The European club season is in full flow and life in the Aviva Premiership, PRO14 and Top 14 has started with a bang. Ahead of another busy few days of club action our experts predict which teams are set for a big weekend, which players will shine and where your attention should be trained across all three leagues.
Player to watch
Taulupe Faletau was a threat in attack and defence on the opening weekend of the Premiership. Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Premiership (Martyn Thomas): Taulupe Faletau. The Bath No. 8 was pressed into action against Leicester last Sunday and was integral in his side’s first Welford Road win since 2003. British & Irish Lion Faletau showed little sign of fatigue as he made 56 metres and put in 20 tackles — all completed — in the 27-23 victory. He will come up against some familiar foes as Bath entertain Saracens and will need to turn in another all-court performance if his side are to prevail.
PRO14 (Cillian O Conchuir): Keelan Giles bagged a brace in last week’s victory over Zebre and will hope to continue that form at Glasgow on Saturday. With 10 weeks to go until Wales’ November programme starts against Australia, Giles — who has so far failed to make a Test appearance for Wales despite his inclusion in several squads — will hope to showcase the try-scoring capabilities that could help him win that elusive first cap.
Top 14 (James Harrington): Anthony Belleau. Toulon’s tyro 10 announced himself to the rugby world last season with the late, late drop-goal that sent rugby’s original Galacticos into June’s Top 14 final. He hasn’t stopped impressing since. He is the league’s leading scorer so far this season with 32 points from two outings — and he is more than a nerveless kicking machine. The 21-year-old is composed, quick-witted, fleet-footed and smart on the ball.
Game of the weekend
Ospreys’ Keelan Giles scores in his side’s win over Glasgow last February. Photo by Dan Minto – CameraSport via Getty Images
Prem: Bath vs. Saracens, Saturday, 2 p.m.
It is not often that the East Midlands derby has to settle for second billing, but the game at the Recreation Ground should be a cracker. Twenty-four hours before Bath opened their campaign with a rare win at Leicester, their opponents on Saturday were racking up the tries at Twickenham. Few teams could live with Saracens’ slick attacking play but their hosts this weekend will be determined to keep the Champions Cup holders at bay — not least as the contest will be head coach Tabai Matson’s penultimate game with the club.
PRO14: Glasgow vs. Ospreys, Saturday, 3.15 p.m.
Four-time champions Ospreys visit Glasgow on Saturday, with the Scottish side having won just once in their last five meetings. Warriors coach Dave Rennie’s introduction to the PRO14 came at a miserable Sportsgrounds in Connacht, but should the weather hold this weekend, expect attacking rugby with the likes of Lee Jones (Glasgow) and Keelan Giles (Ospreys) on show.
Top 14: La Rochelle vs. Clermont, Saturday, 1.45 p.m.
Tough call this week, with the prospect of sheer brutality in store as third (Castres) welcome first (Montpellier) to the newly rechristened Stade Pierre Fabre, and the never-less-than-fascinating Toulon vs. Toulouse, at Stade Felix Mayol for the first time in four seasons. But for the prospect of pure, non-stop all-out attacking rugby warfare, Stade Marcel Deflandre is the place to be.
Could Dan Carter and Racing slip to a second successive defeat at Brive? Nicolas Tucat/AFP/Getty Images
Prem: London Irish to topple the champions. Doom-mongers had sealed the Exiles’ fate before a TMO had even been consulted this season, but in bright sunshine at Twickenham last Saturday Nick Kennedy’s side made light of their critics to beat Harlequins with a performance full of verve and attacking intent. Exeter at Sandy Park present a sterner test of their credentials, but the title holders started last season slowly and were out-thought at Gloucester on opening night.
PRO14: Munster vs. Cheetahs. The Cheetahs looked good in the opening half against Ulster and led until Henco Venter’s sin-binning. If they keep all 15 players on the pitch against Munster, they could cause a shock upset. William Small-Smith wasted an early penalty last week, and Rory Duncan’s men will need to take every point on offer against a team who lost just four games at home between Champions Cup and league action last season.
Top 14: Brive to beat Racing 92 at Stade Amédée Domenech. A home win… In the Top 14… Surely some mistake… No. Brive find themselves bottom of the table with a grand total of zero points from their first two matches and monied Racing will be out to make it a miserable hat trick for their opponents — especially after their own shock defeat at Agen last weekend. But Brive historically almost never lose at home and will be determined to kick start their campaign.
Big weekend for…
Northampton boss Jim Mallinder has been in charge at Franklin’s Gardens for a decade. David Rogers/Getty Images
Prem: Jim Mallinder. The Premiership season might be less than a week old, but the Northampton Saints director of rugby — the league’s longest serving boss — has already received the dreaded vote of confidence. Saints were woefully off the pace defensively in the early stages last Saturday as Saracens’ attacking lines cut them to shreds. Next up is the East Midlands derby, and Mallinder will want nothing less than a morale-boosting win over local rivals Leicester.
PRO14: Connacht. After losing out on a Champions Cup place, Connacht need to start showing the form that saw them crowned champions in 2016. Defeat, at home, to the Southern Kings could see morale dip drastically. Bundee Aki reportedly turned down Bordeaux and Munster to remain in Galway this season, but if performances don’t turn around, his future will come into question once more.
Top 14: Oyonnax. Last season’s ProD2 champions could pick up their first win of the season when they entertain the Top 14’s other newly promoted side, Agen. The hosts were held to a 23-23 draw in the opening match of the season, at home to Toulouse, and were thumped at Montpellier last weekend to find themselves below their opponents in 12th place. Anything less than a win this weekend will signal the start of a long, cold winter.
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Weekend predictions: Prem, Pro14, Top 14
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