Date: Sunday 23rd of January
Venue: Stade Aimé Giral
Perpignan’s draw away at Leicester has proved to be invaluable. The Tigers are likely to record a bonus point victory at home against Treviso, but if Perpignan can match that against the Scarlets and finish level on points with Leicester, they will go through as group winners due to their head to head record against the Tigers in this year’s pool. French sides have been regularly accused for as long as the Heineken Cup has existed of playing poorly away from home, but that result at Welford Road was a sign from Perpignan that they are capable of winning the big games away from the fortress of the Stade Aimé Giral.
The most entertaining side in this year’s tournament? Perhaps so, and if only the Scarlets had as good a pack as they do brilliant backs then they would certainly be contenders for the last four. The loss to Leicester last weekend showed how the best sides in this competition are the ones who achieve that level of balance between raw power and attractive flair, and in all honesty the Scarlets simply couldn’t handle Leicester’s edge at the scrum and around the mauls and rucks. That being said, in what might be a very open game against Perpignan given the conditions and the way they home side like to throw the ball around, the Scarlets are as good as any at playing off the cuff, and a victory here is not an impossibility.
What to expect:
The clash between these two in Round 1 was arguably the best game of the tournament so far. The quality of the tries from both sides, especially Rhys Priestland’s wonder score for the Scarlets, was exceptional. Perhaps the supporters from both sides might not want the game to quite so open as it was at Parc y Scarlets, but for the neutral this is what the Heineken Cup is all about. Both sides depending on mathematics can still qualify for the next stage of the competition. Expect a belter.
All Eyes On:
The main man for me on the home side is the full-back Jérôme Porical. Perpignan’s goal-kicker has been very consistent with boot throughout the whole tournament, but also has a wonderful turn of pace. He was called into the French national team during the Autumn Internationals and although he was part of the dismal performace against Australia he was one of the few players to emerge with any credit to their name. He has already racked up 56 points in this year’s competition, scoring two tries, including a scorcher against Leicester. Look out for him on Sunday.
As for the Scarlets, one of their standout performers from recent weeks has been openside Josh Turnbull. Just 22, the flanker has got a surprising amount of gas for a back-row forward, and he rose to the challenge at the breakdown last week against Leicester. A big performance in tough conditions away at Perpignan could be just what he needs in order to push himself into contention for the Wales team against England in two weeks time. He’ll have a tough afternoon up against the home side’s back-row, including the niggling Jean-Pierre Perez as his opposite man, and it will be interesting to see how he gets on.
Head to head:
The key duel in Sunday’s game should be between two big number eights in Henry Tuilagi and David Lyons. Both expert ball carriers and heavy hitters, this is without doubt one of those encounters where the earth will shake. Lyons continues to play at a consistently excellent level despite his advancing years, whilst Tuilagi is passionately adored by the USAP fans and has flourished in his time there since his move from Leicester four years ago.
Last Result: –
Weather: Sunny, with a tropical high of 6 degrees.
The Scarlets may have been the great entertainers of this year’s tournament, but a bonus point win away at Perpignan appears too great a challenge as their side continues to develop. Can Perpignan score four tries against the Welsh side at home and guarantee their progression to the quarter-finals? Absolutely. Perpignan by 10.