We look ahead to Sunday’s Champions Cup round-of-16 ties, as Racing 92 welcome Edinburgh, Bordeaux-Begles host Bristol Bears and Scarlets face Sale Sharks…
Racing 92 v Edinburgh (12.30pm)
Richard Cockerill believes starting Blair Kinghorn in Edinburgh’s number 10 jersey is “worth the risk” as he prepares to roll the dice on the Scotland full-back guiding his team past Racing 92.
Injury means regular stand-off Jaco van der Walt is only fit enough for a place on the bench as the capital club face off against the French giants in Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup last-16 clash at the Paris La Defense Arena.
Cockerill has decided to put his faith in Kinghorn to spearhead Edinburgh’s attack even though he admits the 24-year-old has barely played the position since his schoolboy days.
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“We’ve picked what is pretty much our best XV available,” said Cockerill, who has recalled his seven Scotland stars who featured in last week’s thrilling win over France in Paris. “The headline is probably Blair at 10, which I thought was the best selection for this week going to Paris to really take the game to Racing.
“He’s played tiny bits at 10 since I’ve been here but probably not since his school days.
“But ball in hand he’s a threat, he’s very off-the-cuff and creates opportunities because he’s naturally instinctive and very quick.
“Obviously the game control side is lacking a bit because it’s not his natural position. But I thought it was the right decision for this week all things considered. It’s a bold selection but one that’s very much worth the risk.”
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Racing have also been forced into a change at stand-off, with Kinghorn’s international team-mate Finn Russell banned after being sent off in that historic Stade de France victory last week.
Antoine Gibert will instead take the reins for last year’s beaten finalists and Cockerill is relieved.
“Finn is a wonderful player, one of the best in the world,” he said. “I’m happy he’s not playing because he makes them tick and can create something from nothing.
“They are still a very good side though and will be a huge threat to us or any team. Without Finn they do, though, have that little bit less of an X-factor and that’s going to be helpful.”
Racing 92: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Henry Chavancy (c), 11 Louis Dupichot, 10 Antoine Gibert, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 1 Eddy Ben Arous, 2 Camille Chat, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 6 Ibrahim Diallo, 7 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 8 Jordan Joseph.
Replacements: 16 Teddy Baubigny, 17 Guram Gogichashvili, 18 Ali Oz, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Boris Palu, 21 Teddy Iribaren, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Simon Zebo.
Edinburgh Rugby: 15 Damien Hoyland, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 James Johnstone, 12 George Taylor, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 1 Pierre Schoeman, 2 David Cherry, 3 WP Nel, 4 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Grant Gilchrist (c), 6 Jamie Ritchie, 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Viliame Mata.
Replacements: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Mesulame Kunavula, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Mark Bennett.
Bordeaux-Begles vs Bristol Bears (3pm)
Runaway Premiership leaders Bristol visit Bordeaux-Begles in what will be a blockbuster European tie, with memories fresh of a thrilling Challenge Cup semi-final between the sides last season that Bristol won after extra time.
Charles Piutau returns to the starting line-up as the Bears now set their sights on this year’s Champions Cup quarter-finals.
Pat Lam has made six changes in total for the Stade Chaban-Delmas clash, as Alapati Leiua comes into the midfield while Callum Sheedy skippers the side in the enforced absence of Steven Luatua.
“We know the challenge we face away – it’s always tough away in France, but certainly at Bordeaux,” Lam said.
“We know the type of team that they are and how dangerous they are – although we beat them in the Challenge Cup last season, we went to extra time for that, and they know what we bring as well. It’s Champions Cup football.”
Bordeaux-Begles: 15 Romain Buros, 14 Yoram Falatea-Moefana, 13 Pablo Uberti, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Maxime Lucu, 1 Jefferson Poirot (c), 2 Clement Maynadier, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 4 Cyril Cazeaux, 5 Jandré Marais, 6 Cameron Woki, 7 Guido Petti, 8 Scott Higginbotham.
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Thierry Paiva, 18 Lekso Kaulashvili, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Alexandre Roumat, 21 Yann Lesgourgues, 22 Ulupano Seuteni, 23 Nans Ducuing.
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Callum Sheedy (c), 9 Andy Uren, 1 Yann Thomas, 2 Bryan Byrne, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Dave Attwood, 5 Joe Joyce, 6 Chris Vui, 7 Daniel Thomas, 8 Nathan Hughes.
Replacements: 16 Will Capon, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 John Afoa, 19 Ed Holmes, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Sam Bedlow, 23 Piers O’Conor.
Scarlets vs Sale Sharks (5.30pm)
Sale will target a first quarter-final appearance for 15 years when they tackle a Scarlets team in Llanelli boosted by returning Wales’ Six Nations winners Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, Gareth Davies and Ken Owens.
Sharks boss Alex Sanderson has made six changes to his starting XV ahead of the trip to Llanelli; internationals Tom Curry and Faf de Klerk return, while second rower Josh Beaumont captains in the absence of Jono Ross.
“We’re going down there with a purpose; we’re going down to do a job and that job is to qualify for the next round of the competition,” Sanderson said.
“Sale haven’t been this far in the Heineken Cup for 15 years so it’s new territory for these boys, but we’ve got some big game players and they know how to step it up in terms of their intensity and physicality, whilst keeping their composure.
“It’s the closest you get to international rugby, so it’s brilliant for the club and for the north of England. We’re taking the north to Europe.”
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ken Owens (c), 3 Pieter Scholtz, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Sam Lousi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 Jac Morgan, 8 Sione Kalamafoni.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Steffan Thomas, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Dane Blacker, 22 Sam Costelow, 23 Jonathan Davies.
Sale Sharks: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Byron McGuigan, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 1 Bevan Rodd, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 3 Willgriff John, 4 Jacobus Wiese, 5 Josh Beaumont (c), 6 Jean-Luc du Preez, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Dan du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Josh Beaumont, 20 Cameron Neild, 21 Raphael Quirke, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Luke James.
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