 60th minute of the clash against the Top 14 side. It is understood that when the squad was announced for the game that the player was eligible.
However, his work permit did in fact expire on January 18th, with the game taking place on the 19th, which could have caused a breach in the disciplinary rules.
It is the latest blow in what has been a dramatic season to date for the Premiership outfit, who were found to have breached salary cap regulations in the competition and being fined and docked points before being relegated outright last month.
They were docked further points recently to ensure that they will finish the season in last place in the Premiership.
While on the European front they have already caused problems for the EPCR by failing to show up to the competition’s opening event.
Despite all the drama they have managed to progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup and will face last season’s beaten finalists Leinster away from home, but it remains to be seen what their latest punishment could be if found guilty.
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