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Champions Cup, Round One - teams and predictions

There may well be some residual hostility from the World Cup semifinal back in October, adding spice to an already curmudgeon encounter.


When the Bulls host Saracens at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, the contest is not only one of the most anticipated matches in the opening round of the Champions Cup, but more than a handful of internationals will ensure old ‘rivalries’ are renewed.

Willie le Roux, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie and Marco van Staden are the Bulls’ World Cup winners.

In the Sarries camp are Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Jamie George – all who would like to exact a measure of requital for England’s 15-16 loss to the Springboks in the semifinal in Paris in October.

Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White said his team will not be “sucked into anything”, but rather focus on their own game – despite the quality of the opposition and whatever ‘game plan’ they will bring.

“It is going to be an interesting match,” White said, adding that the ‘contributing factors’ include Loftus’ famed altitude.

“They do have an interesting kicking game, but with Willie [le Roux], Kurt-Lee [Arendse] and Canan [Moodie] that have played together at international level they would have experienced opposition that plays similar to that.”


White added that forwards like Elrigh Louw and Janko Swanepoel would have gained enough ‘experience’ in the last year or two to be able to cope against seasoned internationals like Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola.

“I have seen the growth in then in the last couple of seasons,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “I have no doubt the lessons they learnt playing away in Lyon and Exeter last year they can use in these big games.”

White admitted that Saracens’ record in the Champions Cup – three times winners in 2015–16, 2016–17 and 2018–19 – is to be admired.

“They are like the Barcelona of rugby,” he said.


“It is going to be a wonderful match.”

He said Saracens will test them in areas that they have not been tested in before, because of the “unique style” of play of the English Premiership giants.

“All those lessons we are going to need – individually and collectively,” White said.

EPCR Player of the Year in 2017, Owen Farrell is looking forward to getting stuck in at Loftus Versfeld.

“I’m not used to playing there in our [the English] winter, so that will be different,” he said.

“It will be a nice break from the cold here, but obviously that’s going to be a challenge and there will be the altitude as well.

“It will be different for a lot of the lads but it’s an exciting challenge to have.”

(Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White previews his team’s Round One Champions Cup encounter with Saracens…)

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* In stark contrast, the Stormers – URC champions in 2022 and runners-up this year – are heading to England with a lot less expectation.

A quirk of the draw means they play on Sunday against Leicester Tigers and then return home to host two-time defending champions Stade Rochelais in Cape Town six days later.

It forced coach John Dobson to split his squad – fielding a very unseasoned team in Leicester.

Dobson said that his team is looking forward to the challenge.

“Welford Road is a renowned venue with a lot of history and we are determined to impress as the first Stormers team to play there,” Dobson said.

“It has been something of a balancing act – given the six-day turnaround before our home game next week, but we are excited to see how this team performs on the big stage,” he added.

While his World Cup stars have all remained in Cape Town to prepare for the arrival of the French giants next week, Dobson believes the collective in England is a strong troupe.

“It is a tough fixture,” Dobson said, adding that they would have struggled for a win even if his ‘A-Team’ had travelled to England.

“The truth is, our chances of a win are slim,” he said, adding that picking up a bonus point would be invaluable at the business end of the season.

“They [the players] will fight, I have no doubt.

“If we get a point, it will be a job well done.”

The Tigers, Dobson says, are going ‘full noise’ for the win, because home wins are gold in the Champions Cup.

Dobson told @rugby365com that he is keen to see greenhorns like Suleiman Hartzenberg, Keke Morabe, Nama Xaba, Connor Evans, Hendré Stassen, Kwenzo Blose, JJ Kotze and Lee-Marvin Mazibuko shape up against the season internationals in the Tigers pack.

“They will be better players for this experience,” he said,

It is a massive opportunity and they are amped for this opportunity.”

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* The other big game of the weekend is the rerun of the last two Finals – with Leinster heading to La Rochelle to reigning champions Stade Rochelais.

Over the past two seasons, no two sides have been able to match the quality and skill of Leinster and Stade Rochelais in EPCR’s elite competition.

The two have contested consecutive finals, with the TOP14 side narrowly prevailing on both occasions to become back-to-back champions.

Now, the two face off once more in arguably the most anticipated match of Round 1 in this year’s Investec Champions Cup pool stage.

While the memory of those two final losses might hurt Leinster centre Garry Ringrose, he doesn’t shy away from talking about how the Irish province can try to use the defeats to motivate themselves this season.

“We’re all determined to try and do well,” he said.

“There’s a collective desire to want to go and win, and luckily enough we’ve been able to win some days.

“We’ve had more losses on the big days unfortunately more recently, but I guess we use them to kind of drive us and motivate us, and try and go again this year.”

All the Saturday and Sunday teams and predictions follow below

Champions Cup Round One Saturday fixtures

Champions Cup Round One Sunday fixtures

Saturday, December 9

Toulon v Exeter Chiefs
(Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 UK time; 13.00 GMT)


@rugby365com: Toulon by six points


Toulon: 15 Melvyn Jaminet, 14 Gaël Drean, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Mathieu Smaili, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Enzo Herve, 9 Ben White, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Esteban Abadie, 5 Brian Alainu’uese, 4 Matthias Halagahu, 3 Beka Gigashvili, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Bruce Devaux.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Emerick Setiano, 19 David Ribbans, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 23 Maelan Rabut.

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Tom Wyatt, 14 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Joe Hawkins, 11 Ben Hammersley, 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Tom Cairns, 8 Greg Fisilau, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Ethan Roots, 5 Dafydd Jenkins, 4 Rus Tuima, 3 Ehren Painter, 2 Dan Frost, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Max Norey, 17 Nika Abuladze, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Lewis Pearson, 20 Ross Vintcent, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Rory O’Loughlin, 23 Olly Woodburn.

Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Cole (Ireland), Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)

Bath v Ulster
(Recreation Ground, Bath – Kick-off: 15.15; 15.15 GMT)


@rugby365com: Ulster by nine points


Bath: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Will Muir, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Alfie Barbeary, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Miles Reid, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 GJ van Velze, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Will Butt.

Ulster: 15 Stewart Moore, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 James McNabney. 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Tom Stewart, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Matty Rea, 21 John Cooney, 22 Jake Flannery, 23 Mike Lowry.

Referee: Pierre Brousset (France)
Assistant referees: Flavien Hourquet (France), Kevin Bralley (France)
TMO: Denis Grenouillet (France)

Toulouse v Cardiff
(Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse – Kick-off: 16.15; ; 15.15 UK time; 15.15 GMT)


@rugby365com: Toulouse by 18 points


Toulouse: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Matthis Lebel, 13 Pierre-Louis Barassi, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Arthur Retiere, 10 Thomas Ramos, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Alexandre Roumat, 7 Anthony Jelonch, 6 Thibaud Flament, 5 Emmanuel Meafou, 4 Richie Arnold, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Guillaume Cramont, 17 Rodrigue Neti, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Piula Faasalele, 20 Alban Placines, 21 Paul Costes, 22 Baptiste Germain, 23 Santiago Chocobares.

Cardiff: 15 Jacob Beetham, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Willis Halaholo, 12 Ben Thomas, 11 Mason Grady, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Tomos Williams 8 Mackenzie Martin, 7 Lucas de la Rua, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Teddy Williams, 4 Rory Thornton, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Efan Daniel, 1 Rhys Carré.
Replacements: 16 Evan Lloyd, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Rhys Litterick, 19 Josh Turnbull, 20 Alun Lawrence, 21 Ellis Bevan, 22 Harri Millard, 23 Owen Lane.

Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe (England)
Assistant referees: Hamish Grant (England), Jamie Leahy (England)
TMO: David Rose (England)

Munster v Bayonne
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 17.30; 18.30 French time; 17.30 GMT)


@rugby365com: Munster by 15 points


Munster: 15 Calvin Nash, 14 Shay McCarthy, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Seán O’Brien, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 John Hodnett, 6 Tom Ahern, 5 Tadhg Beirne (captain), 4 Fineen Wycherley, 3 John Ryan, 2 Scott Buckley, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Eoghan Clarke, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Jack O’Donoghue, 20 Alex Kendellen, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Tony Butler, 23 Ben O’Connor.

Bayonne: 15 Cheikh Tiberghien, 14 Bastien Pourailly, 13 Peyo Muscarditz, 12 Riko Buliruarua, 11 Rémy Baget, 10 Thomas Dolhagaray, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Rodrigo Bruni, 7 Baptiste Heguy, 6 Pierre Huguet, 5 Kote Mikautadze, 4 Denis Marchois, 3 Tevita Tatafu, 2 Facundo Bosch, 1 Matis Perchaud.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Acquier, 17 Swan Cormenier, 18 Junior Tagi, 19 Arthur Iturria, 20 Rémi Bourdeau, 21 Gela Aprasidze, 22 Arnaud Erbinartegaray, 23 Tom Spring.

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England), Peter Allan (England)
TMO: Dan Jones (England)

Bulls v Saracens
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 19.30; 17.30 UK time; 17.30 GMT)


@rugby365com: Bulls by three points


Bulls: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 David Kriel, 11 Canan Moodie, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Cameron Hanekom, 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Reinhardt Ludwig, 4 Janko Swanepoel, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Deon Slabbert, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Sergeal Petersen.

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Andy Christie, 6 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 5 Hugh Tizard, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Alec Clarey, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Tom West, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Theo McFarland, 20 Toby Knight, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Olly Hartley, 23 Lucio Cinti.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Benoit Rousselet (France), Filippo Russo (Italy)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

Bristol Bears v Lyon
(Ashton Gate, Bristol- Kick-off: 20.00; 21.00 French time; 20.00 GMT)


@rugby365com: Bristol by seven points


Bristol Bears: 15 Max Malins, 14 Gabriel Ibitoye, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 11 Rich Lane, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Fitz Harding (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Joe Batley, 4 James Dun, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Jake Woolmore.
Replacements: 16 Gabriel Oghre, 17 Sam Grahamslaw, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Josh Caulfield, 20 Dan Thomas, 21 Sam Wolstenholme, 22 James Williams, 23 Kalaveti Ravouvou.

Lyon: 15 Thaakir Abrahams, 14 Ethan Dumortier, 13 Alfred Parisien, 12 Semi Radradra, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Fletcher Smith, 9 Martin Page-Relo, 8 Mickael Guillard, 7 Pierre-Samuel Pacheco, 6 Marvin Okuya, 5 Killian Geraci, 4 Joel Kpoku, 3 Paulo Tafili, 2 Yanis Charcosset, 1 Sébastien Taofifenua.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Jérôme Rey, 18 Feao Fotuaika, 19 Alban Roussel, 20 Ugo Vignolles, 21 Liam Rimet, 22 Kyle Godwin, 23 Alexandre Tchaptchet.

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Breakspear (Wales), Gwyn Morris (Wales)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)

Sunday, December 10

Sale Sharks v Stade Français
(Salford Stadium, Barton-upon-Irwell – Kick-off: 13.00; 14.00 French time; 13.00 GMT)


@rugby365com: Sale Sharks by six points


Sale Sharks: 15 Joe Carpenter, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Sam James, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Arron Reed, 10 George Ford, 9 Gus Warr, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Ben Curry (captain), 6 Sam Dugdale, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Ben Bamber, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Si McIntyre.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Asher Opoku-Fordjour, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Josh Beaumont, 21 Raffi Quirke, 22 Tom Curtis, 23 Connor Doherty.

Stade Francais: 15 Leo Barre, 14 Kylan Hamdaoui, 13 Jeremy Ward (captain), 12 Pierre Boudehent, 11 Peniasi Dakuwaqa, 10 Joris Segonds, 9 Hugo Zabalza, 8 Mathieu Hirigoyen, 7 Ryan Chapuis, 6 Julien Ory, 5 JJ van der Mescht, 4 Pierre-Henri Azagoh, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Lucas Peyresblanques, 1 Clement Castets.
Replacements: 16 Mamoudou Meite, 17 Sergo Abramishvili, 18 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Baptiste Pesenti, 21 Jules Gimbert, 22 Tanginoa Halaifonua, 23 Lester Etien.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Ian Kenny (Scotland), Jonny Perriam (Scotland)
TMO: David Sutherland (Scotland)

Leicester Tigers v Stormers
(Welford Road, Leicester – Kick-off: 15.15; 17.15 SA time; 15.15 GMT)


@rugby365com: Leicester Tigers by 16 points


Leicester Tigers: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Josh Bassett, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Solomone Kata, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Hanro Liebenberg, 5 Cameron Henderson, 4 Ollie Chessum, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Julián Montoya (captain), 1 Francois van Wyk.
Replacements: 16 Archie Vanes, 17 James Cronin, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Kyle Hatherell, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Jamie Shillcock, 23 Dan Kelly.

Stormers: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 12 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 11 Ben Loader, 10 Jurie Matthee, 9 Paul de Wet, 8 Keke Morabe, 7 Willie Engelbrecht, 6 Nama Xaba, 5 Connor Evans, 4 Hendré Stassen, 3 Brok Harris (captain), 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Sti Sithole.
Replacements: 16: JJ Kotze, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, 19 Dylan Sjoblom, 20 Junior Pokomela, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Stefan Ungerer, 23 Cornel Smit.

Referee: Tual Trainini (France)
Assistant referees: Adrien Marbot (France), Evan Urruzmendi (France)
TMO: Cédric Marchat (France)

La Rochelle v Leinster
(Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle – Kick-off: 16.15 local; 15.15 UK time; 15:15 GMT)


@rugby365com: La Rochelle by three points


La Rochelle: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Ulupano Seuteni, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Jules Favre, 10 Antoine Hastoy, 9 Tawerra Kerr-Barlow, 8 Yoan Tanga, 7 Levani Botia, 6 Paul Boudehent, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Thomas Lavault, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Pierre Bourgarit (captain), 1 Reda Wardi.
Replacements: 16 Sacha Idoumi, 17 Joel Sclavi, 18 Georges-Henri Colombe, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rémi Picquette, 21 Judicaël Cancoriet, 22 Teddy Iribaren, Hugo Reus.

Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose (cc), 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Jimmy O’Brien, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Will Connors, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 James Ryan (cc), 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Michael Ala’alatoa, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Thomas Clarkson, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Ben Murphy, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Charlie Ngatai.

Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Hamish Smales (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Andrew Jackson (England)

Racing 92 v Harlequins
(Paris La Defense Arena; Paris – Kick-off: 18.30; 17.30 UK time; 17.30 GMT)


@rugby365com: Racing by nine points


Racing 92: 15 Henry Arundell, 14 Vinaya Habosi, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Antoine Gibert, 9 Nolann le Garrec, 8 Wenceslas Lauret, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Ibrahim Diallo, 5 Boris Palu, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Guram Gogichashvili.
Replacements: 16 Jannick Tarrit, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Thomas Laclayat, 19 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 20 Jordan Joseph, 21 Clovis le Bail, 22 Tristan Tedder, 23 Henry Chavancy.

Harlequins: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Nick David, 13 Will Joseph, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt (captain), 7 Will Evans, 6 Chandler Cunningham-South, 5 Dino Lamb, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Sam Riley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Fin Baxter, 18 Simon Kerrod, 19 Irne Herbst, 20 James Chisholm, 21 Will Porter, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Oscar Beard.

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)


* Additional reporting by @ChampionsCup

Champions Cup, Round One - teams and predictions

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