TOP BAR - Fixtures

State of play as Gallagher Premiership clubs return to European action

State of play as Gallagher Premiership clubs return to European action

With Christmas just around the corner, Gallagher Premiership Rugby takes a two-week break to allow the 12 top flight clubs to continue their European campaigns.

Here we look at the state of play in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup ahead of the return of both competitions as England’s best sides prepare to take on their European counterparts.

Pool 1 – Bath Rugby vs Leinster Rugby, Wasps vs Toulouse

The two Premiership Rugby teams in this pool have had a difficult start in the competition, and it doesn’t get any easier for Bath Rugby who host reigning champions Leinster.

Winless Wasps, who played out a dramatic 35-35 draw against Bath last time out, welcome Toulouse in the other game in Round 3 with the French side boasting a 100 per cent record so far.

Dai Young’s side have conceded more than any other team in the competition, with 87 points scored against them in two matches, and need a win if they are to have any hope of qualifying.

Pool 2 – Exeter Chiefs vs Gloucester Rugby

Exeter Chiefs have had a fine start in domestic competition this season despite the weekend defeat at Harlequins, but they have not been able to replicate that form in Europe.

They suffered two defeats from their first two games, but an all-Premiership clash against Gloucester Rugby at Sandy Park presents an opportunity for them to get back on track.

Chiefs defeated the Cherry and Whites 23-6 in the league earlier this season, but Gloucester’s opening round victory against Castres means they are currently ahead of Exeter in the pool.

Pool 3 – Saracens vs Cardiff Blues

Saracens boast the best record of any Premiership side in the Champions Cup and have enjoyed a 100 per cent start in the league and their pool, where they have won two from two.

Mark McCall’s troops have lost to Cardiff Blues in their previous two encounters, but a victory would put them in a commanding position with three games left to play in the pool.

Last season they were defeated in the quarter-finals by eventual winners Leinster and the two-time champions will be keen to continue their strong start to the 2018/19 campaign.

Pool 4 – Racing 92 vs Leicester Tigers

Two-time champions Leicester Tigers require a victory to keep alive their hopes of catching pool leaders Racing 92, who have won both of their matches so far.

Racing finished as runners up in this competition in 2016 and 2018 and will be a stern test for a Leicester side lacking in confidence having struggled so far this season.

Tigers currently sit second in the pool, four points behind Racing, after claiming a memorable 45-27 victory against Scarlets at Welford Road in Round 2.

Pool 5 – Edinburgh Rugby vs Newcastle Falcons

Newcastle Falcons sit top of Pool 5 after recording back-to-back wins, but both encounters were tight affairs, with an 89th-minute try rescuing victory against Montpellier last time out.

Falcons have struggled in the Premiership and sit bottom of the league table, but they are on a good run of form and will be looking forward to their next European test when they travel to Edinburgh.

They are playing in Europe’s premier competition for the first time in 14 seasons and another victory against Edinburgh, who sit in second position, will put them one step closer to the knockout stages.

EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP

Pool 1 – Northampton Saints vs Dragons

With one win and one defeat in the Challenge Cup so far this season, Northampton Saints have work to do if they are to progress as they trail league leaders Clermont Auvergne by five points.

However, the 35-21 victory over Dragons at Rodney Parade in October will fill the Saints with confidence before welcoming the Welsh region to Franklin’s Gardens.

Both sides have struggled in their respective leagues and are currently equal in Pool 1 on five points each, with Timisoara Saracens bringing up the rear in last place.

Pool 2 – Pau vs Worcester Warriors

Worcester Warriors top Pool 2 after two impressive victories in Round 1 and 2 and a win away at Pau will extend the current gap of five points between the two teams.

They have failed to progress from the pool stage in the Challenge Cup in their previous seven attempts, so a win for Warriors at the Stade du Hameau would make quite a statement.

Ospreys are their closest challengers in the pool, sitting in second place three points behind, while Stade Francais are bottom with just one point from their two games.

Pool 3 – Bordeaux-Begles vs Sale Sharks

With ten points to their name so far, Sale Sharks have made the best start to this year’s competition of the Premiership teams with two bonus-point victories.

Convincing wins against Connacht and Perpignan leave them six points ahead of second place, and their attacking prowess will give them a boost ahead of the visit to Bordeaux-Begles.

Irish province Connacht are their nearest rivals in the pool, with Perpignan in fourth, but another triumph for Steve Diamond’s men will put them within touching distance of the knockout stages.

Pool 4 – Bristol Bears vs La Rochelle

Bristol Bears have a defeat and a win in their first two games against Zebre, but lie in second place four points behind leaders La Rochelle ahead of the next round fixtures.

Pat Lam’s men face a tough test up next as they travel to France in Round 3, with their hosts having won eight games in eleven league matches in the Top 14.

But victory could draw them level at the top of the group at the halfway stage.

Pool 5 – Benetton Rugby vs Harlequins

Harlequins and Benetton have it all to play for in the tightest pool of the European Challenge Cup.

The teams sit first and second, respectively, but are both level on six points each.

Quins have won the European Challenge Cup more than any other team, but a defeat in Italy could see them fall to third in the pool.

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