Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup 2021/22 Round 1 fixtures: Cardiff Rugby vs Toulouse (1pm), Leinster vs Bath (3.15pm), Bordeaux-Begles vs Leicester Tigers (3.15pm), Clermont Auvergne vs Ulster (5.30pm), Exeter Chiefs vs Montpellier (8pm)
Last Updated: 09/12/21 3:10pm
We look ahead to Saturday’s five Heineken Champions Cup games as Europe’s top competition kicks off for another year…
Cardiff Rugby vs Toulouse, Saturday 1pm
Cardiff, beset by absentees due to their ill-fated URC trip out to South Africa, will have to face defending European champions Toulouse in the first of Saturday’s clashes with a scratch team made up of Wales internationals, squad and academy players, as well as potentially some lower-Welsh league performers.
Cardiff and Toulouse first met in Europe in the 1995/96 Heineken Champions Cup final, a game won by the French after extra-time; since then the sides have met seven times in the competition with Cardiff winning three and losing four of those clashes.
The last time Cardiff and Toulouse met in Europe was in the pool stage of the 2017/18 Challenge Cup, with the Welsh side narrowly winning both games (17-15 away, 18-13 home).
Toulouse won last season’s crown for a record-breaking fifth time, while Cardiff remain the only Welsh team to have reached the final of the competition.
Toulouse’s star scrum-half Antoine Dupont was the joint-top try scorer in the European Cup last season, crossing the whitewash four times, while the French outfit also won 27/27 scrums on their own feed in Europe last season – the most of any of the five sides to maintain a 100 per cent success rate in this facet of the game.
Leinster vs Bath, Saturday 3.15pm
Leinster and Bath have met 11 times previously in the Heineken Champions Cup, with the Irish province winning nine of those encounters and losing two.
At home, Leinster have won five of their six European Cup games against Bath, with the Premiership side’s sole victory coming some 16 years ago in October 2005: a narrow 22-19 win at the RDS.
Bath’s next defeat in the European Cup will be their 50th, when they will become the fourth Premiership club to notch up as many defeats in the competition after Leicester, Northampton and Harlequins.
Leinster flanker Josh van der Flier was the top tackler in the European Cup last season, making 65 tackles across his four appearances, with only three players winning more turnovers than the Leinsterman (four).
Bath currently sit rooted to the bottom of the Premiership table, having lost all nine of their fixtures to date, and could be in for a long 80 minutes in Dublin.
Bordeaux-Begles vs Leicester Tigers, Saturday 3.15pm
Bordeaux-Begles and Leicester Tigers have never met in Europe before, with Bordeaux the 39th different side the Tigers will have faced in Europe and 36th different side in the European Cup.
Bordeaux won all three of their home games in the Heineken Champions Cup last season, scoring 10 tries and conceding just two in the process as they made it to the semi-finals.
Leicester are 18 points shy of becoming the fourth side to score 4,000 points in the European Cup, behind Toulouse, Leinster and Munster. They are also 22 points shy of becoming the eighth side to concede 3,000 points in the competition.
Bordeaux playmaker Matthieu Jalibert finished as the top points scorer in the European Cup last season, notching up 72 points thanks to two tries, seven conversions and 16 penalties.
Leicester were the top points (204) and try (24) scorers in the Challenge Cup last season, also making the most carries, metres, breaks, tackles and offloads of any side, although they lost the final to Montpellier.
The Tigers have made a superb start to their domestic campaign, winning nine from nine to sit top of the Premiership – their best start to a season for 20 years.
Clermont Auvergne vs Ulster, Saturday 5.30pm
This will be the seventh clash between Clermont and Ulster in the European Cup, with the previous six all pool stage meetings and all won by the home side on the day.
Clermont have lost their last three home games in a row in the European Cup, their worst-ever such run and as many defeats as they had suffered in their previous 41 home games.
Ulster have not won an away game in France in the European Cup since January 2016 (vs Oyonnax), losing their last six such matches in the competition.
Clermont full-back Kotaro Matsushima was the joint-top try scorer in Europe’s top competition last season, scoring four times.
Clermont duo Damian Penaud (23) and George Moala (20) were also two of just three players to beat 20+ defenders in the European Cup last season.
Exeter Chiefs vs Montpellier, Saturday 8pm
Exeter and Montpellier’s only previous meetings in the European Cup came in the pool stage of the 2017/18 edition, with the Chiefs winning home and away that season.
Montpellier have tasted victory over Exeter in Europe before, beating them home and away in the Challenge Cup in 2010/11.
Exeter have not lost a home game in the pool stage of the European Cup since December 2018, winning their last five such matches.
Only Racing 92 (18) scored more tries than Exeter Chiefs (16) in the Heineken Champions Cup last season, as nine different players crossed for the Premiership outfit with Tom O’Flaherty and Jonny Hill both scoring a team-high three tries.
Montpellier won the 2020/21 Challenge Cup, their second title having also won the competition in 2015/16. Wasps are the only side to ever win the Challenge Cup and then go on to win the Heineken Champions Cup the subsequent season (2002/03 – 2003/04).