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PREVIEW: Some round 1 blockbusters in-store as Champions Cup kicks off

Europe’s elite rugby sides will once again do battle with the Group stages of the Heineken Champions Cup getting underway this Friday evening.

George Moala of Clermont
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Europe's elite rugby sides will once again do battle with the Group stages of the Heineken Champions Cup getting underway this Friday evening.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

There are a plethora of solid games on offer including highlights such as ties between Clermont and Ulster as well as Bordeaux and Leicester. Our rugby scribe previews those two big-ticket clashes along with remaining nine games below.

Friday 10 December

Northampton 96/100 | Draw 20/1 | Racing 91/100 (22:00)

We kick things off over at Franklin’s Gardens where Northampton and Racing will clash in the first game of the 2021/22 campaign.

The hosts have enjoyed a solid start to the Gallagher Premiership and have won six of their nine domestic games. Racing hasn’t been as inspiring in the Top 14 winning only six of their 12 fixtures.

In terms of their most recent results, The hosts head into this one having comfortably beaten domestic foes Bath – who are admittedly in a pretty bad place at the moment –  40-19 while Racing went down to Castres 25-3 this past weekend.

Racing, for all their star quality, have struggled this term and I cannot see them overturning the Saints in England. Money on the hosts here.

Saturday 11 December

Cardiff | Draw | Toulouse *betting TBA

We’re off to Wales for our next instalment which sees the Cardiff Blues take on French giants, Toulouse.

Like most of the URC sides that took an ill-fated trip to South Africa a fortnight ago, the Blues will be without a number of senior statesmen who are in quarantine. This is hardly the ideal build-up to a game against a Toulouse side that has been in rampant form during the Top 14 winning 9 of their 12 games.

Yes, Toulouse do come into this one off of a domestic defeat to Bordeaux but they are far too good to lose to what is essentially a third choice Cardiff outfit. This could be a bloodbath if the away side have the appetite for it. 

Bordeaux 46/100 | Draw 20/1 | Leicester 37/20 (17:15)

Our next fixture should be an absolute belter with Top 14 leaders, the Bordeaux Begles, taking on Gallagher Premiership table-toppers, the Leicester Tigers.

The hosts have been solid as a rock on the domestic front winning nine and drawing one of their 12 fixtures, with their most recent victory being last weekend’s 17-7 win over a very good Toulouse side.

While Bordeaux have been solid, Leicester have been flawless in winning the nine domestic games they have played thus far. They also head into this one a top of the table battle beating second-placed Harlequins 16-14 last week. 

This should be a great game with both sides not afraid to give the ball some air. I fancy the hosts to come out on top in a high-scorer.

Leinster N/A | Draw 45/1 | Bath 15/1 (17:15)

An Irish-Anglo affair awaits us next with Bath making a daunting trip to Emerald Isle to take on Irish heavyweights, Leinster.

The hosts have been slightly off the boil this year in the United Rugby Championship. They have, however, only lost one of their seven fixtures, so it goes to show the lofty expectations one associates with Ireland’s finest.

Bath, on the other hand, have been woeful on the domestic front losing all nine of their Gallagher Premiership fixtures with their latest defeat being last Saturday’s 40-19 loss to the Northampton Saints. Honestly, I can see things getting messy for the visitors here.

Clermont 7/20 | Draw 20/1 | Ulster 24/10 (19:30)

We’re off to France for the next of Saturday’s games which will see a very hit and miss Clermont outfit take on an Ulster side who are in red-hot form.

The hosts have only managed to win half of the domestic fixtures they have played this term while Ulster are five from seven games in the URC.

In terms of their most recent results, Clermont come into this one off the back of a 39-11 win over Top 14 minnows Biarritz while Ulster went down 19-13 away to the Ospreys.

While Ulster should give the French outfit a run, I simply can’t see them winning. Take the plus if it becomes available, otherwise back Clermont on the board at 7/20.

Exeter 1/10 | Draw 33/1 | Montpellier 6/1 (22:00)

2019/20 champions Exter play host to Top 14 big spenders Montpellier in our next fixture.

The hosts have been below par on the domestic front this term and currently sit in fifth place on the Gallagher Premiership standings having won six of their ten fixtures. They have experienced an upswing in fortunes of late and have won three of their last four domestic matches including last weekend’s 18-15 win over Saracens.

Montpellier have a similar record on the domestic front this season winning seven and drawing one of their 12 games. They have been a lot more consistent than they usually are and that will be a worry for the Chiefs. French teams tend to struggle on the road which is why my money’s on the Chiefs taking this at a canter.

Sunday 12 December

Ospreys 31/20 | Draw 20/1 | Sale 56/100

We’re back to Wales for our next fixture which will see the Ospreys take on the Sale Sharks.

The hosts have been a very tough nut to crack at home in the United Rugby Championship beating competition heavyweights such as Ulster and Munster.

Sale will find this a very difficult away fixture. The English side have really struggled this term and have only won three and drawn one of their nine domestic fixtures.

The Welsh side have beaten better opponents at the Liberty and I can see them getting gone over their more fancied English opposition on Sunday.

Connacht 43/100 | Draw 20/1 | Stade Francais 2/1 (15:00)

We have two entertaining but far from consistent sides next up as Connacht tackle Stade Francais out in Galway.

The Irish province currently occupies seventh position on the URC standings having won three of their seven fixtures. One of their four defeats came last weekend where they were hammered 47-19 by domestic rivals Leinster.

Stade have also struggled on the domestic front and reside in tenth spot of the Top 14 ladder having won five of their 12 games.

I really hope we see Bundee Akee and Ngani Laumape face up against each other here as that will be one for the ages. Regardless of whether they do or don’t square off, I’m on the hosts here.

La Rochelle 1/10 | Draw 33/1 | Glasgow 6/1

Next up we’ve got Top 14 side La Rochelle locking horns with URC outfit Glasgow.

Both teams have enjoyed decent if not spectacular starts to their domestic campaigns with La Rochelle winning six of their 12 fixtures occupying fifth spot on the Top 14 ladder while Glasgow sit in the exact same position on the URC ladder having won four of their seven games.

The Warriors come into this one off the back of a solid 33-14 win over the Dragons while La Rochelle went down 25-20 to Stade Francais. The hosts should win this at a canter.

Wasps 36/100 | Draw 20/1 | Munster 47/20 (17:15)

The penultimate game of the weekend pits a faltering but talented Wasps side up against Irish powerhouses, Munster.

The Munster men will make the trip to England bereft of a number of first-team regulars due to the fact that the squad got stuck in South Africa. They still have a decent side to call upon although they will be leaning heavily on their academy to reinforce their tight fve.

While Munster will still field a good side, I reckon their bench could cost them the win here. That’s why my money is on the hosts.

Castres 1/1 | Draw 20/1 | Harlequins 17/20 (19:30)

We bring things to a close out in France with Castres taking on Harlequins. The hosts have enjoyed a decent enough start to the Top 14 season winning six and drawing one of their 12 fixtures.

Quins have enjoyed a bit of a tough run of it of late and have lost three of their last four games with their latest loss being last weekend’s two point defeat at the hands of Leicester. Despite their recent woes, I can see Quins and their uber-talented squad taking this one.

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