European Champions Cup preview: Martin Castrogiovanni and Delon Armitage summoned to misconduct hearing

 

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The Independent Online

Toulon v Leicester

(Saturday 3.15pm)

The possible absence from future Toulon games of Martin Castrogiovanni and Delon Armitage will be decided by an independent disciplinary committee hearing on Wednesday.

European rugby’s governing body the EPCR today summoned the pair to attend after lodging misconduct complaints about their behaviour six days ago.

However, Castrogiovanni will not be anchoring the Toulon pack today following his extraordinary outburst after last Sunday’s contest at Welford Road – he has been suspended by the club. But Armitage, who is up before the beak for allegedly using foul and abusive language within the earshot of supporters, has been picked on the right wing, alongside Leigh Halfpenny at full-back.

Leicester are at their most effective with a whiff of sulphur in the air, and the atmosphere down in Provence is likely to be three parts gunpowder. The reigning champions will take an awful lot of beating on home turf, though the Tigers are travelling with a quality pack.

Leinster v Harlequins

(Saturday 7.45pm)

Good news for England: the red-rose captain Chris Robshaw is expected to recover from his shoulder problems in good time to face Wales in the opening Six Nations game at the Millennium Stadium in early February. Orthopaedic specialists say the flanker should be back in three or four weeks, so with a following wind, he will also be ready for the conclusion of this European pool stage.

Robshaw.jpg
Robshaw is expected to be out for three to four weeks

Bad news for Harlequins: not even the most optimistic prognosis gives Robshaw much chance of featuring in the Premiership humdingers against Northampton and Leicester either side of new year. Given the Londoners' difficulties at domestic level this season – they are ninth in the Premiership – it seems the inaugural Champions Cup is their most realistic shot at big-time rugby come the end of the season.

Victory in this one would make them hot favourites to progress as pool winners, but that seems a very tall order. Robshaw’s absence, together with that of outside-half Nick Evans means Quins are weakened in important areas.

Leinster have reacted to last weekend’s defeat at The Stoop by making changes at scrum-half and in the back five of the scrum, and with the best part of 40,000 spectators hollering them on, it will be a surprise if they do not give Quins the payback treatment, with heavy interest.

Wasps v Castres

(Sunday 1pm)

The Londoners – soon to be Midlanders – high-rolled their way back into knockout contention with a bonus-point victory in France last time out, so they will be more than confident of a repeat performance as they say their goodbyes to High Wycombe. Even without the fine Samoan centre Alapati Leiua, who is back home following the death of his father, they have the pace and momentum to rip through opponents whose interest in this competition is at an end.

Best of the rest

Sale have given more to this tournament than their lowly ranking suggests, but without Johnny Leota, Sam Tuitupou and Danny Cipriani in the midfield positions, it is difficult to see them threatening a highly motivated Saracens side at Allianz Park on Saturday. More intriguing is the Glasgow-Toulouse game, where Gregor Townsend’s men will fancy their chances of seeing off the four-time champions.

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