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Champions Cup

The 5 Main Match Ups: Leinster v Ulster Match Preview.

Leinster have not held back in omitting some players from their squad to face Ulster but have been forced to be without one key man

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Leinster will be without captain Johnny Sexton when they host Ulster in the Champions Cup Quarter-Finals at Aviva Stadium on Saturday at 17 45.

It was confirmed that Sexton would miss out earlier on Friday morning with Ross Byrne taking his place at No 10. However, some returning Irish stars have been left out of the starting team and 23 too.

On the other side Iain Henderson has been passed fit for the visitors, in what is a huge boost for the northern side

Leinster’s team is made up by Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, and Tadhg Furlong in the front-row, with James Ryan and Scott Fardy in the lock positions.

In the back-row, Rhys Ruddock captains the side in Sexton’s absence from the left-flank, with Sean O’Brien on the opposite side and Jack Conan slotting in at No 8 to complete the pack.

Luke McGrath is picked to start at scrum-half after making a return to action last weekend, and is joined in the half-backs by Byrne, who has a massive opportunity to shine now.

In the centre, Rory O’Loughlin partners Garry Ringrose, while Dave Kearney is at 11, Adam Byrne at 14 and Jordan Larmour comes in to play at 15.

The bench is full of experience with the likes of Dan Leavy, Andrew Porter, Jamison Gibson-Park and Rob Kearney ready to provide fire-power when called upon.

Gibson-Park’s inclusion on the bench also ruled out James Lowe from taking part in the game, while Kearney finds himself on the bench due to Larmour’s starting role, however Jack McGrath is a noticeable absentee from the squad.

Speaking ahead of the game Leinster head coach Leo Cullen explained that some players will have to get used to being left out due to the younger talent that is coming through at the club.

“We’ve guys coming through the system and they can all contribute. It’s unfair to talk about guys missing out. It’s about a squad of players. This is the group we are and the way we want it to be. It’s the nature of the business, investing in the young players. Older guys know they need to facilitate that, it can be hard at times but we have to tell them this is the way it is this week. And when they deliver things in training there can be a next time,” he said.

On the Ulster side, as mentioned above Henderson is available and he is joined by returning captain Rory Best to bolster their hopes of an upset.

Best is partnered in the front-row by Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore, with Henderson joined by Kieran Treadwell in the second-row.

Nick Timoney is at six, while Jordi Murphy comes in at seven to make his first start against his former side. Marcell Coetzee completes the pack at No 8.

John Cooney and Billy Burns continue to be given time together in the half-backs, with Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave outside them in the centre.

Jacob Stockdale starts on the left-wing, with Robert Baloucoune on the right and Michael Lowry at full-back.

The likes of Rob Herring, Sean Reidy and Dave Shanahan are joined in the replacements by the returning Luke Marshall.

Ulster’s danger-man Stockdale is spoken of his excitement at playing against Leinster this weekend.

“It’s a big game ahead and it’s fun playing against guys that you play with quite a lot, it’s going to be a good game,” he said.

The game will see a lot of Irish internationals that are looking for a seat on the plane to Japan go up against one another, here are some key match-ups to look out for.

Sean Cronin vs Rory Best:

Cronin was dropped from the Ireland set-up during the Six Nations, while Ireland captain Best played out his final games in the competition. Cronin has had a brilliant season with Leinster so far, especially scoring tries and will need to put up a huge fight on Saturday to stake a claim to be Best’s under-study come the World Cup.

James Ryan vs Iain Henderson:

Although one is at four and the other at five this weekend, it will be interesting to see how they cope against one another as they are such influential players in the lock position. Whoever comes out on top in the line-out department during the match will go a long way to winning the game and these men are key to the set-piece.

Sean O’Brien vs Jordi Murphy:

A departing Leinster man versus a departed Leinster man. This will be an all-out battle as neither are certain to head to Japan in one of the most hotly contested positions in the Ireland team. O’Brien is being questioned after his performances in the Six Nations, while Murphy hasn’t set the world alight since going North. If either can hit top form here it could be crucial for themselves and their team, especially as Dan Leavy will be raring to make his stamp on the game from the bench.

Luke McGrath vs John Cooney:

Again, another former blue in Cooney faces his old side. He was in and out of the Irish team while McGrath was unavailable through injury. McGrath will be wanting a perfect performance to make up for lost time because of his injury, while Cooney will want to continue his fine form that has seen him in the Irish set-up. These could be the two men battling for a place in the squad for Japan so a starring role here could seal the deal for either one.

Ross Byrne vs Billy Burns:

This is a real test for the Leinster man, who is starting due to Sexton’s injury and he won’t have an easy afternoon with Burns around. If he can control the game, it could see him step up his own plans for Japan. Burns will be doing everything he can to stop the Leinster man. Remember it was in the semi-finals 10 years ago that Sexton got his real break-through, could this be Byrne’s?

This could be the game of the weekend if it all gets going and although Leinster are strong favourites to progress this one could go down to the wire as Ulster are certainly up for the fight. Make sure you tune into this one.

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6 Nations

Fixtures 2021/22 Season

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Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

SATURDAY 14 AUGUST

Rugby Championship

South Africa v Argentina (4.05pm, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)

SATURDAY 21 AUGUST

Rugby Championship

Argentina v South Africa (4.05pm, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)

WEDNESDAY 25 AUGUST

Rugby World Cup 2021 Repechage Qualifier

Kenya v Colombia (Nairobi)

SATURDAY 28 AUGUST

Rugby Championship

Australia v New Zealand (11am, Optus Stadium, Perth)

SATURDAY 4 SEPTEMBER

RWC 2023 Qualifying

Canada v USA (Swilers RFC, St John’s)

SATURDAY 11 SEPTEMBER

RWC 2023 Qualifier

USA v Canada (Infinity Park, Glendale)

Rugby Championship

New Zealand v Argentina (8.05am, Eden Park)

SUNDAY 12 SEPTEMBER

Rugby Championship

South Africa v Australia (6am, Sydney Cricket Ground)

FRIDAY 17 SEPTEMBER

Gallagher Premiership

Bristol v Saracens (7.45pm) Live on BT Sport

SATURDAY 18 SEPTEMBER

Rugby Championship

Argentina v New Zealand (8.05am, Sky Stadium)

Australia v South Africa (6am, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)

Gallagher Premiership

Leicester v Exeter (3pm) Live on BT Sport

Northampton v Gloucester (3pm)

Sale v Bath (3pm)

Worcester v London Irish (3pm)

SUNDAY 19 SEPTEMBER

Gallagher Premiership

Newcastle v Harlequins (3pm) Live on BT Sport

FRIDAY 24 SEPTEMBER

Gallagher Premiership

Gloucester v Leicester (7.45pm) Live on BT Sport

SATURDAY 25 SEPTEMBER

Rugby Championship

New Zealand v South Africa (8.05am, Forsyth Barr Stadium)

Australia v Argentina (5am, Newcastle)

Gallagher Premiership

Bath v Newcastle (3pm)

Exeter v Northampton (3pm)

Harlequins v Worcester (3pm)

Wasps v Bristol (3pm) Live on BT Sport

SUNDAY 26 SEPTEMBER

Gallagher Premiership

London Irish v Sale (3pm) Live on BT Sport

FRIDAY 1 OCTOBER

Gallagher Premiership

Bristol v Bath (7.45pm) Live on BT Sport

SATURDAY 2 OCTOBER

Rugby Championship

South Africa v New Zealand (8.05am, Eden Park)

Australia v Argentina (5am, GIO Stadium, Canberra)

Gallagher Premiership

Northampton v London Irish (2pm)

Leicester v Saracens (3pm) Live on BT Sport

Newcastle v Wasps (3pm)

Worcester v Gloucester (3pm)

SUNDAY 3 OCTOBER

Gallagher Premiership

Sale v Exeter (3pm) Live on BT Sport

More fixtures to follow.

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Challenge Cup

Heineken Champions Cup pool draw for 2021/22

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(Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

The holders, Stade Toulousain, will be up against Wasps and Cardiff Rugby in the pool stage of next season’s Heineken Champions Cup following the pool draw for the 2021/22 tournament which was held today (Wednesday 21 July) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Stade Toulousain, who completed the Heineken Champions Cup and TOP 14 double last month for the second time in the club’s history, were drawn into Pool B and will meet Wasps and Cardiff over four pool stage rounds on a home and away basis.

With the qualified clubs drawn into two pools of 12, reigning Gallagher Premiership champions Harlequins will have Castres Olympique and Cardiff as their opponents in Pool B when the tournament kicks off again in December, while last season’s PRO14 winners, Leinster Rugby, are in Pool A where they will be up against Montpellier Hérault Rugby and Bath Rugby.

Stade Rochelais, runners-up in the Heineken Champions Cup final, will meet Bath and Glasgow Warriors in Pool A, while Exeter Chiefs, who lost out to Harlequins in the Premiership decider, will take on Montpellier and Glasgow in Pool A.

Munster Rugby, who were in Tier 1 as the second-ranked qualifier from the PRO14, were drawn against Castres Olympique and Wasps in Pool B.

Elsewhere, Ulster Rugby will take on ASM Clermont Auvergne and Northampton Saints in Pool A whilst Stade Français Paris were drawn into Pool B and will take on Pat Lam’s former club, Connacht Rugby, and his current charges, Bristol Bears.

For the purposes of the draw, the 24 clubs which qualified from the TOP 14, Premiership, and the PRO14 were classified into four tiers based either on their respective league rankings or on other qualification criteria.

Each tier contained six clubs with Tier 1 made up of the number one and number two ranked clubs from each league, and Tier 2, the number three and number four ranked clubs from each league, and so on.

Starting with Tier 1, the clubs were either drawn or allocated into either Pool A or Pool B so that each pool contained 12 clubs with no clubs in the same tier from the same league in the same pool.

The key principles regarding the pool stage fixtures are that clubs will only play against opponents in the same pool, and clubs from the same league cannot play against one another.

The Tier 1 and Tier 4 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are from the same league, will play one another home and away over four rounds. The same principle applies to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league.

The exact dates of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage fixtures, as well as venues, kick-off times and TV coverage, will be announced as soon as possible following consultation with clubs and EPCR’s partner broadcasters.

The 2021/22 tournament will be played over nine weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage. The eight highest-ranked clubs from each pool will qualify for the knockout stage which will consist of a Round of 16 on a home and away basis, quarter-finals and semi-finals, with the final in Marseille on 28 May 2022.

Today’s draw, which was live-streamed on HeinekenChampionsCup.com, was conducted by EPCR’s Head of Events and Operations, Ben Harries, and by EPCR’s Partnerships Activation Executive, Laia Gonzalez. The event scrutineer was Lausanne-based solicitor, Jean-Guillaume Amiguet.

2021/22 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP

POOL A (with opponents in brackets)

Stade Rochelais (Bath Rugby, Glasgow Warriors)

Exeter Chiefs (Montpellier Hérault Rugby, Glasgow Warriors)

Leinster Rugby (Montpellier Hérault Rugby, Bath Rugby)

Racing 92 (Northampton Saints, Ospreys)

Sale Sharks (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Ospreys)

Ulster Rugby (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Northampton Saints)

ASM Clermont Auvergne (Sale Sharks, Ulster Rugby)

Northampton Saints (Racing 92, Ulster Rugby)

Ospreys (Racing 92, Sale Sharks)

Montpellier Hérault Rugby (Exeter Chiefs, Leinster Rugby)

Bath Rugby (Stade Rochelais, Leinster Rugby)

Glasgow Warriors (Stade Rochelais, Exeter Chiefs)

POOL B (with opponents in brackets)

Stade Toulousain (Wasps, Cardiff Rugby)

Harlequins (Castres Olympique, Cardiff Rugby)

Munster Rugby (Castres Olympique, Wasps)

Union Bordeaux-Bègles (Leicester Tigers, Scarlets)

Bristol Bears (Stade Français Paris, Scarlets)

Connacht Rugby (Stade Français Paris, Leicester Tigers)

Stade Français Paris (Bristol Bears, Connacht Rugby)

Leicester Tigers (Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Connacht Rugby)

Scarlets (Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Bristol Bears)

Castres Olympique (Harlequins, Munster Rugby)

Wasps (Stade Toulousain, Munster Rugby)

Cardiff Rugby (Stade Toulousain, Harlequins)

2021/22 weekends

Round 1 – 10/11/12 December

Round 2 – 17/18/19 December

Round 3 – 14/15/16 January 2022

Round 4 – 21/22/23 January 2022

Round of 16 (1st leg) – 8/9/10 April 2022

Round of 16 (2nd leg) – 15/16/17 April 2022

Quarter-finals – 6/7/8 May 2022

Semi-finals – 13/14/15 May 2022

Challenge Cup final – Friday 27 May 2022; Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 28 May 2022; Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

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Champions Cup

2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup format and qualifiers confirmed

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(Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Following the conclusion of the domestic seasons in England and France, EPCR is pleased to confirm the format and qualifiers for the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup as Europe’s elite club tournament is set to return with a highly competitive schedule of 71 matches.

The Heineken Champions Cup will once again be competed for by 24 clubs with eight representatives from the Gallagher Premiership, the Guinness PRO14 and the TOP 14 having secured their places. (See qualifiers and rankings below)

The clubs will be divided into two pools of 12 – Pool A and Pool B – by means of a draw and the tournament will be played over nine weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage starting in December when Stade Toulousain begin the defence of their title.

The eight highest-ranked clubs from each pool will qualify for the knockout stage which will consist of a Round of 16 on a home and away basis, quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final in Marseille on 28 May 2022. (See key dates below)

The draw for the pools will be carried out on the same lines as last season with the clubs separated into four tiers, and clubs from the same league in the same tier will not be drawn into the same pool.

The number 1 and number 2 ranked clubs from each league will be in Tier 1, the number 3 and number 4 ranked clubs will be in Tier 2, the number 5 and 6 ranked clubs will be in Tier 3, and the number 7 and number 8 ranked clubs will be Tier 4.

The Tier 1 and the Tier 4 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league, will play one another home and away during the pool stage, as will the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league.

The pool draw will be live streamed on HeinekenChampionsCup.com and the date of the event as well as further details will be communicated shortly.

As previously announced, EPCR is currently putting the finishing touches to a new shareholder agreement, and discussions to finalise the Challenge Cup format for the 2021/22 season, as well as the formats for the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup for future seasons, are ongoing.

These discussions include the future participation of South African clubs in EPCR’s tournaments as referenced recently by the United Rugby Championship and no further comment will be made until the appropriate time.

2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup qualifiers
Gallagher Premiership: 1 Harlequins, 2 Exeter Chiefs, 3 Bristol Bears, 4 Sale Sharks, 5 Northampton Saints, 6 Leicester Tigers, 7 Bath Rugby, 8 Wasps

Guinness PRO14: 1 Leinster Rugby, 2 Munster Rugby, 3 Ulster Rugby, 4 Connacht Rugby, 5 Scarlets, 6 Ospreys, 7 Cardiff Rugby, 8 Glasgow Warriors

TOP 14: 1 Stade Toulousain, 2 Stade Rochelais, 3 Racing 92, 4 Union Bordeaux-Bègles, 5 ASM Clermont Auvergne, 6 Stade Français Paris, 7 Castres Olympique, 8 Montpellier Hérault Rugby

2021/22 key dates
Round 1 – 10/11/12 December
Round 2 – 17/18/19 December
Round 3 – 14/15/16 January 2022
Round 4 – 21/22/23 January 2022
Round of 16 (1st leg) – 8/9/10 April 2022
Round of 16 (2nd leg) – 15/16/17 April 2022
Quarter-finals – 6/7/8 May 2022
Semi-finals – 13/14/15 May 2022
Challenge Cup final – Friday 27 May 2022; Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 28 May 2022; Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

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