Weekend Preview: Racing Métro resistance set to strike back but Harlequins can take step forward


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The Independent Online

Harlequins v Racing Métro

The burning question: will the French bother this weekend, or will some of the biggest, richest, most ambitious clubs in Tricolore territory treat the Heineken Cup with the same scandalous level of indifference they showed last time out?

Racing Métro were hardly alone in underperforming in the first of the pivotal back-to-back matches – Montpellier, Perpignan and, depressingly, the four-time champions from Toulouse were also implicated – but  no one plumbed greater European depths than the Parisians.

Quins will be full of confidence tomorrow and if form is anything to go by, they will put themselves in a position to challenge for a place in the last eight – no mean feat after successive defeats in October. The visitors have been shamed into picking a half-decent side, with Jamie Roberts back in midfield after injury and Jonny Sexton starting at outside-half, but if they concede early, they could be just as hopeless as they were a week ago.

Montpellier v Leicester

You really have to wonder about this Montpellier lot. Having lost last Sunday’s game at Welford Road inside 20 minutes and then found a way of scoring four tries in consolation, they go into tomorrow’s return without many of their best players. François Trinh-Duc, Jonathan Pelissie and the superb Fijian wing Timoci Nagusa are all missing from the starting line-up, so the Midlanders can legitimately travel in hope.

Richard Cockerill, the English champions’ rugby director, has picked Niall Morris on the right wing and Thomas Waldrom at No 8. Otherwise, the Tigers look very much as they did last week, with the hot-shot wing Miles Benjamin present and correct in the back division.

Leinster v Northampton

There is no other way of putting it: Northampton were humiliated in front of their own last weekend, and have made big changes as a consequence. Salesi Ma’afu, Christian Day and Calum Clark all come into the pack, and will be expected to mix it with the Sean O’Briens and Jamie Heaslips of this world a whole lot more effectively than some of their colleagues did at Franklin’s Gardens. The Midlanders’ chances are on the line. It is time to put up or shut up.

Best of the rest

Gloucester may have all manner of issues in Premiership rugby, but they are in a decent place at European level all of a sudden, especially as Edinburgh travel south for tomorrow’s game without the likes of Nick De Luca, Greig Laidlaw and David Denton. Sila Puafisi, the Tonga international prop recruited to bolster the West Country club’s sparse front-row resources, is on the bench, with a nice new work permit safely in his back pocket.

Exeter, meanwhile, face the mother and father of a task in Toulon, even though the reigning European champions are giving Jonny Wilkinson some time to himself on the bench. Their outside-half today? That’ll be Matt Giteau, the Wallaby wizard who, on his day, is the best playmaking pivot in the tournament. Oh well.