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European Champions Cup – Round three: Seven Guinness PRO14 sides in action

The European Champions Cup returns tonight and the Guinness PRO14 sides are jockeying for position in the Pools.

Leinster are a perfect ten points from ten, Munster remain unbeaten and Ulster are still firmly in the hunt.

But Glasgow Warriors and Ospreys need wins badly to reinvigorate their campaigns while Scarlets and Benetton face off knowing that defeat will end their knockout hopes.


Glasgow Warriors v Montpellier
Kick-off: 19:45
Venue: Scotstoun

Dave Rennie’s Glasgow Warriors side may be unbeaten in the Guinness PRO14 but in Europe they are right up against it.

They must win on Friday night against Montpellier, coached by former Scotland supremo Vern Cotter, to have any chance of making the knockout stages for the second year in a row.

Huw Jones comes in for his debut for Glasgow in the centres while Finn Russell and Ali Price also add to the back line after an impressive autumn international series.

Glasgow have never lost to Montpellier in four previous meetings in Europe but with Leinster and Exeter Chiefs for company, they must turn their form around after their two opening defeats.

Up front the likes of Zander Fagerson and Jonny Gray return while Ryan Wilson captains the side.

But British & Irish Lion, and star of the autumn, Stuart Hogg is still missing with a hip problem.


Scarlets v Benetton Rugby
Kick off: 13:00
Venue: Parc y Scarlets

The only all-Guinness PRO14 clash in the Champions Cup this weekend pits Scarlets against Benetton.

Both sides are chasing their first wins of the season in this competition in a pool that also includes Bath and Toulon.

Scarlets, the defending league champions, have already hosted Benetton in the league at Parc y Scarlets and emerged 20-8 winners back at the start of November.

But the Italians, boosted by returning internationals like Jayden Hayward and Angelo Esposito and Francesco Minto, are improving all the time and gave Toulon a real scare last time out in Europe.

Wayne Pivac welcomes his Welsh internationals back for the Scarlets as well for this must-win clash – Steff Evans is on the wing, Hadleigh Parkes in midfield and Ken Owens at hooker with Leigh Halfpenny kicking the goals from full-back.

Northampton Saints v Ospreys
Kick-off: 17:30
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens

Ospreys are without a number of their frontline stars for their trip to Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday night after a gruelling autumn for Wales.

Half-backs Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar – the latter of whom will join the Saints from next season – are both injured as are flankers Sam Cross and Justin Tipuric.

But Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones returns to the second row for Ospreys who came so close to upsetting Saracens last time out in Europe.

Both sides badly need a win and are both struggling domestically this season but it could come down to goalkicking – where both sides are 100% so far after two rounds of domestic action.

Munster v Leicester Tigers
Kick-off: 19:45
Venue: Thomond Park

For the third Christmas in a row, Munster and Leicester Tiger will play out a European double header.

The Tigers have won three of the previous four clashes but it was Munster who inflicted a dramatic 38-0 mauling in this reverse fixture last year.

They went on to make the semi-finals of Europe’s top tier that season under Rassie Erasmus.

But the South African has now returned home, replaced at the helm by Johan van Graan and these will be his first European games in charge.

Unbeaten in Europe so far this season after a draw with Castres and a win over Racing 92, Munster welcome back their Irish international stars.

That means British & Irish Test Lions from the summer Conor Murray, CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony all start while Ian Keatley gets the nod at No.10.

Meanwhile Chris Cloete – so impressive in his first starts for the province in the Guinness PRO14 in recent weeks – continues at openside as the province hope to repeat their mauling of the Tigers 12 months ago.


Harlequins v Ulster
Kick-off: 13:00
Venue: The Stoop

Ulster opened up their European season with a fine win over Wasps but in round two they were brought crashing to earth in La Rochelle.

Victory at Stoop would place them in a strong position heading back to the Kingspan and effectively end the Londoners’ knockout hopes.

Not since 2009 have these two sides met – both sides won their home games that time – but Ulster are missing a few key names for the trip across the Irish sea.

Hooker Rory Best misses out with a foot infection so Iain Henderson continues to captain while Tommy Bowe will have to put in a shift at outside centre for the visitors.

He partners Stuart McCloskey in midfield as Craig Gilroy makes his European bow this season on the right wing with Charles Piutau and Jacob Stockdale in the back three.

Exeter v Leinster
Kick-off: 17:30
Venue: Sandy Park

Two of Europe’s in-form sides meet at Sandy Park on Sunday night and Leinster are back to something approaching full strength.

Ireland stars Jonathan Sexton and Sean O’Brien come straight into the starting XV to take on the Exeter Chiefs.

Leinster have never before lost to the Chiefs and are also boosted by Garry Ringrose’s return from shoulder injury for his maiden European appearance this season alongside Robbie Henshaw in midfield.

Cian Healy is back in the No.1 jersey while Wallaby Scott Fardy will bring all his experience to the engine room.

The boys in blue are looking to extend their perfect start to the season after bonus-point wins over Glasgow Warriors and Montpellier and they will take some stopping although the Chiefs have also won two from two so far this campaign.

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