Heineken Cup - Round 4
Saints hit by Hartley absence
ESPN Staff
December 13, 2012
Clermont Auvergne winger Napolioni Nalaga takes on the Leinster defence, Clermont Auvergne v Leinster, Heineken Cup, Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand, France, December 9, 2012
Clermont Auvergne took control of Pool 5 with victory over Leinster last week © Getty Images
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Tournaments/Tours: Heineken Cup

The race for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup is hitting a crucial period following some significant results in round three. And ahead of the weekend's action, ESPNscrum provides a run-down of all the team news.

Pool 1

Saracens will look to regain control of Pool 1 when they host Munster at Vicarage Road on Sunday following their 15-9 defeat to the Irish Province at Thomond Park last weekend. Owen Farrell's late penalty ensured the Aviva Premiership side retained top spot in the pool but Munster are now level on points with them while Racing Metro are hot of their heels. Farrell starts af fly-half for Saracens with Charlie Hodgson the bench while Joel Tomkins, David Strettle and George Kruis all come into the side. Munster make a solitary change to their starting XV with Casey Laulala replacing the injured Keith Earls in midfield.

Racing Metro travel to Scotland for their re-match with Edinburgh following the Parisian's 19-9 victory at home last weekend. Juan Martin Hernandez and Fabrice Estebanez drop to the bench for Racing while winger Sireli Bobo and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski are among those returning to the starting XV. The French side must claim a victory, and preferably a bonus point, if they are to continue their challenge for a last-eight place while Edinburgh will hope to pick up their first points of a woeful Heineken Cup campaign so far. They make a host of changes with Greig Tonks the only back to stay in the side and Netani Talei and Robert McAlpine coming into the forwards. Scotland centre Ben Cairns makes his return after 15 months out with a knee injury while Greig Laidlaw and the injured Tim Visser are among those left out.

Pool 2

Toulouse travel to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday to face the Ospreys with their 100 per cent record in Pool 2 still intact. The European Cup giants have secured three wins from three so far and picked up their first bonus point of the campaign against the Ospreys last time out with a 30-14 victory. And they are boosted by the return of skipper Thierry Dusautoir, who replaces Yannick Nyanga at openside flanker. Jean-Marc Doussain replaces the injured Luke McAlister at fly-half while teenage sensation Gael Fickou also starts, in place of the injured Florian Fritz. Richard Hibbard returns to the Ospreys starting line-up after recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered playing for Wales against Samoa, while fellow Welsh international Adam Jones is named on the bench.

Leicester, second in Pool 2 and three points behind Toulouse, face Treviso in Italy. The Tigers were far from convincing in their 33-25 triumph over the Italian side on Sunday and director of rugby Richard Cockerill will be demanding a far more decisive victory, along with a bonus point, on Saturday. Leicester make six changes with Anthony Allen returning to the centres, Niall Morris and Adam Thompstone back on the wings and Dan Cole, Louis Deacon and Brett Deacon all recalled in the forwards. Treviso name a strong line-up with Christian Loamanu and Alberto Sgarbi coming into the centre positions and Alberto Di Bernardo, Alessandro Zanni, Cornelius van Zyl, Francesco Minto, Lorenzo Cittadini, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Michele Rizzo all starting.

Pool 3

Harlequins' 57-14 triumph over Zebre on Saturday ensured they maintained their control of Pool 3 and a second meeting with the Italian side this weekend - this time at the Stoop - should yield another bonus-point win for Conor O'Shea's side. That would put them on the brink of qualification for the last eight, or put them through depending on results elsewhere. England skipper Chris Robshaw returns to lead Quins' push for the quarter-finals with Ugo Monye also back in the starting line-up and Jordan Turner-Hall appears on the bench. Zebre make eight changes, including Australian Daniel Halangahu partnering Samuele Pace in midfield and Filippo Ferrarini taking over from Mauro Bergamasco at openside flanker.

Biarritz host Connacht on Friday with the ailing French side already on their last legs in this year's competition. Defeat in Ireland last weekend led to the sacking of coaches Jack Isaac and Serge Mihas, and the French side will want revenge against Connacht, who need a victory to retain any hope of overhauling Quins at the top of Pool 3. No.8 Imanol Harinodoquy returns to captain the French side with Damien Traille, Julien Peyrelongue, Jean-Pascal Barraque and Pelu Taele also returning to the starting XV. Connacht make just one change to their starting XV as Johnny O'Connor replaces Willie Faloon in the back-row.

Pool 4

Ulster host Northampton Saints at Ravenhill in the late kick off on Saturday as they look to consolidate their advantage in Pool 4. The Irish province's impressive victory over the Saints last Friday opened up a six-point lead and threw Northampton's pursuit of a last-eight place into crisis. Saints' hopes of overturning the odds are not aided by the absence of skipper Dylan Hartley after he was suspended for two matches for striking opposite number Rory Best last week. Northampton make six changes in total, including Stephen Myler and Lee Dickson starting at half back. Ulster are without injured skipper Johann Muller so Chris Henry takes over as skipper and Nick Williams moves into the back-row. Andrew Trimble makes his 50th Heineken Cup appearance.

Castres, second in the pool, can keep up their chase of Ulster with a home victory over Glasgow, whom they edged past 9-6 last Friday. Glasgow will be hoping to add to their solitary point in the pool stages so far. They hand former Crusaders star Sean Maitland the fullback jersey as one of nine changes, which also sees Ruaridh Jackson recalled at fly-half. Castres make a host of changes with just Marcel Garvey and Remy Lamerat retaining their places in the backline and Mathieu Bonello, Jannie Bornman and Matthias Rolland the only sources of continuity in the pack.

Pool 5

Leinster host Clermont Auvergne at Lansdowne Road on Saturday in potentially the most significant clash of the Heineken Cup so far this season. The reigning champions' defeat in Clermont-Ferrand last weekend means they will not only seeking revenge but also requiring victory in Dublin, if they are to keep pace with their Pool 5 rivals. They make four changes with Heinke van der Merwe - back from injury - and Richardt Strauss coming into the front row, Shane Jennings starting on the flank and Eoin Reddan replacing Issac Boss at scrum-half. Brock James will have a late fitness test to see if he will line up for Clermont at fly-half with David Skrela on standby. Julien Bardy and Raphael Chaume both start in the pack in place of Alexandre Lapandry and Vincent Debaty.

Elsewhere in the pool, Exeter Chiefs host the Scarlets after their 22-16 victory over the Welsh region last time out. The Scarlets will have to overcome the crushing loss of fly-half Rhys Priestland if they are to add to the two bonus points they have garnered from their three defeats in the competition so far. Exeter make six changes with Aly Muldowney, James Hanks and Dean Mumm coming into the pack and Ian Whitten, Jack Nowell and Phil Dollman gracing the backline. The Scarlets welcome back Wales international George North but are without the injured Priestland, whose place is taken by fly-half Aled Thomas. Among their other changes South African George Earle moves to the back-row in place of the injured Aaron Shingler.

Pool 6

Toulon are sitting pretty at the summit of Pool 6 following their win over Sale Sharks at the Salford City Stadium. And a follow up win in France would put the Top 14 leaders on the brink of the quarter-finals. With such a dominant position Toulon rest Jonny Wilkinson, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Carl Hayman, Andrew Sheridan and Mathieu Bastareaud with Maxime Mermoz, Joe Van Niekerk, Nick Kennedy and Gethin Jenkins among those brought into the starting line-up. For Sale it remains a question of building confidence for other causes, namely their Aviva Premiership survival struggle. Danny Cipriani retains the No.10 shirt with Rob Miller named at left wing and Mark Cueto moving to outside centre.

Second-place Montpellier can keep the pressure on Toulon by repeating last weekend's win over Cardiff Blues - this time at home in the Stade Yves-du-Manoir. Cardiff are at the bottom of Pool 6 with one point and many problems ahead of Saturday's clash. But they are boosted by the return of skipper Sam Warburton, who has overcome a chest infection. This means Josh Navidi moves to blindside and Robin Copeland drops down to the bench. Four further changes for Cardiff see a brand new front row of Benoit Bourrust, Rhys Williams and Taufa'ao Filise and Lewis Jones replacing the suspended Lloyd Williams at scrum-half.

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