Midlands powerhouses Northampton and Leicester must set aside their respective turbulent weeks as they face make-or-break games in the fourth round of European Rugby Champions Cup fixtures.
Northampton will be without England captain Dylan Hartley, who has been banned for six weeks after last Friday’s swinging arm on Sean O’Brien that resulted in the hooker’s third red card of his career.
Hartley’s latest misdemeanour came in a 37-10 home humbling by Leinster, with the teams immediately meeting again as this weekend’s matches see the reverse of the third round contests.
That defeat left Saints bottom of Pool Four with one win, meaning they need victory on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium to stay alive in the competition.
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallender told BBC Radio Northampton: “We’ve got to go out there and play some rugby; we’re not going to beat them playing 10-man rugby.
“They’ve clearly got a good pack who put our forwards under pressure in the set piece, particularly the scrum, although we did well on our lineouts and they did well on their lineouts.”
A Castres home win over Montpellier on Sunday in the other pool contest would help Saints’ cause.
Meanwhile Leicester are aiming to recover from their heaviest Champions Cup loss, a 38-0 hammering at Munster that reportedly left director of rugby Richard Cockerill in danger of being sacked.
Cockerill will require victory at Welford Road on Saturday to appease chairman Peter Tom and get Tigers’ European campaign back on track. Like rivals Northampton they have one win, albeit they are third in Pool One, which is led by Munster.
Glasgow are hot on Munster’s heels after their 23-14 triumph at Racing 92, a result head coach Gregor Townsend hailed as the club’s best in Europe.
Racing’s all-stars will be out for revenge on Friday evening at a sold-out Scotstoun Stadium where back-row forward Josh Strauss is set to make his 100th appearance for the Warriors.
Defending champions Saracens will be looking to make it four Pool Three victories from four on Sunday against winless Sale, who they thrashed 50-3 last weekend.
Rugby league convert Denny Solomona is poised to make his Sharks debut after his controversial move from Castleford.
The 23-year-old Auckland-born player failed to report for pre-season training with Castleford despite having two years left on his contract and on Tuesday signed a three-year deal with the Premiership club.
Solomona told Sale’s website: “I have played full back, centre and wing and I don’t really have a preference and will do my best whatever position I am asked to play by Steve Diamond.”
In the other pool match Toulon will look to keep pressure on Sarries by completing a double over Scarlets on Sunday at Parc y Scarlets.
Wasps are also top of their pool and will be seeking successive wins over Connacht, although Saturday’s meeting at the Sportsground looks tougher than last time out.
Toulouse, third in Pool Two, are expected to keep pressure on Wasps with home success over Zebre.
Winless Exeter need victory at Bordeaux on Saturday to revive their Pool Five campaign, but have not been helped by head coach Rob Baxter having to deny that England back Henry Slade is set to leave the club for Bath.
Baxter told the Cheifs’ website: “I’ve had a couple of chats with Henry and had a joke with him about all the rumours that are flying around because there is no truth in him having any interest in going to Bath.”
In the other pool clash leaders Clermont host Ulster, who have two wins from three.
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Premiership heavyweights face crunch European showdowns
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