Fixture pile up forces English clubs to rotate in Champions Cup

Fixture pile up forces English clubs into heavy squad rotation for the second round of the Champions Cup…as the likes of Bristol, Sale and Leicester all rest stars for away clashes this weekend

  • Seven of eight Premiership teams impressively claimed victory in Round One
  • Sale travel to Leinster without George Ford, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Curry
  • Leicester have also opted to take many of their under-studies to Paris on Sunday

​English clubs’ storming start to the Champions Cup season is in danger of faltering this weekend, as the modern-day spectre of squad rotation is set to impact on the second round of pool fixtures.

Round one witnessed a stunning demonstration of how competitive the Premiership challengers can be when at full strength, as seven of the eight teams in the premier cross-border tournament won their opening matches.

However, Bristol, Sale and Leicester have rested a raft of their leading lights for away games on Saturday and Sunday – reflecting the problems of handling a busy schedule with playing resources which are eclipsed by the leading French and Irish sides.

Having beaten Lyon in a thriller at Ashton Gate last weekend, Bristol will take on Bordeaux at Stade Chaban Delmas with a line-up featuring 13 changes. 

England props Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler, along with Steven Luatua, Harry Randall, Callum Sheedy and Virimi Vakatawa, are among those rested but Bordeaux have a dazzling array of firepower, led by France pair Matthieu Jalibert and Damian Penaud. A home win appears certain.

Callum Sheedy (pictured) is among the 13 players who featured in the Bears’ win over Lyon that have been rested for the trip to Bordeaux

Sale’s George Ford (left) is also set to miss out this weekend, alongside his club colleagues Manu Tuilagi and Ben Curry

In Dublin, Sale take on mighty Leinster without many of their pre-eminent players, such as George Ford, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Curry. The Sharks saw off Stade Francais last Sunday but a side featuring a mix of experience and youth will surely struggle against last year’s beaten finalists, who conquered title-holders La Rochelle in France last time.

Leicester also won their opener, against the Stormers from Cape Town, but they too have opted to leave out many key men. England wing Anthony Watson is back from a long-term injury and rookie Red Rose forward George Martin also returns, but the Tigers are sending many of their under-studies to Paris, such as Jamie Shillcock, who will deputise for Handre Pollard at 10. 

Stade subsided tamely in round one but will be a different proposition at home. The main problem is calendar congestion. Bristol, Sale and Leicester all face six-day turn-arounds before switching back into Premiership mode for festive fixtures against Newcastle, Saracens and Exeter.

Dan McKellar and his Leicester side face a daunting six-day turn-arounds before facing Exeter

There are better prospects for the other Premiership teams. Bath are taking their A-listers across to Cardiff and will be expected to win there, after a fine home victory over Ulster to launch their campaign in style.

And Exeter will be buoyed by upsetting Toulon on the Cote d’Azur as they square up to URC champions Munster at Sandy Park.

Saracens were the only English club to lose last weekend — to the Bulls in Pretoria — and they are hell-bent on bouncing back against Connacht.

Harlequins aim to complete a double over Gallic super-teams, by beating Toulouse a week after shocking Racing 92 in Paris.

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