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European Champions Cup: Seven Guinness PRO14 sides in action

After six rounds of frenetic Guinness PRO14 action, domestic affairs take a backseat this week as the European competitions kick into gear.

There are seven Guinness PRO14 sides getting their European Champions Cup campaigns up and running over the weekend – we take a look at what they can expect.

FRIDAY

Ulster Rugby v Wasps
19:45
Kingspan Stadium

Ulster Rugby get the 2017/18 European Champions Cup pool stages underway when they host a Wasps side that have lost their last four games in a row.

New head coach Jono Gibbes, who won the competition three times while a forwards coach at Leinster, will be hoping to guide the men from Belfast out of the Pool stages for the first time since the 2013/14 campaign.

Jacob Stockdale starred for Ulstermen in their 16-8 victory over Connacht last weekend and is set to start on the left wing for his side – who made the final back in 2012.

Iain Henderson will captain the side for the first time as Rory Best continues his recovery from a hamstring injury sustained back in September.

SATURDAY

Leinster Rugby v Montpellier
13:00
RDS Arena

Leinster begin their Champions Cup campaign on Saturday when they host an in-form Montpellier at the RDS Arena.

The Irish province are in strong form in the Guinness PRO14, and the team in third place in Conference B enter the game on the back of a convincing 23-17 victory over Munster last time out.

Captain Isa Nacewa returns from injury ahead of schedule after he missed the Munster clash with a calf strain, and he will certainly provide a huge boost to the side.

He appears at centre alongside British and Irish Lion Robbie Henshaw, who makes his second appearance of the season after also returning from injury although Jonathan Sexton is ruled out for the three-time champions of Europe with a dead leg.

Bath Rugby v Benetton Rugby
17:30
The Recreation Ground

Benetton will make the trip to Bath in high spirits after their 31-3 dismantling of Southern Kings in the Guinness PRO14 last weekend.

Bath will provide a tougher challenge, however, and the team currently fifth in the Aviva Premiership will be looking for a win at home.

Benetton have endured an impressive start to the season so far and their bonus point victory over Kings has seen them leapfrog Dragons and they now sit fifth in Conference B.

Angelo Esposito, Benetton’s top try scorer this season, starts in Bath and the right winger will be looking to add more to his tally for the season.

Exeter Chiefs v Glasgow Warriors
19:45
Sandy Park

Saturday also sees the Glasgow Chiefs, top of Guinness PRO14 Conference A and still unbeaten, head down to Exeter to take on the reigning English Champions.

Glasgow enter the match in electric form, with six wins from six in the league including comprehensive victories over Champions Cup sides Munster, Ospreys, and Benetton.

Warriors enter the match with a settled squad and make just two changes to the side that beat Cheetahs, with Peter Horne coming in at centre after being used as a replacement at Bloemfontein.

Lee Jones, who was rested for the 29-26 victory over Cheetahs last weekend, starts on the wing in what will be his 60th appearance for the club.

SUNDAY

Castres Olympique v Munster Rugby
14.00
Stade Pierre Fabre

Munster will be looking forward to their game against Castres Olympique after a disappointing loss to Leinster last weekend and will be keen to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible.

Keith Earls remains on the wing, and last weekend’s result may have been very different had the pass he received in the 13th minute not been adjudged to be forward and his try disallowed.

Earls still managed to score in that game, and he will be relishing the chance to face a Castres side currently languishing in 11th place in the TOP14.

Rassie Erasmus has made five changes to his side, naming two Championship Cup debutants in Mark Flanagan and Chris Farrell.

RC Toulon v Scarlets
16:15
Stade Felix Mayol

In what promises of the to be one ties of the round, Scarlets visit Toulon in an all-star clash at the Stade Felix Mayol.

Leigh Halfpenny returns to the starting line-up as the leaders of Guinness PRO14 Conference A take on a Toulon side that are currently struggling in the TOP14, sitting in sixth place.

Scott Williams returns to captain the side after he was rested for the Guinness PRO14 tie against Ospreys last weekend – and Halfpenny takes on his former employers.

In the front row Ryan Elias returns alongside Wyn Jones and Samson Lee, and they will be looking to handle a very physical Toulon side.

Ospreys v ASM Clermont Auvergne
17.30
Liberty Stadium

Also on Sunday, Ospreys play host to Clermont, runners up in this competition last year but inconsistent in the Top 14 so far this season.

Ospreys made a good show of themselves against Scarlets last weekend, suffering a narrow 19-18 defeat, and with Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb back in tandem could cause a surprise.

Ospreys make six changes to the side that faced Scarlets, with Owen Watkin coming in for James Hook and Cory Allen replacing Jeff Hasler in the back line.

These two sides met in the Pool stages of the 2015/16 season and Ospreys emerged victorious at the Liberty Stadium and took two bonus points from the Stade Marcel Michelin which will fill them with confidence despite their indifferent start to the Guinness PRO14.

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie