Leinster Well-Placed to Make Progress in the Champions Cup
Leinster will continue their quest to make progress in the 2034/24 Champions Cup when they host Stade Francais in their next group stage game on January 13.
Victories over La Rochelle and Sale have put the Republic of Ireland team in pole position to qualify for the knockout phase, but there is still work to be done.
Stade Francais ran Leicester Tigers close in their most recent outing in this competition and it would be foolish to underestimate their chances of upsetting the odds against Leinster.
Online bookmakers have no doubt that Leinster will feature in the latter stages of the competition, rating them as 15/8 favourites to lift the prestigious trophy.
Several of the best betting sites in Ireland are still offering odds of 2/1, which will likely disappear if Leinster claim an impressive win against the French side.
While they are odds-on to emerge victorious, it is worth noting they had the same status in their United Rugby Championship match against Ulster on New Year’s Day.
However, a slow start allowed Ulster to take control of the game and Leinster failed to claw back the deficit. The 22-21 defeat ended a nine-game unbeaten run and left head coach Leo Cullen extremely frustrated.
“It’s this time of year – it’s hard to construct play,” Cullen said. “We start, get our noses in front in the other two games in similar conditions – away in La Rochelle and away in Munster.
“Ulster came with a plan, got their noses in front and the penalty at the start of the second-half just puts them three points in front and we’re chasing the game. As the conditions deteriorate, it just gets harder and harder.
“When we won those tight games, we’ve been the beneficiaries of that. Ulster, you could see they’re motivated and you’ve got to give them a lot of credit.
“We were not able to reel them in unfortunately. A bit of that’s execution – individually and collectively we need to be able to execute better.”
Minor injuries to Jimmy O’Brien and James Ryan ahead of the game did not help Leinster’s cause, but the pair will be in contention to start against Stade Francais.
Leinster should comfortably make it through to the last-16, while Ulster and Munster could complete a trio of Irish teams at that stage of the competition.
Ulster will take plenty of heart from their recent victory over Leinster, but face a tricky test against Toulouse in their next Champions Cup match.
The French side have trounced Cardiff Rugby and Harlequins in their first two matches and will expect to make it a hat-trick of victories against Ulster.
Munster remain in contention in their group after two matches, although upcoming games against Toulon and Northampton Saints will not be easy.
Connacht are Ireland’s fourth representatives in the Champions Cup, but are unlikely to progress to the last-16 after defeats against Bordeaux Begles and Saracens.
The remaining two rounds of group stage games are scheduled to be completed in January, while the last-16 ties will be played in early April.
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