Leicester v Stade Francais preview: Rugby giants meet in Champions Cup opener
Leicester Tigers host Stade Francais in their European Championship Cup opener on Friday: 19:45 kick-off
Ben Youngs makes his first home appearance since the World Cup
Kiwi Brendon O’Connor will make his Tigers debut
BY OLIVER ROBY
Welford Road plays host to an intriguing clash between two sides who have had varied success during their respective league campaigns this year as Leicester take on Stade Francais.
Leicester have enjoyed a fine start to the new season and sit in the Premiership’s top four having won three of their opening four games, their 100 per cent record only broken last week by Exeter’s 19-6 home triumph.
By contrast, Stade Francais’ title defence has got off to a disastrous start. They have spent the majority of the season so far in the relegation zone and only spared their blushes with a 14-9 home win lat time out.
However, that did come against league leaders Clermont Auvergne, suggesting a long-awaited return to form could be on the horizon, especially with their World Cup stars returning to domestic action.
The last tie between the two clubs came eight years ago where Leicester claimed a narrow 21-20 victory.
The Tigers failed to progress from the group stage of the competition last year, while Stade featured in the Challenge Cup last season before title success in France.
In terms of team news, uncapped Kiwi Brendon O’Connor will make his Leicester debut in the opening game of this season’s European Rugby Champions Cup after starting training with the Tigers last week.
Italy captain Leonardo Ghiraldini returns for the hosts, while England’s Ben Youngs makes his first home appearance since the World Cup.
Marcos Ayerza also makes his first appearance of the season for Leicester after recovering from an injury suffered before Argentina’s bronze medal defeat by South Africa.
For Stade Francais, scrum-half Julien Dupuy returns to his former club, but summer signings Will Genia and Willem Alberts miss out, despite completing their international commitments with Australia and South Africa respectively.
However, the All Pinks have retained a strong travelling squad for the game.
As two domestic title-hopefuls go head to head, an entertaining game is in prospect. While perhaps not high on points, drama is sure to be around in bucket loads between the two European big guns. It will be close, but Stade Francais are beginning to hit form and could take the spoils. Stade Francais by 7.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Leicester Tigers: Brendon O’Connor
Making his debut tonight, he will be keen to impress. The 26-year-old flanker is yet to earn a senior cap for the All Blacks but will be looking to catapult himself into the international game. There are few better stages than the Champions Cup to prove his worth.
Stade Francais: Morne Steyn
A South African icon, Steyn’s return to the Stade Francais has coincided with an upturn in fortunes. A tough year for his team mates so far, but his re-introduction to the side could be crucial if they are to take the spoils away from home and get their European campaign off to the perfect start.
Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait (c), 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Peter Betham, 12 Matt Smith, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Mike Williams, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Jordan Crane, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Seremaia Bai, 23 Telusa Veainu.
Stade Français: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Julien Arias, 13 Paul Williams, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jérémy Sinzelle, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Sylvain Nicolas, 6 Patrick Sio, 5 Pascal Papé, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Adrien Oleon, 2 Laurent Panis, 1 Zak Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Dany Priso, 17 Zurabi Zhvania, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Julien Tomas, 22 Waisea, 23 Josaia Raisuqe.
Date: Friday, November 13
Venue: Welford Road
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Television match official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Timekeeper: Gabriele Villari (Italy)
Assessor: Clive Leeke (England)