Weekend preview: It’s win or bust as English trio seek to match Quins’ progress

 

Decisions may be extremely hard to come by in the Heineken Cup boardroom, but coaches do not have the luxury of procrastination when it comes to choosing their teams for the kind of must-win matches facing teams like Leicester, Northampton and Saracens this weekend.

With Harlequins pretty much through to the knockout stage and Exeter and Sale more or less out of the competition, the remaining Premiership teams are in win-or-bust territory – hence the hard calls made by bosses as different as Richard Cockerill, Jim Mallinder and Mark McCall.

If Leicester muck things up against Treviso in the Veneto this afternoon – and lest we forget, they very nearly messed up against the Italians on home soil six days ago – they will have to beat both Ospreys and Toulouse in their last two matches to stand a decent chance of making it out of a very tough pool.

Worryingly for the Midlanders, the hosts will be far stronger this time round: the hardened front-rowers Leonardo Ghiraldini and Lorenzo Cittadini start this game on the field rather than on the bench, the crack Azzurri flanker Alessandro Zanni has been named in the back row and the international centre Alberto Sgarbi will be in midfield.

With this in mind, director of rugby Cockerill has strengthened things from his end by recalling the outstanding tight-head prop Dan Cole at the sharp end, reintroducing the second-row “tractor” Louis Deacon to the engine room – thereby relieving the influential England forward Geoff Parling of the captaincy into the bargain – and making changes on both wings, where Niall Morris and Adam Thompstone replace Scott Hamilton and Vereniki Goneva. Anthony Allen is back too, the defensively sound centre having successfully recovered from injury.

Northampton would rather be in Leicester’s situation than their own, which is even more testing. Nothing short of victory over Ulster, one of the form teams in the tournament, will suffice today, and as the game is being played at Ravenhill, that most forbidding of venues, precious few gamblers are risking their pennies on the Saints coming out the right side. With the England hooker Dylan Hartley banned and the Springbok prop Brian Mujati dropped, it looks a terribly tall order – especially as Mallinder, their director of rugby,  has decided to stick Courtney Lawes, another of his kingpin forwards, alongside Mujati on the bench.

Leaving aside this afternoon’s heavyweight 15-rounder between Leinster and Clermont Auvergne in Dublin – the two title favourites could both make it out of their pool and meet again at the business end of the competition – the pick of the round is tomorrow’s Saracens-Munster rumble at Vicarage Road. The Premiership club looked to be set fair for last-eight qualification until last week’s trip to Thomond Park, and while they were hardly the first English side to come unstuck in Limerick, the nature of their defeat worried McCall.

“I think we probably need to improve in all areas because we were well below our best last weekend,” said the club’s director of rugby, who has selected the bright young lock George Kruis on the blind-side flank, dropped the South African No 8 Ernst Joubert to the bench and handed the No 10 shirt to England playmaker Owen Farrell rather than Charlie Hodgson.

“We set ourselves high standards as a team and we felt we fell short of them,” added McCall. “It wasn’t a case of fatigue – there was nothing wrong with our effort or physicality. It just takes time to get everyone back on track after the autumn international programme. When you’re not together for five weeks, you’re not always as spirited as before. We have to rectify that.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review