George Kruis will make his 50th European appearance this weekend when Saracens take on Munster in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals.
The second row made his debut in the competition back in the 2010/11 season and was instrumental in Sarries’ back-to-back successes.
Scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth’s long-awaited return from injury will see him reach a century of games in Europe from the bench.
Captain Brad Barritt has recovered from an ankle injury to slot back in at inside centre alongside Alex Lozowski.
The duo, and Kruis, are three of 10 changes to the starting XV that suffered defeat at Bristol Bears last weekend.
Liam Williams comes back in on the wing while Ben Spencer and Owen Farrell are the half-back pairing.
USA international Titi Lamositele keeps his place in the front row and is joined by Mako Vunipola – his first Sarries appearance since January – and Jamie George.
Maro Itoje partners Kruis in the boiler and Billy Vunipola starts at Number 8.
Saracens team to face Munster in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final at the Ricoh Arena (KO 15H00):
FORWARDS: Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Titi Lamositele, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Mike Rhodes, Jackson Wray, Billy Vunipola.
BACKS: Alex Goode, Sean Maitland, Alex Lozowski, Brad Barritt, Liam Williams, Owen Farrell, Ben Spencer.
REPLACEMENTS: Joe Gray, Richard Barrington, Vincent Koch, Will Skelton, Schalk Burger, Richard Wigglesworth, Nick Tompkins, David Strettle.
Head Coach Johann van Graan has named the Munster side for Saturday’s record 14th Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens at the Ricoh Arena (3pm, live on BT Sport and beIN Sports).
There are 12 changes to the side that earned an impressive win away to Benetton in Italy last weekend as Mike Haley, Darren Sweetnam and Jack O’Donoghue keep their places.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony leads the side on his 50th Champions Cup appearance. O’Mahony has started each of his 49 appearances in the competition to date, including all 23 of the province’s Champions Cup games over the last three seasons.
Haley starts at full-back with Andrew Conway and Sweetnam on either flank.
Rory Scannell and Chris Farrell form the centre partnership with Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal in the half-backs.
Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan pack down in the front row with Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne in the engine room.
O’Mahony, O’Donoghue and CJ Stander complete the starting XV.
Keith Earls misses out due to injury having failed to make it through this week’s training.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (C), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Arno Botha, Alby Mathewson, JJ Hanrahan, Dan Goggin.
Champions Cup And Challenge Cup Finals Moved From Marseille
Due to the many uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been decided that the 2020 Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals will not now be held in Marseille as planned and the matches will be played at a new venue or venues.
With tens of thousands of fans scheduled to travel to the south of France, the Board of EPCR and the local organising committee have agreed that insufficient safeguards are currently in place during the public health crisis to stage two high-profile matches at the 67,000-capacity Stade Vélodrome.
As a consequence, EPCR is currently working with its shareholder leagues and unions to secure an alternative venue or venues for the two finals which will be played on the weekend of 16/17/18 October, and details will be announced as soon as practicable.
As part of this adjustment to its future planning, EPCR is pleased to announce that Marseille will now host the 2021 Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals at the Stade Vélodrome on the weekend of 21/22 May, and that the matches at the 62,000-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London will be rescheduled for 2022.
Tickets for this season’s finals will be valid for the 2021 weekend with no change to category or seating, and all ticket holders will be contacted by email within the next 48 hours with details of how to avail of a full refund if required.
As previously communicated, the quarter-finals of both tournaments will be played on the weekend of 18/19/20 September with the semi-finals scheduled for the weekend of 25/26/27 September. Exact dates, venues, kick-off times and TV coverage will be announced as soon as possible.
As is now customary during the pandemic, the matches will be subject to government guidelines with the health and welfare of players, club staff, match officials, supporters and the wider rugby community to the fore.
2020 EPCR dates:
- Quarter-finals: weekend of 18/19/20 September
- Semi-finals: weekend of 25/26/27 September
- Heineken Champions Cup final: weekend of 16/17/18 October (venue TBC)
- Challenge Cup final: weekend of 16/17/18 October (venue TBC)
- Start of 2020/21 season: weekend of 11/12/13 December.
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.