The Heineken Cup returns this weekend. But as the pool stages reach their climax, ITV Wales Sports Correspondent Richard Morgan looks at the prospects of our four regions
As we move into the final pair of pool games only two Welsh regions are still in contention to reach the last eight of the Heineken Cup. On Saturday the Scarlets host twice European champions Leicester at their Llanelli home, in one of the weekend’s mouth-watering ties.
Nigel Davies’ men have made great strides this season, currently lying second in the Magners League table but were handed an almighty hammering by the Tigers at Welford Road in October.
Any hopes of avoiding a similar outcome this time will depend on whether they’re able to marry their undoubted ball-in-hand skills with the hard-nosed approach required to nullify the Leicester pack.
Given the way the Tigers brutalised rivals Northampton in the English Premiership last week it won’t be easy.
On Sunday it’s a trip to Reading for the Ospreys, who face struggling London Irish. Every point will be vital in a hotly contested pool 3, so a bonus point would come in handy for Scott Johnson’s men. But given the way they struggled against Saracens in the quarter-finals a few seasons back ensuring the victory will be the first priority.
Provided Toulon see off Munster in the South of France, an Ospreys win would set up a grandstand finale against the Frenchmen at the Liberty Stadium the weekend after next, with qualification very much in their own hands.
It’s really just pride left at stake for the Blues and Dragons. Dai Young’s men host Castres on Friday knowing they face another ordeal by scrum, with the set phase having become their Achilles heel this season.
And you have to feel for the Dragons who have a hot date in Toulouse on Saturday afternoon. Paul Turner’s team have picked up just one point in pool 6 so far.
And Toulouse, the three-times European champions, have been making their usual serene progress through the early games, and will want to rack up the points ahead of the likely decider at Wasps next week. A tough day at the office could be on the cards for Turner’s men.
Talking of hidings to nothing, Gavin Henson’s new side Saracens are at Leinster, where the Irishmen will start as hot favourites. If selected, Gav could end up opposite his old pal Brian O’Driscoll, the man he accused of pulling his hair back in 2005.
Henson will need to pull out all the stops to secure a place in the Wales squad for the Six Nations, which is due to be named in the last week of January.