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Champions Cup preview as Premiership sides return to European action

Prior to this season’s Champions Cup getting underway, you would have been excused for not being too excited about the competition, however a fantastic set of opening fixtures has once again stocked the fire for this historic tournament.

The Gallagher Premiership teams steamrollered through the opening two rounds, with Exeter Chiefs, Northampton Saints, Leicester Tigers and Bath still unbeaten in Europe.

Sale, Saracens, Bristol and Harlequins have also put in some good performances and sit one from two.

With the pool stage reaching it’s conclusion this weekend, every win is pivotal if teams want to progress through to the last 16, and the Premiership teams all largely control their own destiny, but what lies in store for the teams this weekend?

Friday 12th Jan
Northampton Saints vs Bayonne-7:45 TNT Sports 2

Northampton Saints welcome French outfit Bayonne to Franklin’s Gardens tonight as they seek to make it three on the spin in Europe, and eight in a row in all competitions.

Phil Dowson’s side will undoubtedly be buoyed by their famous 42-36 win over the Chiefs last weekend, and will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing Bayonne this weekend. The French side currently sit 10th in the Top 14, however they are still a quality side, as shown by their 17-17 draw away to Munster in round one of the Champions Cup

Saturday 13th Jan
Exeter Chiefs vs Glasgow Warriors-13:00 ITV 1/TNT Sports 2

Exeter welcome Glasgow to Sandy Park this weekend in a game which is quickly becoming a European derby match. The Chiefs have faced the Warriors on 10 occasions in the Champions Cup, and the likes of Stewart Hogg and Jonny Gray have worn both Exeter and Glasgow colours.

The Chiefs boast a good record against their Scottish advisory’s in recent times, with the Chiefs claiming a huge 52-17 in the sides last meeting at Sandy Park back in 2022.

The Warriors travel down to Devon in a bit of a sticky patch, with just two wins from their last five matches in all competitions, but a win against Exeter could bring this to an end.

Bristol Bears vs Bulls-15:15-TNT Sports 2

Pat Lam’s side are still within a shot of the last 16, and a win over the Bulls would do wonders for their hopes of progressing. The Bears have had a mixed campaign in the Premiership this season, but they are one from two in Europe and a win this weekend would see them leapfrog the Bulls in the pool, and potentially take them up to the top of the pool.

This will be a huge incentive for Bristol, however the Bulls journey West in decent form with three wins from five-which includes their huge 53-27 win over Connacht and a 44-10 win over the Sharks.

Stormers vs Sale Sharks-17:30-TNT Sports 2

Sale face a tough challenge to get out of the pool, but it is still all to play for for Alex Sanderson’s men. Sale have had a mini dip in form recently, including last week’s shock loss to Bristol, but playing the Stormers in South Africa could be just the thing they need to kickstart their season.

The Stormers are in the same predicament as Sale, with the sides locked together on four points, so it should be a tasty encounter on Saturday evening.

Cardiff vs Harlequins-20:00-TNT Sports 2

The last of Saturday’s games sees Harlequins travel to Cardiff as they eye up a spot in the top two of the pool. A bonus point win for the Quins would see them jump over Premiership counterparts Bath, and this will be the target against bottom of the pile Cardiff.

The Blues have had a torrid time in Europe so far. They have conceded 91 points in total-the second worst defence in the competition. The Welsh side will be hoping this game is the turning point in their season too, as they have just one win to their name from their last five matches.

Sunday 14th Jan
Bath vs Racing 92-13:00-TNT Sports 1/TNT Sports Ultimate

The Finn Russell derby! Bath welcome resident party animals Racing 92 to the Rec this Sunday in what is set to be an enthralling encounter. Bath have looked imperious at times this season, especially in the Champions Cup, and a win on Sunday would more than likely secure their spot in the last 16.

Racing on the other hand have had a difficult run of it in Europe, despite their glactico-esq squad. Whilst they have struggled in the Champions Cup, their Top 14 form has been a different story.

The Parisians sit top of the French league, and have a four point buffer over second placed Bordeaux. Can they finally transfer their domestic form into European competitions against Bath this weekend?

La Rochelle vs Leicester Tigers-15:15-TNT Sports 1

Leicester Tigers have a tough test this weekend against defending European Champions La Rochelle, however this could be the perfect time for Dan McKeller’s men to travel to the South of France. La Rochelle haven’t had the best of seasons so far on both fronts. They find themselves eighth in the Top 14, and are winless so far in the Champions Cup.

Leicester, on the other hand, sit second in the pool after two huge victories in the early rounds. A win would not only boost their own chances of escaping the pool of death, but it would also likely knock the defending champions out of the tournament, which would yet another statement victory for the Tigers this year.

Leicester are also in a glorious run of form, with four wins from their last five games-including last week’s 19-10 win over Saracens.

Bordeaux Bègles vs Saracens-17:30-TNT Sports 1

Pool one remains wide open, but Saracens will be itching to lay down a marker after a tricky campaign so far. A big win against Connacht put their hunt for the last 16 back on track after an opening round defeat to the Bulls, but Mark McCall’s side have also seen their Premiership campaign hit a bumpy road in recent weeks.

This could be the perfect moment for them to not only make a case to progress in Europe, but to also properly kickstart their season. However, Bordeaux are in fantastic form this season and sit top of the pile in pool one.

A win for the French side this weekend would also all but secure a home tie in the next round, so it will be a tough fight for Saracens on Sunday.