Preview: Champions Cup, Round Three
EUROPEAN SPOTLIGHT: European heavyweights will be vying for supremacy when the Champions Cup returns with the top two clubs in each pool kicking off the key back-to-back fixtures.
In a repeat of last season's compelling final, holders Saracens put their 20-match unbeaten run in the competition to the test against ASM Clermont Auvergne at Allianz Park.
Alex Goode scored the match-clinching try back in May at BT Murrayfield Stadium and is in line for his 50th appearance in the European Cup if selected for Sunday's Pool 2 encounter.
There are two other fixtures between former competition winners as three-time champions RC Toulon entertain 1998 winners Bath Rugby while Munster Rugby face Leicester Tigers for the ninth time.
Glasgow Warriors will welcome some familiar faces at Scotstoun against Montpellier on Friday. The visitors' Head Coach, Vern Cotter, and Forwards Coach, Nathan Hines, performed the same roles for Scotland last season.
Other key points ahead of Round Three:
* As they look to steal a march on Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs in Pool Three, Leinster Rugby know that a win at Sandy Park will be their 100th in the competition.
* La Rochelle have enjoyed life in European club rugby's blue riband competition thus far, having won both matches in their debut season with a points haul of 75 eclipsed only by Saracens. They play host to a Wasps side hoping to build on their impressive Round Two win over Harlequins.
We look at all the Round Three action!
Friday, December 8
Glasgow v Montpellier
(Scotstoun Stadium -Kick-off: 19.45, 19.45 GMT)
The four previous meetings have seen 120 points scored in total, at an average of 30 per game.
Glasgow Warriors have lost their last three Champions Cup games, their worst run since losing seven consecutive matches from January 2012 to January 2013.
Montpellier have lost their last nine games away from home, although they've secured a losing bonus point in three of their last four such games.
Nemani Nadolo has beaten 20 defenders after just two games, nine more than any other player in the Champions Cup this season.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 James Bhatti
Replacements: 16 James Malcolm, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Siua Halanukonuka, 19 Kiran McDonald, 20 Matt Smith, 21 George Horne, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Niko Matawalu
Montpellier: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Benjamin Fall, 13 Frans Steyn, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Enzo Sanga, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Kelian Galletier, 5 Jacques du Plessis, 4 Nico Janse van Rensburg, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili
Replacements: 16 Romain Ruffenach, 17 Grégory Fichten, 18 Mohamed Haouas, 19 Konstantine Mikautadze, 20 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 21 Benoit Paillaugue, 22 Gabriel Ngandebe, 23 Henry Immelman
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald (England), Andrew Jackson (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)
Saturday, December 9
Scarlets v Benetton
(Parc y Scarlets - Kick-off: 13.00, 13.00 GMT, 14.00 Italy time)
Scarlets have not won their last two Championship matches, while their opposition Benetton suffered the same fate.
The visitors came close to a victory in Round Two, but Toulon proved too good for the Italians who had to settle for a 29-30 defeat.
The two sides have played four games, three went in the Scarlets' favour - giving the hosts an extra bit of confidence to bag the win.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Paul Asquith, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steven Cummins, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Steff Hughes, 23 Tom Prydie.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Tommy Allan, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Seb Negri Da Oleggio, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Alberto de Marchi, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Whetu Douglas, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Luca Morisi.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Tual Trainini (France), Mathieu Noirot (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
Toulon v Bath
(Stade Felix Mayol - Kick-off: 16.15, 15.15 GMT)
Toulon have been securing some close matches in Round one their walked away with a narrow 21-20 win over Scarlets, while ROund Two saw them bagged 30-29 away win against Benetton.
Bath have been in a more comfortable position. The English Premiership side scored a 23-0 win over Benetton in Round two, while Scarlets proved to be a challenge but in the end, Bath made sure they take an 18-13 win home.
However, the Premiership side do not have a great record against Toulon.
The two sides have played two matches, which went in favour of Toulon.
Toulon: 15 Chris Ashton, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Semi Radradra, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Raphael Lakafia, 6 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Florian Fresia.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Marcel Van Der Merwe, 19 Facundo Isa, 20 Anthony Belleau, 21 JP Pietersen, 22 Anthony Meric, 23 Juandre Kruger.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Aled Brew, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Paul Grant, 6 Matt Garvey (captain), 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Jack Wilson.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Northampton Saints v Ospreys
(Franklin's Gardens - Kick-off: 17.30, 17.30 GMT)
Ospreys and Northampton Saints find themselves in similar positions in their pool – both winless and up against it to make the knockout rounds.
The Welsh region come to Franklin’s Gardens to take on an out-of-form Saints that have lost their last five in a row in all competitions.
Saints have also lost six of their last seven games in the Champions Cup, including the last three in a row.
However, Jim Mallinder’s side have beaten the Ospreys in all four of the club’s previous meetings.
And should they cross the whitewash at Franklin’s Gardens, it will be the 250th top-flight European try for the club who lifted the title back in 2000.
The battle of the goal-kickers should be key – not least because discipline has been a problem for Saints who have conceded three yellow cards in their last two games.
Saints and Ospreys are two of just four sides to maintain a 100% kicking success rate this season.
Throw in the fact that Dan Biggar is heading to Northampton next season – and all eyes will be on the kicking tee on Saturday.
Northampton: 15 Harry Mallinder, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Lewis Ludlam, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Christian Day, 4 David Ribbans, 3 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Francois van Wyk.
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 JP Estelles.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 James King, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Rowan Jenkins, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Rob McCusker, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Ben John.
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Assistant referees: Thomas Charabas (France), Laurent Cardona (France)
TMO: Éric Briquet Campin (France)
Castres Olympique v Racing 92
(Stade Pierre Fabre - Kick-off: 18.30, 17.30 GMT)
Castres pulled off a surprise 17-all draw with Munster in Round One.
However, the following week the French fell short as they suffered a 29-54 defeat to Premiership side Leicester Tigers.
Racing have one victory to their name. The French giants handed Leicester Tigers a 18-22 defeat in Paris.
In Round Two, Munster - under the guidance of Rassie Erasmus - made sure their hand Racing their first defeat.
The two French sides have never played each other in this Competiton, which sets up an enticing encounter.
Castres: 15 Armand Batlle, 14 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Florian Vialelle, 11 David Smith, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Mathieu Babillot, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Thibault Lassalle, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Antoine Tichit.
Replacements: 16 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 17 Tudor Stroe, 18 Yohan Montes, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Loic Jacquet, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Yohan Le Bourhis, 23 Kylian Jaminet.
Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Joe Rokocoko, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Rémi Tales, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Leone Nakarawa, 7 Boris Palu, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Edwin Maka, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Vasil Kakovin, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Bernard Le Roux, 21 Teddy Iribaren, 22 Antoine Gibert, 23 Albert Vulivuli.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Ian Tempest (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Dave Grashoff (England)
Munster v Leicester Tigers
(Thomand Park - Kick-off: 19.45, 19.45 GMT)
Munster and Leicester Tigers, arch-rivals in Europe, will clash for the ninth and tenth times in the back-to-back fixtures with Leicester currently ahead in the bragging rights by five wins to Munster’s three.
This is the third season in a row that the sides have met in the pool stage, with Leicester winning three of the previous four meetings between the clubs.
The Tigers are the only side to travel to Munster and win more than once, having done so in both 2006/07 and 2015/16.
But Munster claimed the bragging rights last season as they beat Leicester 38-0 at Thomond Park – the Tigers’ second-heaviest defeat in Europe.
The Tigers’ attacking threat this season in a pool that also includes Castres and Racing 92 has been clear to see.
No side in Europe has gained more metres than their 502 with ball in hand while Mathew Tait has been the creative fulcrum with three try assists already.
After a storming six-match winning run in the league, Matt O’Connor’s side have just ever so slightly gone off the boil and two losses on the spin have dropped them to sixth in the Premiership.
They did however claim a losing bonus point at Racing 92 and a four-try bonus point in routing Castres at Welford Road to sit narrowly top of the pool as it stands.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Sam Arnold, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Brian Scott, 18 John Ryan, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Darren Sweetnam.
Leicester: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Mathew Tait, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Luke Hamilton, 6 Valentino Mapapalangi, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Kyle Traynor.
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Logovi’i Mulipola, 18 Chris Baumann, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Mike Williams, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Nick Malouf.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Ludovic Cayre (France), Jonathan Dufort (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)
Sunday, December 10
Harlequins v Ulster
(The Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 13.00, 13.00 GMT)
These two clubs have met three times in Europe but the most recent was all the way back in 2009.
While Quins remain winless in Europe, this season they welcome the Ulstermen to the Stoop on the back of a morale-boosting win last time out.
Danny Care inspired them to victory over defending European champions Saracens in the league to reinvigorate a season that appeared to be slipping into mediocrity.
In Europe they lost at home to La Rochelle in their tournament opener before being put to the sword by Wasps at the Ricoh.
Defeat to Ulster would be their third in a row at home in Europe for the first time since the 2009/10 season and would effectively end their qualification hopes.
But Ulster will need to be aware of their attacking threat, no side in the whole of the competition has made as many as their 32 offloads so far.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown (captain), 14 Charlie Walker, 13 Alofa Alofa, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Renaldo Bothma, 5 Charlie Matthews, 4 George Merrick, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Elia Elia, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Dino Lamb, 20 Archie White, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Winston Stanley, 23 Ross Chisholm.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Tommy Bowe, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Christian Lealiifa, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Iain Henderson (captain), 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O'Connor, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Matty Rea, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Louis Ludik
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Maxime Chalon (France), Jean-Luc Rebollal (France)
TMO: Éric Gauzins (France)
La Rochelle v Wasps
(Stade Marcel-Defaldre -Kick-off: 14.00, 13.00 UK Time, 13.00 GMT)
La Rochell head into this encounter with a clean-sheet. The French side have produced wins over Harlequins and Ulster, respectively.
While Wasps ran out confirmable winners against Harlequins in Round Two - producing a 41-10 win.
The Premiership side have been in fine form and securing a win over La Rochelle in France would be an added bonus for Dai Young.
La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Jérémy Sinzelle, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 Vincent Rattez, 10 Brock James, 9 Alexi Bales, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Botia Veivuke, 6 Zeno Kieft, 5 Thomas Jolmes, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Dany Priso.
Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Hikairo Forbes, 18 Mohamed Boughanmi, 19 Romain Sazy, 20 Kevin Gourdon, 21 Jean-Victor Goillot, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Rene Ranger.
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Juan De Jongh, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Thomas Young, 6 James Haskell, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Ashley Johnson, 1 Simon McIntyre.
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Jack Willis, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Kyle Eastmond, 23 Gaby Lovobalavu.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Kieran Barry (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Saracens v Clermont
(Allianz Park - Kick-off: 15.15, 15.15 GMT)
In the repeat of last year's final, Saracens head into the clash on an unbeaten run.
The Champions Cup holders survived an Ospreys scare in Round Two and manufactured a 36-34 win at Allianz Park.
Clermont also head into this encounter unbeaten. They produced a comfortable 24-7 win over Saints at home. However, facing the champs in England will be a huge obstacle.
The two sides have locked horns eight times in the Champions Cup competitions. Saracens won three, Clermont five.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Calum Clark, 5 George Kruis, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Nathan Earle.
Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Rémi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Isaiah Toeava, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Judicaël Cancoriet, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Etienne Falgoux.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Beka Kakabadze, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Flip Van Der Merwe, 20 Peceli Yato, 21 Charly Trussardi, 22 Damian Penaud, 23 Nick Abendanon.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse, Wayne Davies
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
Exeter Chiefs v Leinster
(Sandy Park - Kick-off 17.30, 17.30 GMT)
Arguably the most enticing of all the clashes in Europe this season, two in-form sides clash at Sandy Park on Sunday.
The Chiefs are making an impressive defence of their maiden Premiership crown – sitting top of the table and eight points clear this time around.
In Europe they are also breaking new ground, never before had they kicked off a campaign with two wins from two.
They battled hard to down Glasgow Warriors at Sandy Park before an incredible late win in Montpellier in round two.
Leinster are in fine form themselves but they will need to be prepared to put in a serious shift in defence.
Despite having the lowest ruck success rate (95%), the Chiefs have enjoyed the longest time in possession this season, holding onto the ball for 21 minutes and 15 seconds on average.
Gareth Steenson meanwhile needs six points to reach 200 for the tournament as the Chiefs chase a third win in a row in Europe for the first time in the club’s history.
Keep an eye out also for the battle of the hookers– Jack Yeandle has made more successful lineout throws than any other No.2 (25/28) but Sean Cronin’s 100% success rate (14/14) is the best in the competition.
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 James Short, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Nic White, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Don Armand, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Sam Hill 23 Jack Nowell.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Isa Nacewa (captain), 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Luke McGrath,8 Jack Conan, 7 Seán O’Brien, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Michael Bent, 19 James Ryan, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Cyril Lafon (France), Stéphane Boyer (France)
TMO: Éric Gonthier (France)