Champions Cup round three Friday and Saturday preview

Champions Cup round three Friday and Saturday preview

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The 2023/24 Champions Cup resumes with an eagerly anticipated third round of pool-stage matches.

English teams have performed exceptionally well up to this point, with Bath, Leicester, Exeter, and Northampton all boasting two wins from two matches and now eyeing qualification for the knockout stage.

This weekend promises to be another exciting one with nine games spread across Friday and Saturday, as anticipation and drama loom large for the finest teams in Europe.

Matthew Luddington previews the upcoming fixtures on Friday and Saturday.

Friday

Northampton soared past Exeter to the top of the Gallagher Premiership last week, breaching fortress Sandy Park with a thrilling comeback from 26-0 down cumulating in a last-gasp try from Rory Hutchinson.

Saints, bolstered by the return of key players including Courtney Lawes, Curtis Langdon, Temo Mayanavanua, Tom Pearson, Alex Mitchell, Fraser Dingwall, will now be aiming to secure Champions Cup knockout stage qualification and a high seed against Bayonne at Franklin’s Gardens at 8pm.

Bayonne, despite a heart-wrenching loss in their first ever Champions Cup home game to Glasgow, have competed well in their opening two matches and should not be underestimated.

Courtney Lawes produced a man of the match performance as Northampton beat Toulon last time out (Picture: Getty Images)

Saturday

Lyon clinched a thrilling victory against Bulls in the last round, and welcome Connacht to Matmut Stadium at 1pm knowing a win would all but secure their progression.

Connacht have struggled in their opening two games but will hope for a turnaround inspired by their triumph against Munster last week, and fans can enjoy watching two sides who love to play running rugby.

Exeter, recovering from a rare home defeat against Saints, face Glasgow at 1pm as they look to secure a strong seed for the knockout stage.

The 2020 Champions Cup winners welcome England prop Alec Hepburn back to their starting XV as they look to continue their impressive form in Europe, while Glasgow will be buoyed by a gutsy win in Bayonne in the last round as hooker George Hiddlestone makes his professional debut for the club.

Bristol, riding high after toppling Sale’s long-standing Premiership home record with an outstanding performance last week, gear up for a showdown with the Bulls at 3:15pm at Ashton Gate.

The Bulls have chosen to rest some of their Springbok stars, but fans can still expect fireworks in a clash between two attack-minded teams.

Toulon, three-time consecutive champions, find themselves in trouble after two initial defeats. They host Munster at 3:15pm, also winless, in a critical match to avoid early elimination.

Munster captain Peter O'Mahony
Munster went winless in their opening two Champions Cup games for the first time since the 1997/98 season, and will hope legend Peter O’Mahony can inspire a turnaround in their fortunes (Picture: Getty Images)

England lock David Ribbans captains a star-studded Toulon side featuring the likes of Facunda Isa, Ben White and Dan Biggar against Munster, who welcome Peter O’Mahony, Niall Scannell & Alex Nankivel back into the starting line-up for this crucial clash, with Joey Carberry returning on the bench.

Leinster have 13 Ireland internationals in their starting line-up and host Stade Francais at the Aviva Stadium at 5:30pm, eyeing a bonus-point victory with a top side. Stade, still reeling from a narrow loss to Leicester, have made numerous changes and could face a challenging afternoon.

Stormers, buoyed by a thrilling win against La Rochelle, take on Sale Sharks in Cape Town at 5:30pm. Alex Sanderson fields a strong Sale side with England U20s winger Alex Wills, Telusa Veainu, Ben Bamber, Josh Beaumont and Agustin Creevy all starting.

Cardiff need victory against Harlequins at 8pm after defeat in their opening two games, and are boosted by the return of Thomas Young. Harlequins welcome back Danny Care and Marcus Smith to their line-up, and fans can expect an exciting game between two sides who will look to throw the ball around on a 4G surface.

Ulster, riding high from impressive recent victories against Racing 92, Connacht and Leinster, face a formidable challenge against Top 14 Champions Toulouse at 8pm. In a blockbuster clash, Ulster aim to maintain their impressive home record against French sides, while Toulouse have a perfect ten points from their opening two games and fear no-one.

Harlequins’ formidable half-back pairing of Danny Care, left, and Marcus Smith, right, will be re-united as they take on Cardiff one day short of two years after they last played them (Picture: Getty Images)

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