Weekend preview: Saracens facing the moment of truth in Treviso
Treviso v Saracens
Saracens take the field at Stadio Comunale Di Monigo tomorrow as England's principal flag-bearers among this season's European elite and may have a shot at securing a home quarter-final if they do everything right, although results elsewhere could just as easily deny them. Bonus-point victory should not be the first thing on their agenda, though. Treviso go into every Heineken Cup fighting the assumption that they will be easy meat – an assumption that has been proved wrong time and time again, as the likes of Harlequins, Wasps, Bath, Perpignan and, this season, Biarritz have discovered to their acute discomfort.
The English champions travel in strength, with the World Cup prop Matt Stevens restored to the front row and the putative Six Nations midfield of Charlie Hodgson, Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell together once again.
Cardiff Blues v Racing Métro
Cardiff were involved in the first final, way back in 1996, and followed that up with four knockout appearances in as many years. Since then? Invisibility for the most part, although the Blues did make the last four in 2009. Their chances of a home quarter-final may be undermined by their low try count, but a straight victory over the Parisians tomorrow will at least keep them in the tournament unless odd things happen in other necks of the woods. Racing can be forgiven for feeling a little hard done by – they put a total of eight tries and 71 points past Edinburgh over two games yet lost both by a single score – and must fancy this one a little, hence the inclusion of some heavy hitters in Frans Steyn, Jonathan Wisniewski, Sébastien Chabal and two exciting Fijians, Josh Matavesi and Sereli Bobo. The Blues go in heavily armed, but there is no place for Gavin Henson in midfield. Gavin Evans gets the start.
Edinburgh v London Irish
It is about time the Scottish nation showed up: one quarter-final appearance in 16 years is not exactly hogging the limelight. Edinburgh have a golden opportunity at Murrayfield tomorrow against a weakened London Irish side who are well out of the running. What is more, they have a decent try count, which should help them fend off any late threats to their chances of progress. If they win with a bonus point, they will definitely be in the draw for the last eight. The all-international front row of Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Geoff Cross should give them a foundation, and there will be much interest in the performance of the impressive Tim Visser on the wing.
Clermont Auvergne v Ulster
One of the ties of the round sees Ulster, chests puffed out after their marmalisation of Leicester eight days ago, attempt to take enough from today's visit to one of the least pregnable fortresses in European rugby to make it out of a fiercely competitive pool. The Clermont side is scary: Byrne, Sivivatu, Rougerie, Fofana, Malzieu, Skrela, Parra – and they're only the backs. Still, the men from Belfast, reinforced by a very solid Springbok presence, can build on last week's epic performance at Ravenhill. Just as long as they start well...
Northampton v Munster
Northampton have, as expected, omitted their departing England wing, Chris Ashton, who does not even make the bench. The Midlanders have long since given up on knockout qualification, although there was still the faintest mathematical glimmer of hope before last night's matches. They have, however, sold out Stadium:mk in Milton Keynes and are determined to front up against the group winners and twice former champions.
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