What to watch out for in domestic rugby this weekend

Finn Russell 31/10/2020
With the Autumn Nations Series just around the corner, scores of international stars will be determined to put in one last big shift for their domestic sides.

With the Autumn Nations Series just around the corner, scores of international stars will be determined to put in one last big shift for their domestic sides.

Scotland welcome Australia on Saturday evening, but 11 Scottish regulars will be missing as they take to the field for their clubs, including former captain Stuart Hogg.

Top two face off in Premiership

Hogg will be wearing the captain’s armband for Exeter Chiefs tonight, as he lines up against fellow Scot and Gloucester fly-half Adam Hastings.

Flying Welsh winger Louis Rees-Zammit and England international Lewis Ludlow also feature for the Cherry & Whites as they look to leapfrog Sale Sharks with a win.

That depends on the Sharks losing to Premiership leaders Saracens, who are looking imperious at the start of this season and have a frightening group of Guinness Six Nations stars at their disposal.

Captain Ben Earl, Alex Lozowski, Alex Goode and Elliot Daly boast 90 England caps between them and Nick Tompkins has been selected in Wayne Pivac’s Autumn Nations Series squad.

Elsewhere in the English top flight, England Under-20 fly-half Fin Smith is due to make his debut for Northampton Saints for their match against Bristol Bears.

The former Worcester youngster will be paired with one-time England international Alex Mitchell on a mission to climb into the top three with their fourth win of the season.

The Harlequins trio of Joe Marchant, Danny Care and Joe Marler will all be eager to impress after being left out of Eddie Jones’ squad, with the returning Alex Dombrandt has an opportunity to get minutes in his legs.

Russell ready to respond

Over in France, it will be interesting to see how Finn Russell continues to respond to his omission from Gregor Townsend’s squad.

His club side Racing 92 were reportedly shocked to hear the fly-half was dropped and the Scot replied by bagging 18 points in their win over Top 14 champions Montpellier last Saturday.

This weekend, Racing travel to strugglers Brive, hoping to back up the impressive 38-31 win that included Paul Willemse and Paolo Garbisi.

Montpellier haven’t yet hit their stride this season, with three wins and five defeats underlining a marked inconsistency, but a win over second-place Stade Francais could go some way to making amends.

Meanwhile, leaders Toulouse travel to ninth-place Bayonne with French internationals Antoine Dupont, Thomas Ramos and Anthony Jelonch spearheading a highly credible title charge.

Toulouse already hold a nine-point lead over the chasing pack and any slip ups from Stade Francais or Gregory Alldritt’s La Rochelle could be extremely costly.

Chances abound for youth in URC

In the United Rugby Championship, Scarlets will be without Ryan Elias, Sam Costelow, Kieran Hardy and Ken Owens who are all called up by Pivac.

They face leaders Leinster who are likewise without a raft of Ireland internationals including half-back pairing Johnny Sexton and Jamison Gibson-Park.

It will be intriguing to see how the 2021 champions fare without their experienced pack as stars Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Dan Sheehan and Josh van der Flier are all missing.

On the replacements bench, Radgh McElroy, Charlie Tector and Ben Brownlee could all make their debuts.

Also travelling to Wales are Edinburgh Rugby, who make three changes from their win over Zebre.

The Scots have 14 players on international duty, while Cardiff will be missing Dillon Lewis, Taulupe Faletau, Tomos Williams, Rhys Priestland and Josh Adams.

In their place Lloyd Williams and Jarrod Evans return as the half-back pairing, with ex-Wales scrum-half Williams set to make his first start of the season.

A lot is on the line for the match in the Welsh capital, with the sides separated by just a point in fourth and fifth.

Up in second, Ulster hooker John Andrew is set to bring up a century of appearances for the province when they visit Munster for a mouth-watering clash.

Ireland and Lions legend Paul O’Connell will have an added interest in the match, with his 18-year-old nephew Evan a potential debutant from the replacements bench.