FloRugby's Heineken Champions Cup Game Of The Week
FloRugby's Heineken Champions Cup Game Of The Week
Take a look at the Heineken Champions Cup for Round 3. French Top 14 giant Toulouse looks to complete a season's sweep of the Premiership's Sale Sharks.
French Top14 league-leading Toulouse travels to Manchester, England, to tackle a high-flying Sale Sharks team at AJ Bell Stadium.
Sale will be looking to exact revenge on the visitors, following a rather humbling 45-19 loss at the Stade Ernest-Wallon in Round 2.
Having opened their campaign with a 39-0 drubbing of Irish side Ulster, the Sharks' loss in Toulouse was somewhat of a setback, but it certainly does not exclude them from pushing for a top qualification spot with a victory this weekend.
Since their December clash, both sides have gone on to win two of their three domestic fixtures.
For Sale, their Champions Cup defeat was followed up with a rather unexpected loss to a midtable Newcastle Falcons, with Alex Sanderson’s side looking like it still was recovering from the shellacking it received in France.
Since then, Sanderson’s men have seen off two major Premiership rivals in the Leicester Tigers and Harlequins.
We're BACK 😍— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 10, 2023
Which #HeinekenChampionsCup R3️⃣ thriller will you be watching? pic.twitter.com/JIVp8KDboC
While both victories were immensely impressive, the Sharks truly showed their grit in the Harlequins victory. Playing in grizzly conditions, the Sharks played cup-style rugby to edge their hosts 24-16.
Toulouse, on the other hand, comes into this weekend’s action on the back of a hiding away to reigning Heineken Cup champion La Rochelle.
Just how much can be taken from their 30-7 defeat is a tough one to gauge, given the wholesale personnel changes made by head coach Ugo Mola.
Clearly anticipating a tough battle this weekend, Mola rested a number of frontline players, most notably, superstar scrumhalf Antoine Dupont.
Sale will be counting its lucky stars that its own superstar, Manu Tuilagi, was not cited for an ugly shot on Harlequins fly-half Tommaso Allan.
The hit in question saw the rampaging Tuilagi get his timing completely off, as his shoulder hit the falling Allan’s head, an incident that saw the Quins playmaker leave the game on a stretcher.
Really surprised that Manu Tuilagi wasn't penalised at all here.— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) January 9, 2023
Dubbed a 'rugby incident'. pic.twitter.com/QosGJcgPof
While on the topic of Tuilagi, the England center’s presumed inclusion for this week’s clash is a major boost for Sanderson’s team.
Perhaps not quite the force he was back in 2019 in England’s run to the World Cup final, Tuilagi remains a factor.
Having missed the previous match between the two teams, Tuilagi’s presence in the midfield will give Toulouse some food for thought. Just how you mark his physicality in defense is an interesting proposition, given his propensity to drag in more than one tackler on a regular basis.
This added oomph in the midfield should create more space for the Sale's outside backs, who essentially were anonymous in Round 2.
Defensively, Tuilagi is one of the best in the game in closing the space between the inside and outside backs, often closing large chunks of space with his lateral quickness.
Thus, the England center's return quite clearly is a major boost for Sale’s hopes, not only this weekend, but heading into the playoffs.
Also working in the Sharks favor this weekend is the torrential weather set to be unleashed on the UK.
Slowing down any chance of a quick attacking game for the razor-sharp Toulouse backline should help a Sharks team built for a physical arm wrestle.
Certainly, Toulouse is no shrinking violet. However, given Sale’s recent track record in these conditions and the obvious strength of the team's enormously powerful backrow, Sanderson’s side would fancy its chances to slow down the visitor’s ruck ball.
Looking back on the Round 2 clash between the two sides, Toulouse’s silky interplay had the Sale defense at sixes and sevens. Whether it was cutting through the heart of the defense, or simply gassing them on the outside, speed of ball proved to be the difference.
Your R2 #HeinekenChampionsCup Try of the Round is...— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 22, 2022
This @StadeToulousain stunner finished @Dupont9A 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/Tit1evG1qS
So, in essence, it would appear this fixture will boil down to Sale’s ability to slow the Toulouse ball, and with it, go some way to nullifying the impact of the attacking axis of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.
Do this, and Sale will set itself up perfectly for a run at the top spot in Pool B. Fail to do so, and it would all but seal Toulouse’s top seeding alongside La Rochelle as the top 2 heading into the Round of 16.
Prediction: Sharks by two points.
Last Six Fixtures
Sale Sharks: WWLLWW
Sale Sharks: TBA
Will be updated upon release on Jan. 13.
Written by Philip Bendon
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