Key storylines ahead of the weekend

Date published: January 6 2017

Munster's emotional return to Paris and the end of a rocky week for Leicester Tigers are top of the agenda this weekend.

Here are the major narratives to keep track of over the coming days.

1) Remembering Anthony Foley as Munster aim to go top against Racing

This season will forever be defined by Foley's death and the impact he had on Munster, whatever happens, and the emotional impact his passing has had on Munster has been obvious in their performances. In the ten matches since that fateful Sunday, Munster have won nine, including a friendly against the Maori All Blacks, with the only defeat being away against Leicester at Welford Road.

Death, grief, and how it all effects the minds and bodies of players on any given matchday is so tough to predict. But the loss of Foley has clearly galvanised Munster's recent results and when you factor the emotion of Saturday's game into the equation, along with Racing's weakened XV and the chance for Munster to go to of Pool 1, then this might turn out to be their finest performance of the season.

Yes, Racing are far from walkovers at home, with six wins out of seven in the European pool stages, but their interest in a competition they reached the final of last season already looks long gone. Expect the Munster core from six to ten – Peter O'Mahony, Tommy O'Donnell, CJ Stander, Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal – to deliver. 

One more thing; Racing's supporters have been quite magnificent this week. They have opened their doors to travelling Munster fans and will form a guard of honour for the players when they arrive at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir, and there will also be two banners saying 'Axel' and 'Red Army welcome back' along with a minute's applause ahead of kick-off. Now that is the true spirit of the game.

2) The beginning of the Aaron Mauger era in Coventry

There could not be a worse fixture for Leicester this week of all weeks – getting on the bus to Coventry to take on a rampant Wasps side in front of 25,000 fans. Wasps have won five out of their last six in all competitions and have scored 30 points or more in four of those matches. Not having the league's tightest defence doesn't matter as much when you can outscore your opponent on a regular basis. 

Leicester meanwhile are not used to their boss being sacked in the middle of the season but all the noises coming out of Welford Road suggest that Richard Cockerill's departure has been on the cards for some time. The idea of two very different coach philosophies blending together worked in theory alone. 

What is interesting is that there is no guarantee Mauger will be in place either come the end of the season. For that to happen Leicester must make the top four and start chipping away at the top sides, making matches such as Sunday's of huge importance. To put it nicely, Leicester's backline looks patched together given their injuries.

3) James Haskell's timely return for club and country

The verdict will drop on Monday after Chris Robshaw has seen a specialist, but his ongoing shoulder injury which was described as merely a precaution before the Big Game 9 has now turned into an issue that will either require rest of surgery. England's first Six Nations game is less than a month away.

Which is why the return of James Haskell seems like perfect timing. Haskell will start on the bench for Wasps against Leicester having overcome the foot problem which forced him to miss the first four months of the new season. He now has enough time, barring any setbacks, to get up to speed in preparation for France, in the process fulfilling a potential hole in England's six shirt if Robshaw doesn't make it.

4) La Rochelle's bid to hit the summit

With Clermont facing a test at home against Toulon, the door is ajar for La Rochelle to do the unthinkable and move into first place in the Top 14 this weekend if they can overcome Castres, ideally with a bonus-point win. 

Gabriel Lacroix has played a huge part in that run to the top. The 23-year-old, 171cm wing is the league's top scorer with ten tries, and whether it's Brock James or Zack Holmes, heading for Toulouse next season, who are knocking over the points, La Rochelle are putting up big scorelines.

The twist? No other team in the league has conceded fewer points. Patrice Collazo and his squad might be overachieving, but they also keep on delivering.

5) Sam Davies chance at fly-half

Connacht's injury woe makes the Ospreys big favourites to win on Saturday, not to mention that the Ospreys have only dropped a single point all season at home in the PRO12. And for the first time in a month, Davies gets a chance to start at fly-half for the first time in a month, having spent the last four matches either on the bench or starting at full-back.

Davies breakthrough in the November Tests with Wales, when he should have been given more minutes, and the fact that he is fighting it out just to start with Biggar in Swansea all mean that a move away from the region would make sense come the end of the season. This weekend is another chance to impress.


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