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The top professional teams in Europe now turn their thoughts to Rounds 3 and 4 of the Heineken Champions Cup, and a second bite at the glory apple.
These include teams FloRugby fans have seen in action in the Guinness PRO14 and also the Top 14. Here's a look at three PRO14 teams with European aspirations:
By Mark Coughlan
Munster (home vs. Castres)
This is the 15th installment of the most-played fixture in European Cup history, and with these two teams sitting first and second in Pool Two – with just two points between them – it could be a cracker.
Yes, Munster is at home; yes, Munster is top of the group; yes, Castres sits seventh in the Pro 14. BUT, this time last year, Castres was 11th in the league, and held the Irishmen to a draw in France. Plus, there’s the small matter of Castres being Top 14 champions. Munster is unbeaten in six, but the French side brings a clever kicking game through their halfbacks, coupled with that French ferocity that its small-club mentality brings – something Munster can recognize from days of yore.
The front-line names are back for the Irishmen, while Joey Carbery looks to the manor born in Limerick, but they haven’t looked at their best in Europe. A draw in Exeter was followed by a Gloucester showdown ruined by a silly red card. With the two English sides slugging it out over the next two weeks, this is a huge chance to open up a gap at the top of the pool. Those old enough to remember 1995 know Munster let a huge chance to reach the inaugural European semifinals slip away against Castres. Surely Munster won’t slip up against its familiar foes again?
One to watch: Tadgh Berne. Irish rugby is getting silly at the moment, especially when you consider that this lad couldn’t even get in the side that beat the All Blacks. In two European games for Munster, he has five turnovers to his name, has made 25 tackles and carried the ball 24 times for a total of 44 meters. Scary.
Edinburgh (home vs. Newcastle)
Edinburgh was meant to be cannon fodder in a pool with Montpellier and Toulon; now it's is going toe-to-toe with Newcastle for the chance to cement a spot atop the group!
Last week’s heavy 44-14 defeat to Munster in the Pro 14 was humbling, while three defeats in four – including one to Zebre – doesn’t fill the team with confidence, but that was a second string side.
The difference in the Pro 14 is sides tend not to take their domestic form into Europe. Add in the fact that the internationals are back for Richard Cockerill’s men, which means 13 changes for the Scots, and they fancy this. The Newcastle Falcons, remember, are bottom of the Premiership and could be excused for having half an eye on survival (ring-fencing debates aside!), so Edinburgh is chasing a big win here.
“When we’ve got our combinations right we’re as good as any team,” Cockerill said during the week, “and I believe we can compete with any team in Europe on our day if we get it right. The challenge is to do it consistently.”
Three defeats in four haven’t helped the latter, but win the next two and the former might be coming true.
One to watch: Gary Graham. He slagged off Scotland in favor of England, then did a U-turn and represented the Scots. Now he faces a Scottish club, while playing for an English one. What a journey. Still, the Falcons flanker can bring a serious power to the game, and if he turns up ready to prove a point, Edinburgh must beware.
Leinster (away vs. Bath)
The internationals are back in town for Leinster, while Bath has just one win in nine games. Ouch. A walkover then, surely? It should be … but Bath is just the sort of side to pull a ridiculous result out of the ether and shake things up from nowhere.
Toulouse blew Leinster away last time out to end its 10-match winning streak in Europe, and ensure Pool One is far from a walkover. Add to that the fact that Leinster has a large number of absentees, and Scott Fardy or James Lowe will have to make way for Jamison Gibson-Park under the rule limiting supposed foreigners. Bath will just be wondering what-if. After all, if it wasn’t for that moment of madness, Bath would have beaten Toulouse in the opening match of this year’s campaign – and it showed against Wasps last time out that it can play running rugby with the best of them.
One to watch: Jordan Larmour. If Leinster does open up and get some good rugby going, then this kid can light up Bath’s stadium before it gets demolished.
He has the pace and footwork to beat any number of defenders in any limited amount of space – just check out his hat-trick-sealing try against Italy from the last international of the fall to see what he can do OR just check out his try against Munster from last season!