Irish in Europe: Leinster to coast home and Munster to produce a performance of old

Investec European Champions Cup: Round 3

Munster's Simon Zebo scores his first try during the European Champions Cup, Pool One match at Thomond Park 
Munster's in-form Simon Zebo scores during a European Champions Cup match against Leicester Thomond Park.

There’s a common theme in the middle of a Super Saturday for Irish rugby. With all four provinces in European action tomorrow, they each take on French opposition.

And it’s rather timely too, with Ireland’s Six Nations squad named on Wednesday before an away day to Marseille to face Les Bleus on February’s first Friday.

Leinster v Stade Français (Aviva Stadium, Saturday, kick-off 17:30)

The bookies suggest you can bet your house on Leinster. Stade Français aren’t exactly stacked with internationals, and former Sevens’ player Sekou Macalou is one of a host of big names to be rested.

France's Antoine Dupont, Cameron Woki and Sekou Macalou react after their defeat to South Africa
France’s Antoine Dupont,Cameron Woki and Sekou Macalou react after their defeat to South Africa (Gareth Fuller/PA)

England’s Joe Marchant also plies his trade in the Parisian capital, with his previous two trips to Dublin ended in 14 and 13 point defeats to Andy Farrell’s Ireland. He is another who will play no part however, as 24-year-old Mathieu Hirigoyen captains the side for the first time.

A large part of those Irish victories, James Ryan, will be absent for Leinster, as Garry Ringrose takes the captain’s armband having shared the duty with Ryan in several matches to date.

The return of James Lowe is a timely boost from both a provincial and national standpoint, particularly for Farrell given Mack Hansen’s injury.

James Lowe helped Ireland continue their impressive recent record against Scotland during this year's Six Nations
James Lowe returns from injury in timely fashion ahead of the 2024 Six Nations (Jane Barlow/PA)

Tadhg Furlong also starts, having missed a period time following the passing of his father, while Ciarán Frawley is at 10 in the merry-go-round that is the out-half position at Leinster.

Verdict: Leinster by 45

Lyon Olympique v Connacht (Matmut Stadium de Gerland, Saturday, kick-off 13:00)

A former Leinster man in the form of Andrew Smith is the primary beneficiary as a result of Hansen’s absence, coming in on the wing for only a 6th Connacht appearance.

The Westerners face a daunting trip to Lyon, and they will be encouraged by the fact the hosts are second from bottom in the French Top14. It does seem Pete Wilkins has selected a weakened squad however.

Cian Prendergast, with ball in hand, in the green of Connacht - he's hoping to wear the Ireland variant at the Rugby World Cup.
Cian Prendergast, with ball in hand, just missed out on the Irish Rugby World Cup squad.

Sean Jansen aside, it is an experienced pack, with Cian Prendergast in the reckoning for Ireland based on current form. In the backs, Cathal Forde and Bundee Aki miss out as Tom Farrell partners Tom Daly in the centre, while JJ Hanrahan is at fullback.

A full-strength Connacht team would have more than a decent chance of victory, making team selection rather strange. No win in France comes easy, and inexperience could cost Wilkins, who appears to have treated this fixture as a write-off.

Verdict: Lyon by 16

RC Toulon v Munster (Stade Felix-Mayol, Saturday, kick-off 15:15)

The big news down south is the return of Peter O’Mahony. Kiwi centre Alex Nankivell has recovered from his ankle knock, with his midfield partnership with Irish qualified Antoine Frisch becoming formidable even in an inconsistent Munster side.

Joey Carbery, due to leave at the end of the season, has had a horrid time with injuries ever since he joined the province, but he too has eased Graham Rowntree’s concerns to slot in on the bench.

Peter O’Mahony won his 100th Ireland cap during the World Cup
Peter O’Mahony won his 100th Ireland cap during the World Cup (Adam Davy/PA)

Tom Ahern, one of the more fancied uncapped players that may be in Farrell’s plans, switches back to second-row after an unexpected but sublime spell on the flank. RG Snyman will not return until March, while his Springbok companion Jean Kleyn is out for the season.

Having won three European cups in the early 2010′s, the first of which with England legend Jonny Wilkinson, Toulon have struggled in recent years.

They have had a resurgence of sorts however, one which has them decent favourites for tomorrow’s encounter, and in the league to date they have averaged over 25 points per match.

Jonny Wilkinson, playing for Toulon during the Heineken Cup Final match at Dublin's Aviva Stadium in 2013. Picture by Julien Behal/PA
Jonny Wilkinson, playing for Toulon during the Heineken Cup Final match at Dublin's Aviva Stadium in 2013. Picture by Julien Behal/PA

New Zealand winger Leicester Fainga’anuku and Argentina back-row Facundo Isa are among their ranks, while Baptiste Serin will aim to catch the attention of France boss Fabien Galthié in the knowledge that Antoine Dupont will not be present for the Six Nations.

It does feel that Munster have an old-fashioned Munster performance in them however, one that can defy odds of higher than 2/1 in places.

Verdict: Munster by 8