Leicester v Stade Francais | Friday 13 November | Welford Road | 21:45
The second instalment of the European Rugby Champions Cup kicks off on Friday evening. The competition, which took over from the Heineken Cup, follows a similar format to football's UEFA Champions League. Qualification for the tournament is based on how the teams perform in their domestic leagues. The top seven finishers from last year’s Pro 12 division qualify for the tournament automatically– although there has to be a representative from Ireland, Wales, Italy and Scotland amongst the qualifiers. The top six teams from last year’s Aviva premiership will also qualified automatically as is the case with the French Top 14 representatives. While the final place in the tournament went to the winner of a three-way playoff match between Gloucester (Eng), Connacht (Ire) and the Bordeaux Beagles (Fra). The French side made it through while their English and Irish counterparts had to settle for a spot in the second tier of the competition which is the European Challenge Cup.
The first match in this year’s tournament sees Leicester take on Stade Francais at Welford Road.
To Win Match
The English franchise were impressive in the pool stages of the tournament last year but ultimately failed to advance to the next round. They are in a much kinder pool this year which consists of Benetton Treviso, Munster and, of course, their opponents for this Friday.
The Tigers have been in good form domestically, winning three of their four opening fixtures and currently occupy fourth place on the Aviva Premiership log. They are coming off the back of a five-point defeat to Exeter however, and they’ve lost a few players to injury so they’re not coming into this game in the best of shape.
Ben Youngs made a return to the run on xv this past weekend and is likely to retain his starting berth, which is good news for his team. While Youngs has come in for a lot of stick from English fans and pundits alike, on his day he can produce a match winning performance. He’s a nuggety little player who likes having a dart. He also has a decent pass on him, although, it must be added that he’s a lot stronger moving the ball to the right than the left.
Leicester have some quality players in their backline but the one who excites me the most is veteran, Sermaia Bai. While he’s struggled for game time since moving to Leicester last year, he was impressive in his side's defeat to Exeter. Having spent the majority of his playing career in France, Bai will know a few of the Stade Francais players games like the back of his hand.
Stade have endured a horrific start to their domestic season which has seen them lose five out of their eight games. They currently languish in 11th place on the Top 14 log. To make matters worse, a few of their senior players have threatened to leave the club next season if things don’t improve.
While they’ve been poor domestically this season, Stade will be no pushovers in Europe. They have a talented squad which boasts many a seasoned international amongst it. The likes of Willem Alberts, David Lyons, Sergio Parisse and Pascal Pape are all capable of destroying opposition defenders with or without ball in hand. While Waisea Nayacalevu and Digby Ioane are lethal finishers.
The man who could play the key role in the French side finding their mojo again is Will Genia. The Australian nines recent form may mimic that of his new club but with European rugby being a lot less frenetic than that found at international and Super Rugby level, there’s a good chance that Willy G may just find his groove again. If he does, Leicester could have their hands full trying to contain the seasoned campaigner.
Verdict: Leicester 11/20
They may have some extremely talented individuals amongst their ranks but Stade are in horrendous form. My money is on the Tigers getting the job done at home.
Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!