Dan Carter's Heineken Cup debut will have to wait for another weekend after he was not released from international duty in time to take on Leicester with new club Perpignan. The All Black is rumoured to be on a 34,000-a-match (Dh159,000) contract to play in France, but will only be able to watch from the stands as Perpignan bid to close the gap on Pool Three leaders Leicester.
Tigers boss Heyneke Meyer admitted the 26-year-old fly-half's absence would be a major boost as they bid to maintain their 100 per cent record in this year's tournament. "His absence will lift spirits but for me it's more about focusing on our own team," he said. "If we get that right, we're good enough to beat any side." The resumption of the tournament just a week after the November internationals has taken its toll on a host of sides. Fellow Pool Three side the Ospreys are missing lock Ian Evans and prop Duncan Jones following injuries picked up on international duty.
The Ospreys are in the midst of an injury crisis with Gavin Henson, Mike Phillips, Jonathan Thomas and Huw Bennett already ruled out but should still be strong enough to comfortably beat Treviso. Also missing star names are Leinster as they bid to continue their storming run in the competition to date against Castres. The Irish side boast a maximum ten points from their two games but are without influential trio Felipe Contempomi, Gordon D'Arcy and Isa Nacewa for the French side's visit.
The Leinster coach Michael Chelka said ahead of the Pool Two match: "Those are big losses but we've got the calibre of players to come in and do the job." Arguably the pick of the weekend's matches, however, is Harlequins' visit to Stade Francais, with more than 70,000 fans expected at the Stade de France. Quins and Stade have had mirror starts to the tournament in Pool Four. Both have two wins and nine points from their opening two encounters and today's game, plus the return leg at The Stoop in a week's time, will decide the outcome of the pool.
On paper, Quins look outnumbered by Stade's star-studded line-up, which includes the Argentina fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez and Italy number eight Sergio Parisse, but Stade's Australian coach Ewan McKenzie admitted he was wary of Quins' team bond under coach Dean Richards. "Deano's already started the mind games by saying we are the best team in France and talking of Quins as underdogs," he said.
"Quins have got an immense attitude. You only have to look at the Scarlets game when they were 19-0 and still came back to win to see that. They're the complete team." In today's two remaining games, Toulouse host Newport-Gwent Dragons while Gloucester travel to Calvisano. Toulouse look on course to maintain their stranglehold on Pool Five despite the absence of scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde with a broken finger. And Gloucester, who will have All Black Greg Somerville watching from the sidelines after joining the club officially this week, should make light work of their Italian hosts.
On Sunday, Bath take on Glasgow with captain Michael Lipman available after escaping a ban for an alleged stamping incident on international duty last weekend against New Zealand. The final game of the weekend sees defending champions Munster travel to Clermont Auvergne. Again the Irish province are without back-row forward Denis Leamy with his on-going knee injury, while Rua Tipoki and Jerry Flannery are both missing.