European Champions Cup preview: we look at the challenges facing the Irish sides

Three of the provinces play on Saturday

BY Simon Maguire 17:32 Friday 16 December 2016, 17:32 16 Dec 2016

Munster Rugby Press Conference, UL, Limerick 14/12/2016 Simon Zebo Image: ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

The Irish sides go into this weekend's Champions Cup matches in a fairly healthy state as we prepare to pass the half way mark of the pool stages. 

Leicester Tigers v Munster, Welford Road at 15:15.

Munster head to England having won both of their matches in the tournament so far. They trounced an out-of-sorts Leicester last weekend 38-0 and will be looking to consolidate their position at the top of their group with another win.

There is sure to be some sort of backlash from the tigers who were humbled at Thomond Park last weekend.

Munster have been defensively solid in Europe so far conceding only 17 points in their two outings and a stingy defence will be needed to continue their unbeaten run.

The hosts have won seven of their ten domestic matches scoring 23 tries along the way and will need to bring that league form at the weekend if they are to have any chance of over-turning last week's result. 

Munster sit on top of the pool with 10 points followed by Glasgow on nine. Leicester have four with Racing Metro pointless, although the French side and Munster have a game in hand on the others. 

 

Connacht v Wasps, Sportsground at 17.30.

Pat Lam's side welcome Wasps to Galway knowing that a win will put them right back in contention to come out of their pool. 

Having lost last week in Coventry 32-17, the westerners will be desperate to win to stay in contention in the pool.

Wasps have been in fine domestic form sitting only a point behind premiership leaders Saracens. They have also scored the most tries and points in the Champions Cup thus far. 

Connacht have shown attacking intent of their own and currently lead the Champions Cup stats for most carries, clean breaks and metres made to date. 

 

Leinster v Northampton, Aviva Stadium at 19.45.

Leinster go into their return game with Northampton looking to capitalise on last weekend's away win where they put the English side to the sword by 37-10. 

The manner of the Dublin side's win was overshadowed by the red card handed out to England captain Dylan Hartley for his cheap, open-arm shot on Sean O'Brien. 

Northampton badly need a win to keep their slim chances of qualification from the pool alive. They have also struggled domestically winning only four games in the league so far. 

Ross Byrne makes his first European start with both Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery recovering from injury. 

 

Clermont-Auvergne v Ulster, Stade Marcel-Michelin at 15.05 (Irish time).

Ulster will be looking to build on last weekend's 39-32 win over the same opposition. Although they currently occupy third place in the group, a win, without giving away a bonus point, will see them overtake Clermont on the table.

The men from the north sit level with Bordeaux who entertain Exeter in the pool's other match. A loss for Ulster at the weekend and it will be extremely difficult to make the next round so the pressure really is on.

 

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