The second weekend of European Rugby’s premier competition kicks off on Friday night with Bath taking on Scarlets. This is the first of ten games that will shape the various pool tables over the November international Tests break until the competition resumes in the middle of December.
Round 1 of the Champions Cup went to the home teams in 2017, with six of the ten games being won by those teams defending their own patch. Three sides (La Rochelle, Saracens, and Clermont Auvergne) managed to grab vital wins on their travels, while the game between Castres and Munster ended in a 17-17 draw.
No club wants to finish the first two weeks of action without getting a win under their belt, so Round 2 is expected to be even more intense than the games we saw a week ago. Here are the three games you need to find time for over the course of the weekend:
Munster vs. Racing Metro 92 (Pool 4)
Munster and Racing Metro 92 meet in a game between two undefeated teams in Pool 4. The French side got their campaign off to a good start as they beat Leicester on home soil, while Munster picked up a huge draw on the road at Castres. These are the two teams that most expect to be battling it out for the top spot in the pool, so the winner will have a huge advantage when the competition picks up again later this year.
Racing have lost four in a row on the road in Europe and Munster is never an easy place for visitors to pick up a positive result. This is the record 160th European Cup game for the Irish side, but they will be without fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal who misses the game with a neck injury.
The news at the pivot spot is better for Racing as the legendary Dan Carter is fit again and ready to add his considerable presence to their back line. With Pat Lambie lining up at fullback and Joe Rokocoko on one of the wings, this is a team with the ability to score a lot of points.
Montpellier vs, Exeter Chiefs (Pool 3)
It is hard to argue that Pool 3 is the best of the pools in the competition this year.
Round 2 throws up a very interesting clash in this pool as big-spending Montpellier look to get their Champions Cup campaign on track against the visiting Exeter Chiefs. One of the issues with being in the ‘pool of death’ is that getting off to a bad start creates major headaches in trying to get out of the group. Montpellier is a team loaded with talent, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t yet clicked for the club. Their opening day defeat at Leinster by seven points was far from embarrassing, but it means that they simply have to get a result against Exeter to avoid being cast adrift after only two rounds.
That will not be easy. Exeter just does everything right. The Chiefs took down the (previously) only undefeated side in the major European rugby competitions in Round 1 as they held off Glasgow Warriors at Sandy Park. It was a determined performance where Exeter showed off their fighting spirit after going ten points down in the early going. They cannot afford a repeat of that slow start if they want to get anything from this game against what is sure to be a fired up Montpellier crew.
La Rochelle vs. Ulster (Pool 1)
This Sunday afternoon clash features two sides who got off to winning starts in the competition against Aviva Premiership clubs in Round 1. Ulster opened up their campaign with a battling performance to beat Wasps, while French side La Rochelle had too much class and guile for Harlequins. Now the two meet knowing that whichever walks away with the victory will be in a fantastic position in Pool 1 after the first third of pool play is complete.
Ulster will once again be without Jared Payne through injury, but there is a welcome sight on the bench as Rory Best looks set to see his first significant action of the season after a hamstring strain. In the game against Wasps, it was a couple of moments of magic from Charles Piutau that made the difference and Ulster will be looking for more magic from their Kiwi fullback in this one.
La Rochelle are fourth in the Top 14 at present so you know they are a solid outfit capable of doing some damage in the Champions Cup this season. Ulster will have to watch out for their dangerous French international centre Geoffrey Doumayrou after he picked up a couple of tries in the opener last weekend. Their bonus point victory means La Rochelle have a little more wiggle room than Ulster and they are one of the better defensive French teams right now.
Which second-round clash are you most excited about? Let us know below!
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