The 2017/2018 Champions Cup kicks off this weekend and the competition is opening with what should be a thrilling contest as Wasps visit the Kingspan Stadium to take on Ulster.
Both sides are without some pretty important players. Ulster are missing the likes of Rory Best, Marcel Coetzee (who has been ruled out for nine months), Craig Gilroy and Chris Henry. It’s been well documented that Wasps are suffering an injury crisis themselves at the moment but thankfully they can welcome back Jimmy Gopperth and Joe Launchbury for this Pool 1 clash.
It’s bound to be a tightly contested affair and here we take a look at three key match ups which could determine the outcome of this match.
Charles Piutau v Willie Le Roux
Although light rain has been falling throughout the evening at the Kingspan Stadium both of these players will be keen to get on the ball as much as they can, even if they have to contend with a greasy ball.
Wasps will need no reminder of the damage that Piutau can do, much of Dai Young’s side have seen this first hand when Piutau was strutting his stuff for Coventry based outfit. Piutau is in great form and started the move last week which saw Jacob Stockdale touch down for an excellent score.
Le Roux, of course, is dangerous too. How he links up with his back-three parters, Josh Bassett and Christian Wade will be crucial to the Wasps attack.
Jimmy Gopperth v Christian Lealiifano
Territorial kicking could prove crucial in this game, especially if the weather deteriorates throughout the evening. Although both sides will be keen to run the ball, control from the 10 position will prove crucial to the outcome of this game and the respective flyhalves will need to put their stamp on proceedings.
Gopperth was instrumental for Wasps as they marched to the Premiership final last season, his ability to attack the gainline and release flat passes which invite his teammates onto the ball is a huge asset and could be deployed tonight.
Lealiifano on the other hand is already a firm fan favourite with the Kingspan faithful and although he was guilty of an intercept pass against Zebre two weeks ago, overall, he has been a calming presence in the Ulster backline. He will need to use all his experience and class tonight to help guide his team to victory.
Nathan Hughes v Jean Deysel
Billy Vunipola’s injury means that Nathan Hughes is likely to be at the back of the scrum for England in November but the emergence of Sam Simmonds means that Jones will be keep a close eye on Hughes’ performances in big games and tonight he comes up against the bulldozer that is Jean Deysel.
Deysel was a firm fan favourite for Munster last season with his destructive appearances from the bench and since his move up north during the summer, the South African has found a starting place.
Deysel is an abrasive ball-carrier and whoever comes out on top between himself and Hughes will provide some crucial go forward ball for their respective sides.
Ulster v Wasps kicks off at 7.45pm.