This weekend see again the Europeans showing of in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup as we get closer to the business end of the pool stages.
Ulster v Oyonnax Saturday 23 Jan 2016
Ulster welcomes back centre Cave as he recovered from a shoulder injury since December. McCloskey gets a well-earned rest after playing in all 16 of Ulster’s matches thus far the season, with Nick Williams also back in the fray for Ulster.
New Ireland captain Rory Best will start the game on the bench as he has a minor back problem. That means that Rob Herring, who has been named in Ireland’s squad for Rounds 1 and 2 of the Six Nations, will deputise as both hooker and captain.
Ruan Pienaar has been ruled out by illness, while Wiehahn Herbst has a foot injury, so Paul Marshall and Ricky Lutton come into the side at scrum-half and tighthead prop respectively.
Commenting on his selection, the Director of Rugby, Les Kiss, said: “It’s great to have Darren (Cave) and Nick (Williams) back in the team. We welcomed Jared (Payne) back last week and that was pleasing for us too. With Rory (Best) on the bench it’s another opportunity for Rob (Herring) to show what a great player and what a great leader he is. Ruan (Pienaar) has been struggling with illness all week so he is unavailable, but we know that Paul (Marshall) will come in and do a fantastic job for us.”
Oyonnax have made 14 changes after their win over Toulouse in Round 5.
Geoffrey Fabbri is the only survivor from last weekend as he keeps his place in the second row, partnered this week by Leon Power.
Pedrie Wannenburg, Pierrick Gunther and Valentin Ursache form a new back row as Rory Clegg gets the nod at fly-half.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Kyle McCall
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Callum Black, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Clive Ross, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Rory Scholes
Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos, 14 Daniel Ikpefan, 13 Guillaume Bousses, 12 Alaska Taufa, 11 Dug Codjo, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Julien Blanc, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Pierrick Gunther, 6 Valentin Ursache, 5 Geoffrey Fabbri, 4 Leon Power, 3 Giorgi Vepkhvadze, 2 Thomas Bordes, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha
Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Laurent Delboulbès, 18 Horace Pungea , 19 Fabrice Metz, 20 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 21 Fabien Cibray, 22 Regis Lespinas, 23 Eamonn Sheridan
Toulouse v Saracens
For Toulouse, they would like to fix the wrongs of last week at home and prevent the English top side to give them back to back defeats at home.
Having already booked a home quarter-final place after their bonus point win over Ulster, Saracens welcome back England centre Brad Barritt to the starting XV, who will also captain the side.
Marcelo Bosch partners Brad Barritt at centre, with Mark McCall rotating his half-backs for the fixture in south-west France, with the experienced duo of Neil De Kock and Charlie Hodgson named at scrum-half and fly-half respectively.
Meanwhile, Toulouse have made multiple changes to the side that lost to Oyonnax last week.
Veteran wing Vincent Clerc returns but Toby Flood continues at 13 while Paul Perez moved from inside centre to will to accomodate the return of Florian Fritz.
Imanol Harinordoquy is added to the loose trio along with rising star Yacouba Camara, who replaces Thierry Dusautoir.
A much-changed tight-five sees Patricio Albacete start ahead of Joe Tekori while internationals Corey Flynn and Gurthro Steenkampbolster the front row.
Toulouse:15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Toby Flood, 12 Florian Fritz, 11 Paul Perez, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Gillian Galan, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Romain Millo-Chluski, 3 Nemiah Tialata, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Gert Muller, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Gregory Lamboley, 21 David Mele, 22 Gael Fickou, 23 Maxime Médard
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Duncan Taylor, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Hayden Smith, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Ben Ransom
Gloucester v Zebre
Gloucester begins the defence of their European Challenge Cup when they face Zebre at Kingsholm on Saturday.
All black front row Jeremey Thrush is finally set to make his Gloucester debut after his Rugby World Cup winning campaign while World Player of the Year nominee Greg Laidlaw is amongst the replacements.
Jacob Rowan will lead the side out in front of the Shed, and is no stranger to the responsibility after skippering Yorkshire Carnegie for several years prior to joining Gloucester. He also for a time led the England U20s.
Gloucester director of rugby David Humprehys told BBC Sport: “The European Rugby Challenge Cup was an important competition for us last year and winning it was due reward for all the hard work that had gone in. For us, this is an opportunity to be the first club to retain the Challenge Cup. That’s what we’re looking to do but, in order to do that, a home quarter-final is important and we have to get off to a winning start.”
Meanwhile, for Zebre, Tommaso D’Apice, Dario Chistolini and Marco Bortolami will all be making their return to their old stomping ground.
Gloucester: Cook; McColl, Meakes, Atkinson, Purdy; Burns, Braley; Thomas, Lindsay, Doran-Jones; Stooke, Thrush; Moriarty, Rowan (capt), Ludlow
Replacements: Dawidiuk, Murphy, Thomas, Hicks, Thomas, Laidlaw, Trinder, Thorley
Zebre: Palazzani, Berryman, Bisegni, Pratichetti, Sarto, Padovani, Violi, Lovotti, D’Apice, Chistolini, Bernabo, Bortolami (capt), Sarto, Meyer, Ferrarini
Replacements: Fabiani, de Marchi, Ceccarelli, Biagi, Caffini, Burgess, Toniolatti, Canna
Bath v Toulon
Bath has made seven changes to the starting line-up for the club’s first home match of 2016, following three consecutive games on the road.
Nick Auterac, Ross Batty and Henry Thomas make their seventh start of the season together in the front row. In contrast, locks Charlie Ewels and Dominic Day (this week named in Wales’s Six Nations squad) combine for the first time.
A new-look back row comprises blindside David Denton (included in Scotland’s Six Nations squad this week), openside Guy Mercer and last weekend’s try-scorer, number eight Leroy Houston.
Meanwhile, Toulon make four changes to the XV who edged out Wasps last weekend at the Stade Félix Mayol.
James O’Connor takes over from Drew Mitchell at full-back, with Maxime Mermoz in at outside centre for Mathieu Bastareaud.
The two remaining changes see Sébastian Tillous-Borde take over from Eric Escande at scrum-half, while Samu Manoa returns to partner Jocelino Suta in the second row.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 George Ford (c), 9 Chris Cook, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 David Denton, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nick Auterac
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 David Wilson, 19 Tom Ellis, 20 Matt Garvey, 21 Alafoti Faosiliva, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Ollie Devoto
Toulon: 15 James O’Connor, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Maxime Mermoz, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Samu Manoa, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Florian Fresia
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Mamuka Gorgodze, 20 Romain Taofifenua, 21 Mathieu Bastareaud, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Thibault Lassale
Scarlets v Northampton Saints
Flanker Will Boyde will make his Champions Cup debut for the Scarlets when they run on to face the Northampton Saints at the Parc on Saturday.
The 21-year-old has made six appearances in the Scarlet jersey, his only starting XV spot coming in the LV= Cup clash against London Irish in January 2015.
The only other change to the pack sees Aaron Shingler returning to his favoured blindside flank.
Head Coach Pivac has made three changes to the backline that faced Racing 92 last Sunday. Steve Shingler moves from outside half to inside centre with Aled Thomas coming in at fly-half. Winger Tom Williams makes a return from injury to line-up alongside DTH van der Merwe and Michael Collins in the back three.
Speaking ahead of the final pool game of the Champions Cup campaign Pivac said: “We’re pleased to be welcoming some boys back this weekend. We’re also playing at home. There has been a huge emphasis on rectifying some of the wrongs from last week because we need a strong and improved performance to take into the Connacht game when the PRO12 gets back underway next weekend.
“Northampton are still in with a chance of qualifying. I would expect them to come here and want to perform. We’re looking for a big performance no matter what side they put out. We’ll be tidying up our defence and trying to get somewhere near parity in terms of possession and territory. You want the players to be hurting after results like last weekend’s so that the next opportunity they have to wear the jersey they right the wrongs.”
Meanwhile, the Saints head to Parc y Scarlets still in contention for a quarter-final spot, and have made five changes to the starting line-up that will run out to face the Scarlets.
In the backs Jamie Elliott, Harry Mallinder, Stephen Myler and Tom Kessell come in, with Sam Dickinson returning to the back row.
Scarlets: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Regan King, 12 Steven Shingler, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Morgan Allen, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Maselino Paulino, 4 Tom Price, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (c),1 Phil John
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Tom Phillips, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Steff Hughes
Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliot, 13 George Pisi, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Tom Kessell, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Laws, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 Jon Fisher, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Luther Burrell
Glasgow Warriors v Racing 92
Scotland winger Tommy Seymour returns to the Glasgow Warriors starting line-up for the Champions Cup match at Rugby Park in Kilmarnock, after recovering from a hamstring injury. Fly-half Duncan Weir could make his 100th appearance for the club from the bench.
The Warriors play Racing 92 in their final pool match, with the Top 14 leaders having already qualified for a home play-off as pool winners.
The Warriors sit third in Pool 3 and would need to take maximum points from tomorrow’s game and hope a host of other results go their way in order to secure a runner-up spot on 15 points.
Meanwhile, Racing 92 make ten changes from the side who won convincingly against the Scarlets last weekend.
Dan Carter is given the week off as Henry Chavancy and Alexandre Dumoulin form a new centre partnership, with Maxime Machenaud taking over from Mike Phillips at scrum-half.
Chris Masoe and Wenceslas Lauret come into the back row while there is an entirely new front row in the shape of Julien Brugnaut, Camille Chat and Luc Ducalcon.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Leone Nakarawa, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 James Eddie, 5 Jonny Gray (c), 4 Greg Peterson, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Salva Mamukashvili, 1 Alex Allan
Replacements: 16 James Malcolm, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Duncan Weir, Lee Jones
Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Louis Dupichot, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Remi Tales, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Julien Brugnaut
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Davit Khinchagishvili, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Thibault Dubarry, 20 Juandre Kruger, 21 Xavier Chauveau, 22 Etienne Dussartre, 23 Benjamin Dambielle
Stade Français v Leicester
Leicester have recalled Telusa Veainu, Matt Smith and Lachlan McCaffrey for Sunday’s Champions Cup encounter with Stade Français in Paris.
Tigers are already assured of top spot in Pool 4 after five wins in five games and will be among the top three seeds in the quarter-final. French champions Stade are chasing a quarter-final place as one of the best three pool runners-up.
Jules Plisson takes over from Morné Steyn at fly-half. Raphael Lakafia returns to the loose trio while Hugh Pyle is added to the second row and Laurent Sempéré starts at hooker.
Stade Français: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Jérémy Sinzelle, 13 Waisea Vuidarvuwalu, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Djibril Camara, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Sergio Parisse (c) 7 Raphael Lakafia, 6 Jonathan Ross, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Laurent Sempéré, 1 Zak Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Laurent Panis, 17 Emmanuel Felsina, 18 Paul Alo Emile, 19 Pascal Papé, 20 Antoine Burban, 21 Julien Tomas, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Geoffrey Doumayrou
Leicester Tigers: 15 Matthew Tait, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Matt Smith, 11 Telusa Veainu, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Tom Croft, 6 Michael Fitzgerald, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza,
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Logovii Mulipola, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Laurence Pearce, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Thomas Bell, 23 Peter Betham
more to follow…