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European Champions Cup, Round One - Teams and Predictions

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY PREVIEW: Sporting history will be made this weekend when South Africa’s franchises enter European Rugby’s Champions Cup for the first time, which is another sign of the country’s push into more lucrative markets and the increasing shift away from the global south.

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The Durban-based Sharks will make South Africa’s bow when they host English side Harlequins on Saturday, while Cape Town’s Stormers will visit French side, Clermont

In Saturday’s late fixture, the Bulls from Pretoria welcome French club Lyon.

For the Sharks’ fans, the fixture against Harlequins will be an intriguing one.

The Sharks will enter the match basically at full strength after they missed many of their Springboks in the United Rugby Championship due to international duty.

While things haven’t gone smoothly in Durban recently, with the departure of coach Sean Everitt and Director of Rugby Neil Powell standing in as coach, the team will be expecting a response in their play in a tournament they want to make a massive impression in.

And they couldn’t have picked a tougher opponent to start with, especially as Harlequins have enough firepower to counter the Sharks’ strengths.

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Powell knows that his team’s defensive systems will be seriously tested against the English giants.

“They got a more ball-in-hand approach,” said Powell.

“They like to play from everywhere and we are aware of it.

“We did our analysis on them and we tried to work out from a defensive perspective how we will be able to keep them out over the weekend.

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“They like to attack and I guess we need to work out a plan on how we will counter that.”

In France, a partisan home crowd, several unknowns and a Clermont side itching to strike a blow against URC teams will confront the defending URC champions.

Without Frans Malherbe, Evan Roos and Marvin Orie, the Stormers will be up against it and will need to fall back on their talented backline to get a victory.

Others have warned as well, with Bulls coach Jake White, who coached Montpellier saying it was a tough place to play.

“When Clermont are at home and on fire, they are really fearsome,” White said.

A top home record makes it even more difficult and the Stormers will have to dig deep to get a result.

“Our visit to Clermont this Saturday is huge. It is a history-making occasion because it will always be remembered as the franchise’s first-ever Champions Cup group match,” said Stormers head coach John Dobson in his weekly column.

“For those who believe the first in anything is always the best and most memorable, I hope we can be true to this belief.

“I have such high regard for the strength of French domestic rugby and the form of the French national team in the past 18 months is testament to the strength of the French Top 14. The league also includes so many wonderfully talented overseas players who have made France their home or who still play for their respective national teams but have committed their club future to France.

“Clermont are renowned as the epi-centre of French club rugby. They are a team that have consistently proved to be so good in the league and then somehow stumbled in the play-offs of the Top 14 and they in the past have suffered similar disappointment in the Heineken Cup.

“But if they have a reputation of being the bridesmaid when it comes to winning the biggest titles, it is the opposite when they play at home at the Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin.

“The South African players I know who play or who have played in France and those in our current squad with French club rugby experience, like Deon Fourie, Steve Kitshoff and Joe Dweba, talk of the challenge of visiting Clermont as being like few they have ever experienced outside of Test rugby.”

Possibly one of the most difficult games to call this weekend is in Pretoria.

Jake White’s Bulls have built up a formidable home record in the URC at their fortress Loftus base but face a very unknown factor in the rising stars of French rugby, Lyon.

Last season’s Challenge Cup winners are more than capable of causing an upset but will need to overcome altitude and a Bulls side rampant at home.

Their counter-attacks could prove useful against a Bulls side that does spill ball and the clash of styles makes for a compelling fixture.

Another interesting twist is White’s team selection.

He changed his entire starting XV from their URC fixture last weekend. There is a host of big names missing, but White believes there is a good balance in his matchday squad.

“If you look at the team, the average age is quite high,” said White.

“I think it a nice balanced group.

“Taking nothing away from Lyon, I know how strong Top 14 rugby is and I know how strong European Cup rugby is, but it’s an opportunity and we have to be clever. Not only in this game but next week as well and the following week and it goes all the way through to the end of January before we get a break during the Six Nations.”

White added: “Every guy in our squad appreciates that we do what is best for the team.

“I sat with the group when I started here and we pick a team every week we think can win, we pick a team that we feel needs to get a chance.

“We do what is needed for us as a group and what we need now is not the emotional side of it.

“A lot of boys have been working hard and want to play as well. One thing coaches can do is create hope.

“The ethos of the group is that we want to do what is best for the group and not for the player.”

See below for Saturday and Sunday’s teams and predictions:

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10:

Sharks v Harlequins
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 UK & Ireland time; 13.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Harlequins by six points.

Teams:

Sharks: 15 Henry Chamberlain, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phendulani Buthelezi, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Lionel Cronje, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.

Harlequins: 15 Nick David, 14 Cadan Murley, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Tommy Allan, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt (captain), 7 Will Evans, 6 Jack Kenningham, 5 Irne Herbst, 4 Dino Lamb, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Jack Walker, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 George Head, 17 Fin Baxter, 18 Simon Kerrod, 19 George Hammond, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Lewis Gjaltema, 22 Oscar Beard, 23 Will Edwards.

Referee: Tual Trainini (France)
Assistant referees: Pierre Brousset (France), Benoit Rousselet (France)
TMO: Thomas Charabas (France)

Racing 92 v Leinster
(Stade Océane, Le Havre – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 UK & Ireland time; 13.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by three points.

Teams:

Racing 92: 15 Max Spring, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Gaël Fickou (captain), 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Nolann Le Garrec, 8 Maxime Baudonne, 7 Ibrahim Diallo, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Fabien Sanconnie, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Replacements: 16 Janick Tarrit, 17 Hassane Kolingar, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Boris Palu, 20 Anton Bresler, 21 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 22 Antoine Gibert, 23 Olivier Klemenczak.

Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jimmy O’Brien, 13 Garry Ringrose (captain), 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 James Ryan, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Michael Ala’alatoa, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Cian Healy, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Jamie Osborne.

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: John Meredith (England), Harry Walbaum (England)
TMO: Andrew Jackson (England)

Gloucester v Bordeaux-Bègles
(Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester – Kick-off: 15.15 (15.15 GMT; 16.15 France time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Gloucester by nine points.

Teams:

Gloucester: 15 Lloyd Evans, 14 Alex Hearle, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Seb Atkinson, 11 Jonny May, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Steve Varney, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Lewis Ludlow (captain), 6 Freddie Clarke, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Cameron Jordan, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Santiago Socino, 1 Val Rapava Ruskin.
Replacements: 16 Seb Blake, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Ciaran Knight, 19 Albert Tuisue, 20 Jack Clement, 21 Charlie Chapman, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Jack Reeves.

Bordeaux-Begles: 15 Romain Buros, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Tani Vili, 12 Federico Mori, 11 Geoffrey Cros, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Maxime Lucu, 8 Tom Willis, 7 Mahamadou Diaby (captain), 6 Renato Giammarioli, 5 Alban Roussel, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sipili Falatea, 2 Maxime Lamothe, 1 Lekso Kaulashvili.
Replacements: 16 Clement Maynadier, 17 Christopher Vaotoa, 18 Vadim Cobilas, 19 Cyril Cazeaux, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Jules Gimbert, 22 Gatien Masse, 23 Louis Bielle-Biarrey.

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Mike English (Wales), Rhys Jones (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Clermont Auvergne v Stormers
(Stade Marcel-Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand – Kick-off: 16.15; 15.15 GMT; 17.15 SA time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Stormers by four points.

Teams:

Clermont: 15 Alex Newsome, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Samuel Ezeala, 12 Apisai Naqalevu, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Sebastien Bezy, 8 Jacobus van Tonder, Alexandre Fischer, 6 Arthur Iturria (c), 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Tomas Lavanini, 3 Cristian Ojovan, Yohan Beheregaray, 1 Eitienne Falgoux.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Boudou, 17 Giorgi Beria, 18 Davit Kubriashvili, 19 Thibaud Lenen, 20 Killian Tixeront, 21 Baptiste Jauneau, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Chiekh Tiberghien.

Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Alapati Leuia, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Gary Porter, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Replacements: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Sazi Sandi, 19 Ben-Jason Dixon, 20 Marcel Theunissen, 21 Junior Pokomela, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Clayton Blommetjies.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Wayne Falla (England), Alex Thomas (England)
TMO: Thomas Foley (England)

Stade Rochelais v Northampton Saints
(Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle – Kick-off: 18.30; 17.30 UK & Ireland time; 17.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Stade Rochelais by 12 points.

Teams:

La Rochelle: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 UJ Seuteni, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Pierre Boudehent, 10 Antoine Hastoy, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Grégory Alldritt (captain), 7 Yoan Tanga, 6 Remi Bourdeau, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Thomas Lavault, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Reda Wardi.
Replacements: 16 Quentin Lespiaucq Brettes, 17 Léo Aouf, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Romain Sazy, 20 Paul Boudehent, 21 Thomas Berjon, 22 Levani Botia, 23 Martin Alonso Munoz.

Northampton: 15 George Furbank, 14 James Ramm, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Fraser Dingwall, 11 Tommy Freeman, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Tom James, 8 Lewis Ludlam (captain), 7 Aaron Hinkley, 6 Alex Coles, 5 David Ribbans, 4 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Robbie Smith, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Ehren Painter, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Juarno Augustus, 22 Alex Mitchell, 23 Rory Hutchinson.

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland), Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)

Bulls v Lyon
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 19.30; 18.30 France time; 17.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Lyon by three points.

Teams:

Bulls: 15 Wandisile Simelane, 14 Sibongile Novuka, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Morne Steyn (captain), 9 Bernard van der Linde, 8 Muller Uys, 7 WJ Steenkamp, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Reinhardt Ludwig, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Sebastian Lombard, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Phumzile Maqondwana, 21 Keegan Johannes, 22 Chris Smit, 23 Juan Mostert.

Lyon: 15 Leo Berdeu, 14 Ethan Dumortier, 13 Tavite Veredamu, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Fletcher Smith, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain (captain), 8 Arno Botha, 7 Mickael Guillard, 6 Dylan Cretin, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Felix Lambey, 3 Paulo Tafili, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Jérôme Rey
Replacements: 16 Guillaume Marchand, 17 Hamza Kaabèche, 18 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 19 Theo William, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Jonathan Pélissié, 22 Xavier Mignot, 23 Alexandre Tchaptchet

Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Sara Cox (England), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Ian Tempest (England)

Castres Olympique v Exeter Chiefs
(Stade Pierre-Fabre, Castres – Kick-off: 21.00; 20.00 UK & Ireland time; 20.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Exeter by six points.

Teams:

Castres: 15 Julien Dumora, 14 Geoffrey Palis, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Antoine Zeghdar, 11 Filipo Nakosi, 10 Louis Le Brun, 9 Gauthier Doubrere, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Nick Champion de Crespigny, 6 Mathieu Babillot (captain), 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Wilfrid Hounkpatin, 2 Gaetan Barlot, 1 Antoine Tichit.
Replacements: 16 Pierre Colonna, 17 Loîs Guérois-Galisson, 18 Antoine Guillamon, 19 Théo Hannoyer, 20 Kevin Kornath, 21 Josaia Raisuqe, 22 Rory Kockott, 23 Adrien Seguret.

Exeter: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Rory O’Loughlin, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Sam Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Christ Tshiunza, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Dafydd Jenkins, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Dan Frost, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Santiago Grondona, 21 Will Becconsall, 22 Solomone Kata, 23 Josh Hodge.

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Cole (Ireland), Daniel Carson (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11:

Sale Sharks v Ulster
(AJ Bell Stadium, Manchester – Kick-off: 13.00; 13.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ulster by two points.

Teams:

Sale: 15 Joe Carpenter, 14 Arron Reed, 13 Sam James, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Rob du Preez (captain), 9 Gus Warr, 8 Daniel Du Preez, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jean-Luc du Preez, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Bevan Rodd.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Josh Beaumont, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Tom Curtis, 23 Byron McGuigan.

Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Ethan McIlroy, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Marcus Rea, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Ben Moxham.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Dufort (France), Flavien Hourquet (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)

Saracens v Edinburgh
(StoneX Stadium, London – Kick-off: 15.15; 15.15 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Saracens by 11 points.

Teams:

Saracens: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Theo McFarland, 5 Hugh Tizard, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Alec Clarey, 19 Callum Hunter-Hill, 20 Andy Christie, 21 Jackson Wray, 22 Aled Davies, 23 Alex Goode.

Edinburgh: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 James Lang, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Ben Vellacott, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Jamie Hodgson, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Patrick Harrison, 17 Boan Venter, 18 WP Nel, 19 Marshall Sykes, 20 Ben Muncaster, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Charlie Savala, 23 Damien Hoyland.

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant referees: Vincent Blasco Baque (France), David Beun (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

Munster v Stade Toulousain
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 15.15; 15.15 GMT; 16.15 France time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Toulouse by three points.

Teams:

Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 John Hodnett, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Roman Salanoa, 19 Jack O’Donoghue, 20 Alex Kendellen, 21 Paddy Patterson, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Keith Earls.

Toulouse: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Ange Capuozzo, 13 Dimitri Delibes, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Alexandre Roumat, 7 Alban Placines, 6 Anthony Jelonch, 5 Emmanuel Meafou, 4 Richie Arnold, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Rodrigue Neti.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Thibaud Flament, 20 Yannick Youyoutte, 21 Jack Willis, 22 Martin Page Relo, 23 Lucas Tauzin.

Referee: Christophe Ridley (England)
Assistant referees: Greg MacDonald (England), James Clarke (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

Ospreys v Leicester Tigers
(Swansea Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 17.30; 17.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leicester by 16 points.

Teams:

Ospreys: 15 Max Nagy, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Joe Hawkins, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Jack Walsh, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Jac Morgan, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tom Francis, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Huw Sutton, 20 Rhys Davies, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Mike Collins.

Leicester: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Harry Potter, 13 Guy Porter, 12 Dan Kelly, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Charlie Atkinson, 9 Jack van Poortvliet, 8 Olly Cracknell, 7 Hanro Liebenberg (captain), 6 George Martin, 5 Ollie Chessum, 4 Harry Wells, 3 Joe Heyes, 2 Charlie Clare, 1 James Whitcombe.
Replacements: 16 Gabriel Oghre, 17 Nephi Leatigaga, 18 Will Hurd, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Sean Jansen, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Matt Scott.

Referee: Ludovic Cayre (France)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Gasnier (France), Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy (France)
TMO: Eric Briquet-Campin (France)

Additional sources: AAP & @THESTORMERS

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