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Testing times for Tigers - Barnes
10 January 2006, 9:31 am
Sky Sports' Stuart Barnes takes a look at this weekend's clashes in the Heineken Cup...
Domestic rivalries take a back seat again as we enter the third and final fortnight of the Heineken Cup Pool Stages.

As ever there are stories brewing everywhere. The pick of the fixtures, on paper, is probably Leicester's Sunday collision with Stade Francais. Should the Tigers lose, they are relying on Stade flopping at home to the Ospreys. That is highly unlikely. Home victory might still need them to win at Clemont Auvergne to qualify as pool winners.

Pat Howard's team face their toughest fortnight of the season so far. Stade finished Dean Richards' team (and probably Richards' illustrious career at Welford Road) when they won here to knock Leicester out two years ago. Expect another fierce match with Leicester looking to play more of the rugby to break the grip of the Stade pack.

Cardiff's home clash with Perpignan is another highlight. Jonah Lomu is taking time - not surprisingly - to find top pace but the crowds have wasted no time catching the legend at first hand. Attendances are soaring wherever he plays.

Financially, the risk is being repaid. Now Lomu and Cardiff need to produce it against the talented, but terrible travellers from Catalonia. A win for Cardiff will set up the final weekend's game against Leeds as one where victory and a quarter final home tie beckons.

Leeds themselves have a fair chance of reaching the last eight. They require a win and bonus point in Calvisano. The Yorkshire men will be buoyed by the boost of the win against Bath. Instead of being adrift at the bottom of the table, they are within two points of Bath and near enough to several other sides to feel confident of another survival campaign.

Bath are falling as fast in England as they are rising in Europe. Brian Ashton has to instil some flair and domestic self-belief in a hurry. Newcastle are not out of the waters yet, nor too Saracens who are flattening out fast, as are Worcester.


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