Harlequins cling to hopes of upset as Northampton face Ospreys battle

French league leaders’ home record now stands at 70 straight wins

Rugby Union Correspondent

Harlequins v Clermont  Auvergne, Today, 1.35pm

It takes some believing, but the French league leaders’ home record now stands at 70 straight wins. On the road, Aurélien Rougerie’s men are merely barely beatable, as opposed to unbeatable. This gives Quins hope of an unlikely passage into the knockout stage of the Heineken Cup, although the odds are still heavily against them after consecutive defeats in October. With Ugo Monye back on the left wing and Nick Kennedy bringing his line-out expertise to the second row, they are equipped to throw a dart or two at Clermont, who go into today’s game without the crack flanker Julien Bonnaire.

Ospreys v Northampton Tomorrow, 12.45pm

Like Quins, the Midlanders have lost twice in this tournament and Saints are therefore not in the best of places to launch a bid for last-eight status – especially as Ospreys, unamused by their position at the foot of the Pool One table, have a good number of their top-ranked players in tomorrow’s starting line-up, from Dan Biggar at outside-half to Richard Hibbard and Alun Wyn Jones at the sharp end. Northampton travel with such rugged customers as Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Calum Clark, Tom Wood and Samu Manoa present and correct.

Toulouse v Saracens Tomorrow, 3pm

It is highly likely that both sides will qualify from the most unbalanced of the six pools, so tomorrow’s set-to at Stade Ernest Wallon is as much about a home knockout draw as anything. Not that this is insignificant, as the team selections demonstrate. The four-time champions from France have a stellar look to them: Tolofua, Steenkamp, Tekori, Fickou… and that’s just the bench. The Premiership leaders head across the water without Jacques Burger among their loose forwards  and with James Johnston at tight-head prop instead of Matt Stevens. Johnston, a mere 20st 4lbs, will no doubt spot his big brother Census, 20st 6lbs, in the Toulouse front row.

Gloucester v Munster Today, 6pm

Having messed up big time against Edinburgh in the last round of matches, Gloucester must do a proper job on the former champions this evening to give themselves a whiff of surviving in this competition. It is difficult to see it happening, but if Freddie Burns, stung by his demotion from England’s squad for the forthcoming Six Nations, has one of his golden days in a midfield featuring Jonny May at outside centre, who knows? Munster, chasing a home quarter-final, have some serious operators in the back five of their pack, including Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony.

Treviso v Leicester Today, 1.35pm

The English champions very nearly came unstuck in northern Italy last season, returning home with a one-point victory that owed plenty to some refereeing calls best described as “interesting”. They cannot afford to mess about today – not with a genuine shot at qualification at stake. There will be no Tom Youngs at hooker, but with Jamie Gibson on a hot streak at blind-side flanker and the Marcos Ayerza-Dan Cole prop partnership still intact, they should be all right. However, the best of the Treviso players – the scrum-half Edoardo Gori, the hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, the back-rower Robert Barbieri – can be expected to front up.

Exeter v Glasgow Today, 3pm

The Devonians would have been a lot better off in Pool Two had they not lost a tight game against the Scots in October, but ifs, buts and maybes are no use now. This is about pride – and, more to the point from a wider perspective, about the appearance of the highly-rated young hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie. Graham Rowntree, the England forwards coach, thinks he’s the real deal. We shall see.

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