Brown set for impact role as Sarries' pack shows strength

Heineken Cup Preview



Saracens v Leinster


It comes to something when a marquee signing - in this case, the Scotland blind-side flanker Kelly Brown - cannot find a place in his new club's starting line-up, but Saracens have riches galore in the back-row department and feel they can afford to drop the man whose performances in last season's Six Nations Championship marked him out as a growing force in the game.

Brown will view this evening's match with Leinster at Wembley from the bench, and while he can expect some meaningful activity at some stage, he now knows how difficult this English club rugby business can be.

Brendan Venter, the director of rugby at Saracens, acknowledged during the week that in selectorial terms, the loose combination was guaranteed migraine material (being a qualified GP, he should know). Ernst Joubert was the stand-out No 8 in the Premiership last term while Jacques Burger has been the pick of the back-row bunch this time round, earning himself a "player of the month award" for his energetic performances in the opening round of Premiership matches. As for Andy Saull, there are many good judges who consider him to be an England breakaway in waiting.

Venter also gave Justin Melck a mention in dispatches this week. "He doesn't get talked about so much, but he's been tremendous for us," said the South African of his fellow countryman. "I'm trying to rotate these guys, but now I've spent time with them and know them better, I'm also picking and choosing tactically."

As expected, the Dubliners' stellar centre Brian O'Driscoll will miss the game after twanging a hamstring during last week's impressive victory over Racing Metro.

Edinburgh v Northampton

This will be a serious examination of Northampton's credentials as contenders for European honours. The Scots are on their best winning run in Heineken Cup matches on home soil: they have a dead-eyed marksman in Chris Paterson, a useful front row and a good understanding of how to maximise the advantage of playing in a vacuum, which is what Murrayfield amounts to on non-international day. Usually, the Edinburgh crowd can be fitted into the players' tunnel, and while the travelling hordes from the Midlands should generate something resembling an atmosphere, the Saints are still in danger of going the way of Leicester and Stade Francais in recent years.

Northampton will be without the England full-back Ben Foden, rested under the terms of the Elite Player Agreement, and must do without their go-to man on the wing, the injured Bruce Reihana. Stephen Myler, frustrated at playing second fiddle to Shane Geraghty for much of the campaign to date, has been granted an opportunity to turn the tables on his rival for the outside-half berth.

Aironi v Bath

Bath are hurting after the mother of all mess-ups against Biarritz six days ago, and they travel to Viadana - always assuming they can find the place after losing all sense of direction at the Recreation Ground - in the knowledge that nothing less than a bonus-point win will do. There are changes to the back division, with Tom Biggs and Ben Williams stepping in for Matt Carraro and Shontayne Hape.

Leicester v Scarlets

Tomorrow's Anglo-Welsh rumble at Welford Road has all the makings of a proper contest. Leicester, more vulnerable than they like to let on despite the return of the England stand-off Toby Flood, were fortunate to leave Treviso in one piece last weekend. Scarlets, meanwhile, played some mesmerising counter-attacking rugby in the high-scoring victory over Perpignan. How good an outside-half is Stephen Jones? Don't answer. It's a rhetorical question.

Wasps v Glasgow

The Londoners still look horribly fragile at the sharp end, but there is no denying their competitive spirit. The could, perhaps should, have beaten Toulouse on the reigning champions' own mudheap last Sunday, and if they show anything like the same grit tomorrow, they will be too hot for Glasgow to handle.

Munster v Toulon

In any other rugby city on earth, the news that Jonny Whatsisname was being given a breather on the bench would have knocked a thousand off the gate. Things are different down Munster way, where Thomond Park is rarely less than jam-packed on Heineken Cup day. The Irish province have some hard-nosed characters back between the shafts - noses don't come any harder than the flanker Alan Quinlan's - while the French side have a half-decent replacement for Wilkinson in Felipe Contepomi.

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