Bath’s England axis among the weekend’s best Champions Cup storylines
It’s the European Rugby Champions Cup fixtures after the Autumn Internationals before, with cheers still ringing in the ears of England, Ireland and Wales players after all three countries managed to end their series on high notes.
There are a number of intriguing head-to-heads coming up in the latest round of the continent’s shiny new prize, with one first-time-out partnership sure to pique peoples’ interest:
The future of England: Bath centre Sam Burgess outside number 10 George Ford
It looks like England coach Stuart Lancaster has got his way, in a manner of speaking, with regard to Rugby League convert Burgess, who Bath were thinking of playing as a back-row forward, yet threw on at inside centre for his debut against Harlequins.
A similar journey was endured by current England assistant Andy Farrell when he changed codes, with the former Wigan legend starting out as a blindside flanker before moving into the backline, where he enjoyed some success and turned out for his country eight times.
Incidentally, Farrell’s son Owen looks to have been overthrown as Lancaster’s first-choice fly-half, for the time being at least, by Bath playmaker Ford, after the 21-year-old’s startling showings in England’s Autumn International wins over Samoa and Australia.
Burgess will start on the bench for his side’s crunch Pool 4 clash away to Montpellier, where Bath are 13/8 to win, but all eyes will be on how the 6ft5in wrecking ball links up with Ford if/when he comes on.
Harlequins v Leinster: Impressive international front-row reinforcements collide
A pair of loose-head prop forwards called Joe, in England’s Marler and Ireland’s McGrath, gave their respective coaches plenty to cheer about after proving themselves more than worthy alternatives to injured mainstays Alex Corbisiero and Cian Healey in the front row.
Marler in particular deserves huge credit for coming back from a raft of slatings earlier on in his international career, when the most notable thing about the Eastbourne native was his daft Mohawk, to become a stalwart in Lancaster’s pack and Quins’ captain.
His boys look good for a win at home to McGrath’s Leinster, whose entire front row of the 25-year-old, Mike Ross and Sean Cronin where put through the ringer during Autumn International wins over South Africa, Georgia and Australia.
Rock-solid Six Nations fly-halves face-off in Swansea
Ospreys number 10 Dan Biggar can’t touch Racing Metro opposite number Jonny Sexton on current form, particularly for their respective countries, but at least the Welshman seems to have seen off Rhys Priestland in Warren Gatland’s eyes.
Furthermore, having enjoyed the best game of his life in a Dragons jersey against South Africa, when Gatland’s men ran out surprise 12-6 winners, Biggar will be raring to go at the Liberty Stadium.
Racing top Pool 5 with two games gone, but are off the pace in the Top 14 after losing two of their past five domestic matches, while Ospreys are currently just a point behind Munster in the Guinness Pro12.
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