After festive famine, January feast begins this weekend

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After the festive famine, the January feast. The Omicron variant ensured slim pickings over Christmas and the New Year but, touch wood, this weekend’s third round of the Champions Cup might even be played out in full.

Halfway through the pool stages, the route to the knock-out stages over the next two weeks has at least been clarified. Albeit there’s been grumblings abound about the way the first two rounds were ‘completed’, with an unusually irate Leo Cullen again expressing Leinster’s discontent at some length over Montpellier being awarded that 28-0 bonus-point win in round two.

Barring further postponements or cancellations, the Irish quartet at least still have their qualification destinies in their own hands if not, in Leinster’s case, the coveted and lucrative home route to the semi-final or even final.

Munster were first in action on Friday night when they played familiar foes Castres in the Stade Pierre Fabre. Next up are Connacht, who on Saturday afternoon seek to boldly go where no Connacht side has gone before by taking a giant leap toward a first appearance in the knock-out stages when hosting Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers at the Sportsground, which will definitely be half-full, rather than half-empty.

Connacht have been overpowered, if less so a month ago, in their last two treks to Welford Road and helpfully for them in this repeat clash of styles the forecast looks good.

Andy Friend has made three changes from the side which beat Munster. Hooker Shane Delahunt and lock Niall Murray are restored while Connacht’s all-time record try scorer Matt Healy makes his first appearance of the season. Paul Boyle is also in line for his first appearance off the bench since November.

“This is a huge game and a huge opportunity for the club, but we’ve been treating this like any other game that we want to win,” said Friend. “We’ve grown as a group even in the last month since we visited Leicester, so now it’s all about executing and playing as well as I know we’re capable of.

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