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Guinness Six Nations try-outs on show this weekend

Guinness Six Nations try-outs on show this weekend

England teammates Danny Care and Ben Youngs will go head to head this weekend (Inpho)

With back-to-back European weekends now a distant past, all eyes turn to the Gallagher Premiership, Guinness Pro14, and Top 14 as all sides look to enter the Christmas period on the front foot.

With back-to-back European weekends now a distant past, all eyes turn to the Gallagher Premiership, Guinness Pro14, and Top 14 as all sides look to enter the Christmas period on the front foot.

It is festive derby day in the Guinness Pro14 with all Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian sides facing off against their fellow countrymen.

While in the Gallagher Premiership, first play second as Saracens travel to Exeter Chiefs, with the north-Londoners looking to extend their unbeaten run to 23 top-flight matches.

Across the channel, the Top 14 provides another top-of-the-table clash, with leaders Clermont Auvergne taking on a rejuvenated Toulouse side.

With the Guinness Six Nations coaches beginning to put the finishing touches to their pre-tournament training squads, this could be the last chance for some of the possibles to throw their hat in the ring, or for the probables to cement their spot.

There are some tasty head-to-head battles happening across Europe this weekend. Here’s a look at some of the standouts.

A GIANT CONTEST

Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors lock horns at BT Murrayfield on Saturday as part of the Scottish rivals’ annual 1872 Cup competition.

But all the pressure will be on Glasgow; Edinburgh are the holders after two home victories in last season’s three matches and have won five of their last seven meetings.

There will be four international second-rows on show with Glasgow’s Tim Swinson and Jonny Gray attempting to establish dominance over Edinburgh’s impressive Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis.

After injury slowed his start to the domestic season – Swinson did not feature in Scotland’s autumn campaign, with coach Gregor Townsend instead selecting the Edinburgh duo to join Gray in his squad.

But Gray and Swinson will need to be at their imperious best to halt in-form Edinburgh’s source of possession. Toolis has won the second-highest total of lineouts in the Pro14 this season, and is joint fourth – with teammate Gilchrist – in the Champions Cup.

But Gray has had an impressive season of his own. He has made 80 tackles in the Champions Cup, 14 more than the next best, and has won the third-most lineouts.

INSIDE NO.9

Struggling Leicester Tigers opted to rest England scrum-half Ben Youngs for their crucial fixtures against Racing 92 in the Champions Cup.

But Youngs, who is expected to be recalled this weekend for the visit of Harlequins, will be looking to stamp his authority when he faces his England rival, Danny Care.

Care was dropped by Eddie Jones this autumn following his lacklustre performance in England’s less-than-comfortable victory over Japan, but inspiring his side to victory against Youngs’ Leicester at Welford Road would be the perfect response to his England disappointment.

Both scrum-halves are famed for their agile evasion with ball in hand, and whoever can seize their opportunity on Saturday will buoy their side’s chances of escaping an ever-tightening relegation battle and give Jones a timely reminder of their talents.

SCRUM TIME

Ben Moon was England’s discovery of the autumn series, his hard-nosed displays captured the hearts of pundits and fans alike.

Despite his impressive performances in an England shirt, he knows that he has his work cut out to stop the rampaging Mako Vunipola from regaining the No.1 jersey for the Guinness Six Nations campaign.

Two-time British & Irish Lion Vunipola returned from injury that ruled him out of the autumn with a man-of-the-match effort against the Cardiff Blues two weeks ago.

And the loosehead will be looking to prove to Eddie Jones that Moon was simply keeping his jersey warm throughout November.

BACK-ROW BATTLE

Wasps are expecting more than 30,000 people to pack into the Ricoh Arena when they host Bath on Sunday.

And with Brad Shields expected to return from injury, his battle with fellow England flanker Sam Underhill will be worth the admission fee alone.

Shield started at blindside in three of England’s four Autumn Internationals, with Underhill accompanying him on the flank in two of those fixtures.

But friendship will have to be put to one side on Sunday, with both teams hoping to get back to winning ways after consecutive defeats in the Champions Cup.

Underhill has proven himself as a ferocious defender who competes heavily at the breakdown, while the more languid Shields is an adept lineout operator who appears to be growing game by game into his Wasps career.

TOP 14 TUSSLES

Over in France, there will be another top-of-the-table clash as leaders Clermont Auvergne welcome Toulouse to the Stade Marcel-Michelin.

And it will see a true Guinness Six Nations head-to-head with Antoine Dupont, who starred for Toulouse in last weekend’s victory over Wasps, coming up against Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw. Dupont came off the bench in all three of France’s autumn clashes so there is a good chance that he will be facing off against Laidlaw for his country.

Laidlaw has been at the forefront of a majestic Clermont campaign. So far this season they have only lost two matches across all competitions.

But Laidlaw, whose strengths lie in his kicking and game management, will need to be on high alert to the sniping threat that Dupont poses.

But even if Laidlaw is rested by Clermont, then there will be another subplot that will interest France Head coach Jacques Brunel. Morgan Parra will be most likely to fill Laidlaw’s boots, creating an unofficial trial for the France scrum-half jersey for the Six Nations.