Sport Ospreys v Racing 92 Heineken Champions Cup team news as Rhys Webb returns and French aces name superstar backline
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Rhys Webb returns to lead the Ospreys against Racing 92 in the Heineken Champions Cup clash on Saturday (3.15pm) that the Welsh team’s head coach Toby Booth has styled as ‘battle of the budgets’.
While the Welsh regions have well-documented financial challenges, among them paying off the £20million loan the Welsh Rugby Union took out last year amid the pandemic, their French opponents this weekend have particularly deep pockets.
Their billionaire owner Jacky Lorenzetti is one of the richest men in world rugby.
But the Ospreys are looking forward to the clash in Swansea.
“It is the battle of the budgets,” said Booth. “Sometimes, teams that travel from France are not always their strongest, but this is going to be as good as they have got. From last week’s selection they are fit and we are expecting the best team possible.
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“We have got what we have got, with a lot of young players and this is a learning and challenging opportunity for our youngsters. We will be better for it, win, lose or draw.”
Booth’s team came unstuck 38-19 to Glasgow Warriors in the United Rugby Championship last weekend and the head coach continued: “There are parts of our game that are improving and parts of our game need to improve.
“This weekend we’ll be tested against the very best — a budget in the late 20 million euros, I’m told. That’s going to be very, very challenging, but we are going to embrace it.”
Webb’s comeback should help. Outstanding against the Scarlets on New Years Day, the Wales international was missed badly at Scotstoun, not just for his general play from scrum-half but for the authority and direction he offers.
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“He leads by example,” said Booth. “When you are devoid of your Lydiates, Tipurics, George Norths, Cuthbert and Alun Wyn, you need people who are going to be leaders and lead by example.
“Rhys is a person we can count on in that respect.”
The Ospreys also hand a start to Keiran Williams, his first since the game with Munster in October, with a rib injury having hindered him. He takes the place of Michael Collins in midfield after a player admired by Wayne Pivac endured a difficult afternoon against Glasgow, falling off some important tackles and finding it hard to achieve penetration in attack.
Collins features among the replacements.
It’s an opportunity for Williams, who, when fit and firing, can offer a directness that tests even quality defenders.
There’s another start for Gareth Anscombe after the Wales Test man showed glimpses of his class last time out.
The fly-half set up a try for Dan Evans with a lovely break and didn’t miss in front of goal: five kicks attempted, every one nailed. There was also a nice dink or two over the top that might have yielded points on another day.
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The American tees it up this week at the Sony Open, an event where he has a fine record.Simpson has finished fourth, third and fourth in his last three starts at Waialae Country Club, although he comes into the event without the benefit of starting the year in the previous week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions.
On the debit side, Anscombe missed a tackle that led to a Glasgow try, but Booth feels he is still moving up the gears after his long-term absence through injury.
“He’s had four games worth of minutes in two years, so I’d be pretty comfortable talking of Gareth being on the comeback trail,” he said.
“The more time he spends in the saddle the better he gets.
“We saw elements of his attack last week that we are progressing. He has an eye for challenging the line, which excites us, and he’s a very, very good goal-kicker. But as you polish up these things you are going to get exposed to more situations, and the more he’s exposed to them the better he’ll get.”
Finn Russell performed brilliantly for Racing in their round one win over Northampton Saints, but the French club’s well-funded all-round firepower means Booth is in no hurry to buy talk of an equal-terms comparison between Russell and Anscombe.
“It’s a really difficult question to answer because it’s a team sport,” he said. “If they were running the 1,500 metres in the Olympics I could probably have more of an accurate opinion.
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“But there are 14 other people who are going to determine how easy or hard that’s going to be. That’s why rugby is such a great game. It’s a team sport.
“If you can get on the front foot, any 10 looks better. That’s the challenge for us, to get Gareth in the right positions.”.
Ospreys : Mat Protheroe; Alex Cuthbert, Owen Watkin, Keiran Williams, Luke Morgan; Gareth Anscombe, Rhys Webb (capt); Gareth Thomas, Dewi Lake, Tomas Francis, Rhys Davies, Adam Beard, Will Griffiths, Jac Morgan,. Ethan Roots.
Replacements : Elvis Taione, Nicky Smith, Ma’afu Fia, Will Hickey, Sam Cross, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Josh Thomas, Michael Collins.
Racing 92 : Kurtley Beale; Teddy Thomas, Oliver Klemenczak, Gael Fickou, Juan Imhoff; Finn Russell, Maxime Machenaud; Eddy Ben Arous, Teddy Baubigny, Ali Oz, Luke Jones, Boris Palu, Ibrahim Diallo, Baptiste Chouzenoux, Anthime Hemery.
Replacements : Jonathan Maiau, Guram Gogichashvili, Cedate Gomes, Victor Moreaux, Camille Chat, Antoine, Gilbert, Virimi Vakatawa, Donovan Taofifenua.
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