Jason Robinson Blog - European Fixtures Preview 13th December

It’s a huge weekend coming up in the Champions Cup for the English clubs as several battle to stay in touch with automatic qualification places.

This weekend sees the reverse of last weekend games and whilst it wasn’t a great weekend for the English clubs I believe you have to take into account the intensity of the English game compared to other leagues. The English players have back to back games and some came straight back from international duty and were plunged into a round of Premiership games then back to back European games. The squad depths at some clubs cannot handle this and clubs were the players are rested will have a big say in qualification. The Premiership for instance has a full round over Christmas followed by another round over New Year. The battle for top four places has never been more competitive and coaches are under pressure to keep the momentum going.

Two big clubs who suffered last week were Saracens and Northampton. Sarries hadn’t lost a game in Europe for 20 games but came unstuck against Clermont. It’s okay saying Sarries have lost 6 on the bounce but two were Anglo Welsh games and two were when they were depleted because of the Autumn Internationals.

Northampton were up against it from the off last weekend and lost at home which ultimately cost Jim Mallinder his job. Jim has done some great things at Saints and led them to the Championship in 2014. He had a lot of home grown players and didn’t have the biggest of squad’s number wise. I wish Jim well and am sure he will get a job within the sport somewhere else without too much trouble.

Harlequins crashed at home to Ulster and are now playing for pride and Wasps face mission impossible against La Rochelle knowing they will be all but eliminated if they lose at the Ricoh. Wasps got a try bonus point at La Rochelle, but the French side are on fire with 3 straight bonus point wins.

Exeter may be England’s best hope but will need to get something from their game in Dublin against Leinster. A runner up spot is achievable if they beat Montpellier and Glasgow in January.

Leicester Tigers endured the Munster experience last weekend and need to do something pretty special at Welford Road this weekend in the return game.

Bath need to use home advantage against Toulon at the Rec and like Exeter they look to be the best bet for a qualifying place at this time.

In the Challenge Cup Newcastle recorded a famous win over Bordeaux last weekend and if Dean’s side can grab something in the return game, points wise, they could be homing in on a quarter final places.

Sale Sharks had a good win over Cardiff and will be hoping to build on that when they play the Blues on Sunday on the artificial surface.

Gloucester are chasing Pao at the top of group three and a home win for the Cherry and Whites should be enough for them to get a runners up spot at least. Rugby at Kingsholm is on the up at the moment and the fans are buying into it as the game against Sale over Christmas is almost a sell-out.

London Irish could be out of the competition if they lose to Stade Francais but that might not be a bad thing for the Exiles as they can then focus on Premiership survival.

Finally, Worcester who beat Oyannax last weekend, could, if they win this weekend put massive pressure on Connacht. Worcester lost in Connacht earlier in the competition but face the Irish side at Sixways in January, and that game may decide the group.

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