Preview: European Champions Cup, Round Five
Back-to-back defeats to ASM Clermont Auvergne sees the twice European champions, Saracens, seven points adrift of their Top 14 rivals in Pool Two and two points behind this season's leading points scorers, Ospreys, ahead of Saturday's clash at the Liberty Stadium.
Saracens have won all four previous meetings between the clubs in the European Cup, but they have all been close encounters with nine points the largest margin of victory.
The magnificent new U Arena opens its doors to European club rugby for the first time on Sunday as second-placed Racing 92 take on Pool Four pace-setters Munster, who are looking to book a quarterfinal spot for a record 17th time.
The famous Rag Doll will be sporting the colours of Bath at The Recreation Ground Friday, as Scarlets make the short journey from west Wales for a crunch match in Pool Five – which sees the top three clubs separated by a single point.
Bath triumphed in Llanelli in Round Two, but Scarlets have fond memories from their only previous European Cup visit to The Rec when current Backs Coach, Stephen Jones, kicked them to a quarterfinal success in 2002.
Only Leinster and Clermont boast four wins from four and both could clinch places in the knockout stage this weekend.
The French champions head to Northampton on Saturday, while Leinster host Glasgow Warriors at the RDS Arena on Sunday.
We look at all the Round Five matches!
Friday, January 12
Bath v Scarlets
(The Recreation Ground – Kick-off: 19.45; 1945 GMT)
This will be the third meeting between the clubs in Europe, both previous fixtures being won by the away side on the day (one win apiece).
Bath have won six of their last seven fixtures against Welsh opposition, a quarterfinal defeat to Scarlets in 2002 their only defeat during that run.
Scarlets won their last away game, against Benetton Rugby, but haven't won consecutive matches on the road since winning all three away games during the 2006/07 pool stage.
Bath have scored seven tries so far in this campaign, fewer than any other side in the tournament.
Tom Dunn has made 89 tackles to date, 22 more than any other player whilst maintaining a success rate of 95 percent.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Matt Garvey (captain), 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 James Phillips, 20 Paul Grant, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 James Wilson.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Paul Asquith, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Tom Prydie, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Hadleigh Parkes.
Referee: Jerome Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Maxime Chalon (France), Jean-Luc Rebollal (France)
TMO: Phillippe Bonhoure (France)
Saturday, January 13
Ulster v La Rochelle
(Kingspan Stadium – Kick-off: 13.00; 13.00 GMT; 14.00 France)
This will be the second meeting between the clubs, with La Rochelle's victory in Round Two representing Ulster's heaviest defeat in Europe since they lost 60-22 in Toulon in Round Five during the 2014/15 season.
Ulster lost their last home game against TOP 14 opposition but haven't lost consecutive games against French sides at the Kingspan since 2000 when they lost to Bourgoin and Toulouse.
This will be La Rochelle's first Champions Cup game outside France or England. They have travelled to Ireland once in the Challenge Cup, however, losing to Connacht in October 2014 (12-48).
Ulster has won just 81 percent of their own line-outs this season, the lowest rate in the competition.
La Rochelle has a 92 percent goal-kicking success rate this season, the best of any team in the competition, while Ulster's is 76 percent.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Alan O'Connor, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Johnny McPhillips, 23 Darren Cave.
La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 Vincent Rattez, 10 Jérémy Sinzelle, 9 Alexi Bales, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Levani Botia, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Dany Priso.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Mohamed Boughanmi, 19 Gregory Lamboley, 20 Afa Amosa, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Benjamin Nobles, 23 Paul Jordaan.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Matthew O'Grady (England)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)
Exeter Chiefs v Montpellier
(Sandy Park – Kick-off: 15.15; 15.15 GMT; 14.15 French time)
The clubs have met just once in the Champions Cup, Exeter's three-point victory in Round Two was the first time Montpellier had lost at home since they were defeated by Bath in Round 3 during the 2014/15 season.
Overall, Exeter and Montpellier have met three times previously in Europe, having faced each other in the Challenge Cup twice. All three matches have seen the defeated side on the day come away with a losing bonus point.
Montpellier have won each of their last two games, although they've not won more consecutive matches in the competition since a run of five wins in a row during the 2012/13 pool stage.
Sam Simmonds has made more tackles (46) than any other player who is yet to miss one this season.
Montpellier is one of just two clubs with a 100 percent scrum success rate after four rounds (Harlequins are the other).
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Toby Salmon, 20 Matt Kvesic, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Phil Dollman.
Montpellier: 15 Henry Immelman, 14 Gabriel N'gandebe, 13 Frans Steyn, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Gela Aprasidze, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Julien Bardy, 5 Konstantine Mikautadze, 4 Nicholaas Van Rensburg, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili.
Replacements: 16 Romain Ruffenach, 17 Grégory Fichten, 18 Mohamed Haouas, 19 Julien Delannoy, 20 Kelian Galletier, 21 Jesse Mogg, 22 Joe Tomane, 23 Benjamin Fall.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Harlequins v Wasps
(The Twickenham Stoop – Kick-off: 17.30; 17.30 GMT)
Wasps have won two of the three previous meetings between the clubs in the Champions Cup, including their only visit to the Twickenham Stoop in 2014/15.
Harlequins have lost all four of their pool games this season, their worst run in the competition since 2009/10 when they failed to win a match.
Wasps have won on each of their last two trips to face Aviva Premiership opposition with both victories coming by 20+ points.
Harlequins have scored just 66 points so far, fewer than any other side in the competition.
Wasps have averaged just 13 minutes and 59 seconds in possession to date, the lowest average in the competition.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Charlie Walker, 13 Alofa Alofa, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 James Lang, 9 Danny Care, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Archie White, 6 James Chisholm, 5 Ben Glynn, 4 George Merrick, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dave Ward (captain), 1 Lewis Boyce.
Replacements: 16 Elia Elia, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Mat Luamanu, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Ross Chisholm.
Wasps: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Thomas Young, 6 James Haskell, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Ashley Johnson, 1 Simon McIntyre.
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Rob Miller, 23 Guy Armitage.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Thomas Charabas (France), Vincent Blasco (France)
TMO: Eric Briquet Campin (France)
Northampton Saints v ASM Clermont Auvergne
(Franklin's Gardens – Kick-off: 17.30; 17.30 GMT; 16.30 French time)
ASM Clermont Auvergne has won all four previous meetings between the clubs, scoring 33 points on average per game in that run and conceding just 11.
This will be just the second time Northampton Saints have hosted Clermont. They met in the 2001/02 pool stage, with Clermont winning 21-15 at Franklin's Gardens.
Saints have lost their last five games in the Champions Cup, however, they've lost just one of their last nine games when hosting TOP 14 opposition.
Clermont is one of two clubs with a 100 percent win rate after four games (also Leinster), their best start to a campaign since winning all six pool stage matches in 2012/13.
Saints have won just 11 turnovers so far, the fewest of any side, they also have the poorest scrum success rate (68 percent).
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Stephenson, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Christian Day, 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Campese Ma’afu.
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 Mitch Eadie, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 James Grayson, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Clermont: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Nick Abendanon, 13 Peter Betham, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Remi Grosso, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Etienne Falgoux.
Replacements: 16 Yohan Beheregaray, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Davit Zirakashvili, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Arthur Iturria, 21 Charly Trussardi, 22 Scott Spedding, 23 Viktor Kolelishvili.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Leo Colgan (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Ospreys v Saracens
(Liberty Stadium – Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Saracens have won all four previous meetings between the clubs, however, each of those victories came by single-figure margins.
The Ospreys come into Saturday's game having won back-to-back matches for the first time since 2011. However, they've not won three consecutive fixtures in the competition since the 2009/10 pool stage.
In contrast, Saracens have lost two games on the bounce for the first time since January 2011 when they lost to Leinster and Clermont in consecutive weeks.
Both clubs have scored 17 tries this season, the joint-highest in the competition.
Saracens have the best line-out success rate (94 percent) this season; only three sides have a worse rate than Ospreys (82 percent).
Ospreys: 15 Sam Davies, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Dan Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Will Jones, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Dafydd Howells.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 George Kruis, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Chris Wyles.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Eddie Hogan O'Connell (Ireland)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Sunday, January 14
Leinster v Glasgow Warriors
(RDS Arena – Kick-off: 13.00; 13.00 GMT)
Leinster have won six of their seven European games against Glasgow, losing only in their first such encounter in 1999.
Only once have Leinster allowed Glasgow within losing bonus point range in their last six games, with five of their six victories against the Warriors coming by 13+ points.
Glasgow has not lost their opening five games of a Champions Cup campaign since 2012/13, while Leinster is aiming to win their opening five games for the first time since 2004/05.
Leinster have conceded the fewest penalties of any side this season (29), whilst Glasgow has conceded the joint most (49, also Ospreys and Saracens).
Glasgow has averaged 15 offloads per game this season, more than any other side in the Champions Cup, however, former Glasgow player Leone Nakarawa of Racing 92 has made the most individually (14).
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Isa Nacewa (captain), 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 James Ryan, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Rob Kearney.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Nick Grigg, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Ali Price, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Matt Smith, 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Greg Peterson, 4 Rob Harley (c), 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 George Turner, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Kiran McDonald, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 George Horne, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Henry Pyrgos.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Simone Boaretto (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)
RC Toulon v Benetton
(Stade Felix Mayol – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 GMT; 14.00 Italian time)
This will be just the second meeting between the clubs after RC Toulon won in Round Two by a single point.
Benetton has lost their last 10 in a row against TOP 14 opposition, and their defeat against Toulon was the only game in which they finished within 10 points of their opponents during that run.
Toulon has won 22 of their 23 home games in the Champions Cup, losing only to holders Saracens in Round 1 last season.
Toulon has averaged 155 carries per game this season, more than any other side. Benetton ranks fourth in this category, however (138).
Benetton has missed an average of 14 tackles per game – the poorest rate in the competition.
Toulon: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Chris Ashton, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Eric Escande, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Raphael Lakafia, 6 Facundo Isa, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Juandre Kruger, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Florian Fresia.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Emerick Setiano, 19 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 Semi Radradra, 22 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 23 Jocelino Suta.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Nacho Brex, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Seb Negri Da Oleggio, 6 Federico Ruzza, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 Ira Herbst, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Alberto de Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Alessandro Zanni, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Marco Barbini, 22 Giorgio Bronzini, 23 Tommy Allan.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Andrew Jackson (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
Racing 92 v Munster
(U Arena – Kick-off: 16.15; 15.15 GMT; 15.15 UK time)
The clubs have met five times previously. Racing 92 won their first encounter in the 2012/13 season with Munster winning all four fixtures since then.
The last time Racing hosted Munster they suffered their joint heaviest defeat in Europe losing by 25 points, level with losses to Leinster and Clermont.
Despite that defeat to Munster, Racing 92 have managed to win seven of their last nine games at home, never conceding more than 18 points in those seven victories.
Racing has a goal-kicking success rate of just 65 percent this season, the lowest rate of any side in the competition.
The top two ball carriers this season could face each other on Sunday. Christiaan Stander has made a competition high 71 carries, with Leone Nakarawa just one behind on 70.
Racing 92: 15 Louis Dupichot, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Rémi Tales, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Leone Nakarawa, 7 Wenceslas Lauret, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Edwin Maka, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Vasil Kakovin, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 20 Boris Palu, 21 Xavier Chauveau, 22 Benjamin Dambielle, 23 Joe Rokocoko.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 James Cronin, 18 John Ryan, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Alex Wootton.
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Roy Maybank (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
Castres Olympique v Leicester Tigers
(Stade Pierre Fabre – Kick-off: 18.30; 17.30 GMT; 17.30 UK time)
Leicester's 25 point win in Round One represented Castres' heaviest defeat since 2014/15 when they lost to Harlequins (19-47).
Castres are unbeaten in their last five home games, their longest run without defeat on home soil since winning eight in a row between October 2001 and October 2005.
Leicester have lost their last six games on the road, those defeats coming by an average margin of 23 points.
George Ford has landed 16 of his 18 shots at goal this season, giving him the best success rate (89 percent) of players to take 10+ kicks.
Yannick Caballero has the unwanted record for most missed tackles so far this season (13).
Castres: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Kylian Jaminet, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Florian Vialelle, 11 Armand Batlle, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Mathieu Babillot, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Thibault Lassalle, 4 Alexandre Bias, 3 Damien Tussac, 2 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 1 Antoine Tichit.
Replacements: 16 Kevin Firmin, 17 Tudor Stroe, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Victor Moreaux, 20 Steve Mafi, 21 Yohan Domenech, 22 Yohan Le Bourhis, 23 Julien Dumora.
Leicester Tigers: 15 George Worth, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Charlie Thacker, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Joe Ford, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Valentino Mapapalangi, 7 Will Evans, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Mike Fitzgerald, 4 Harry Wells, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Greg Bateman (captain).
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Ben Betts, 19 Joe Maksymiw, 20 Brendon O’Connor, 21 Harry Simmons, 22 Mathew Tait, 23 Nick Malouf.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)