December 6, 2019, 9:02

Champions Cup: Key battles on opening European weekend

Champions Cup: Key battles on opening European weekend

There are six games in the European Rugby Champions Cup on Saturday, with four previous winners in action.

Bath will attempt to put their indifferent domestic form to one side when they face Ulster at the Rec, while there is another Premiership-PRO14 contest at Scotstoun as Glasgow take on Sale.

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Benetton face a tough opener on their return to the Champions Cup with a trip to four-time winners Leinster, Munster take on an Ospreys side in freefall, while two Premiership sides face difficult trips to France.

Bath vs Ulster, Recreation Ground (1pm)

Bath welcome back England trio Jonathan Joseph, Ruaridh McConnochie and Sam Underhill while Freddie Burns continues at full-back.

Burns’ brother Billy comes in at fly-half for Ulster, who are captained by Ireland forward Iain Henderson on his return to club action.

Key match-up: Jamie Roberts vs Stuart McCloskey

Both teams will look to their powerful inside centres to get them over the gainline. Roberts is a crash-ball expert and will punch holes in opposition defences, while McCloskey is another big carrier who is capable of offloading in contact.

Also keep on eye on the battle of the Burns as Freddie attempts to deny Billy a winning return to his hometown club.

Match fact

Ulster have won all four of their Champions Cup matches against Bath. The last of those was a 26-22 win at the Rec in 2010.

Bath: 15 Freddie Burns, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Will Chudley; 1 Beno Obano, 2 Tom Dunn, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Josh McNally, 5 Charlie Ewels (c), 6 Mike Williams, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Zach Mercer.

Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Josh Bayliss, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Max Wright, 23 Gabe Hamer-Webb.

Ulster: 15 Will Addison, 14 Rob Lyttle, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney; 1 Jack McGrath, 2 Rob Herring, 3 Marty Moore, 4 Iain Henderson (c), 5 Sam Carter, 6 Matthew Rea, 7 Jordi Murphy, 8 Marcell Coetzee.

Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Angus Curtis, 23 Louis Ludik.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy).

Glasgow Warriors vs Sale Sharks, Scotstoun (1pm)

USA fly-half AJ MacGinty makes his first Sale start since returning from the World Cup while European rugby’s all-time top try scorer Chris Ashton has been named on the bench.

Glasgow have named Nick Grigg alongside Scotland team-mate Sam Johnson in midfield, with Rob Harley restored to the second row after being rested for last weekend’s win at Zebre.

Key match-up: Ratu Tagive vs Byron McGuigan

McGuigan returns to Scotstoun with a point to prove after missing out on Scotland selection for the World Cup.

But the 30-year-old will be tested in defence by rugby league convert Tagive, who is seeking his third try in as many matches.

Match fact

Glasgow have won eight of their last 10 home games against Premiership opposition.

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Tommy Seymour, 14 Ratu Tagive, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Samuel Johnson, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne; 1 Oli Kebble, 2 Fraser Brown, 3 Zander Fagerson, 4 Robert Harley, 5 Scott Cummings, 6 Ryan Wilson, 7 Callum Gibbins (c), 8 Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Ali Price, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Kyle Steyn.

Sale Sharks: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Cameron Redpath, 12 Luke James, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Embrose Papier; 1 Ross Harrison, 2 Rob Webber, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 4 Bryn Evans (c), 5 James Phillips, 6 Jean-Luc du Preez, 7 Ben Curry, 8 Dan du Preez.

Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Valery Morozov, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Matthew Postlewhaite, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Chris Ashton.

Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France).

Leinster v Benetton, RDS Arena (3.15pm)

Ireland internationals Johnny Sexton, Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, James Ryan and Josh van der Flier all make their first appearances of the season with former Ireland U20 captain Caelan Doris handed his first European start from No 8.

Former Ireland international Ian Keatley is preferred to Tommaso Allan at fly-half for Benetton.

Key match-up: Johnny Sexton vs Ian Keatley

All eyes will be on Leinster’s skipper as he returns to club action following further World Cup disappointment with Ireland.

He comes up against his former international team-mate Keatley, whose kicking will be crucial if Benetton are to stand any chance of causing an upset.

Match fact

Benetton have lost all 14 matches against Irish opposition in the Champions Cup.

Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Joe Tomane, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johhny Sexton (c), 9 Luke McGrath; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 3 Andrew Porter, 4 Devin Toner, 5 James Ryan, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Caelan Doris.

Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Rory O’Loughlin.

Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Nacho Brex, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (c), 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage; 1 Nicola Quaglio, 2 Hame Faiva, 3 Marco Riccioni, 4 Ira Herbst, 5 Dean Budd, 6 Giovanni Pettinelli, 7 Braam Steyn, 8 Nasi Manu.

Replacements: 16 Engjel Makelara, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Toa Halafihi, 22 Tito Tebaldi, 23 Tommaso Allan.

Referee: Pierre Brousset (France).

La Rochelle vs Exeter Chiefs, Stade Marcel Deflandre (3.15pm GMT)

Dave Dennis and Dave Ewers come into the Exeter pack following last weekend’s home defeat to Bristol while England internationals Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Don Armand and Jack Nowell are all named on the bench.

La Rochelle have selected international duo Levani Botia and Geoffrey Doumayrou in midfield with Alexi Bales partnering Ihaia West at half-back.

Key match-up: Jeremy Sinzelle vs Stuart Hogg

Hogg was signed for his big-match experience as Exeter look to put their European struggles behind him.

With rain promised for this Pool 2 clash, Hogg’s tactical kicking could prove crucial as will his ability in the air against the versatile Sinzelle.

Match fact

Exeter beat more defenders (33) than any other side in last season’s Champions Cup.

La Rochelle: 15 Jeremy Sinzelle, 14 Vincent Rattez, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Arthur Retiere, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Alexi Bales; 1 Dany Priso, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 3 Arthur Joly, 4 Romain Sazy, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 6 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Wiaan Liebenberg, 8 Victor Vito (c).

Replacements: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Kevin Gourdon, 21 Brock James, 22 Marc Andreu, 23 Kini Murimurivalu.

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Alex Cuthbert, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White; 1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 3 Harry Williams, 4 Dave Dennis, 5 Jonny Hill, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 8 Sam Simmonds.

Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Don Armand, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Jack Nowell.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)

Ospreys vs Munster, Liberty Stadium (5.30pm)

Scott Otten starts at hooker while Tom Williams comes in on the left wing as the Ospreys look to put last weekend’s shock loss to the Southern Kings behind them.

Keith Earls and Conor Murray make their first starts of the season, with Tyler Bleyendaal partnering Murray at half-back. JJ Hanrahan and Dave Kilcoyne miss out due to injury.

Key match-up: Dan Lydiate vs Peter O’Mahony

Lydiate has been one of the top tacklers in the PRO14 this season and another big shift in defence will be required here.

Opposing skipper O’Mahony impressed on his Munster return against Ulster last weekend, making two lineout steals in all-action 80-minute display.

Match fact

Munster have won 16 of their last 18 Champions Cup games against Welsh opposition but were beaten by the Ospreys when they last met in this competition in 2010.

Ospreys: 15 Cai Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Tom Williams, 10 Luke Price, 9 Shaun Venter; 1 Rhodri Jones, 2 Scott Otten, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 4 Marvin Orie, 5 Lloyd Ashley, 6 Dan Lydiate (c), 7 Olly Cracknell, 8 Morgan Morris .

Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Gheorghe Gajion, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Aled Davies, 22 James Hook, 23 Kieran Williams.

Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Jeremy Loughman, 2 Niall Scannell, 3 John Ryan, 4 Jean Kleyn, 5 Billy Holland, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 8 CJ Stander.

Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Sammy Arnold, 23 Dan Goggin.

Referee: Karl Dickson (England).

Clermont Auvergne vs Harlequins, Stade Marcel Michelin (5.15pm GMT)

Mike Brown and Danny Care make their returns from injury while Scott Baldwin starts at hooker as Quins look to snap a two-game losing streak.

France duo Camille Lopez and Morgan Parra start at half-back for Clermont with Greig Laidlaw on the bench, with All Blacks Isaia Toeava and George Moala named at centre.

Key match-up: Morgan Parra vs Danny Care

Parra kicked 16 points during last season’s thrilling Challenge Cup semi-final win over Harlequins but his distribution will also be key in unleashing Clermont’s world-class backline.

Quins have missed Care’s game management and his quick-thinking around rucks will keep Clermont defenders on their toes.

Match fact

Clermont have won their opening match in each of their last three Champions Cup campaigns.

Clermont Auvergne: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 George Moala, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra (c); 1 Etienne Falgoux, 2 John Ulugia, 3 Rabah Slimani, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 6 Peceli Yato, 7 Alexandre Fischer, 8 Fritz Lee.

Replacements: 16 Mike Tadjer, 17 Loni Uhila, 18 Davit Zirakashvili, 19 Thibault Lanen, 20 Clement Lanen, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Jake McIntyre, 23 Apisai Naqalevu.

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Cadan Murley, 13 James Lang, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Gabriel Ibitoye, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care; 1 Santiago Garcia Botta, 2 Scott Baldwin, 3 Simon Kerrod, 4 Glen Young, 5 Matt Symons, 6 Chris Robshaw (c), 7 Will Evans, 8 Tom Lawday.

Sourse: skysports.com

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