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New Year’s Day sees big clashes on domestic front

Biggar

The opening fixtures of 2022 take place on New Year’s Day around Europe, with plenty of enthralling action across the continent on the first weekend of the year.

Top four contenders battle out in Premiership 

The English Premiership table is taking shape and with it comes a whole host of teams battling for respective places in the final league standings.

In the first weekend of the new year, there are some matches that provide immense importance when looking towards the top four spots and a place in the semi-finals.

On New Year’s Day, Exeter Chiefs host Bristol Bears in a West Country derby. Neither side have reached the heights of last season when they finished first and second in the league standings respectively.

The two lineups are packed with talent, with the likes of Henry Slade and Stuart Hogg colliding with Bristol’s superb half-backs of Harry Randall and Callum Sheedy, while there are plenty of big names in the forwards, with Jonny Hill and Jonny Gray coming up against Kyle Sinckler.

Kyle Sinckler

The Chiefs sit sixth in the table, five points behind fourth-placed Gloucester, while the Bears are languishing in 12th.

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And it is Gloucester who face Harlequins in a match that is incredibly important for two sides with aspirations of being in the play-off spots come the end of the season.

The key battle in that fixture will undoubtedly be at fly-half, as the returning Marcus Smith takes on Adam Hastings.

That match is third against fourth after Premiership champions Quins impressed in their 41-27 win over Northampton Saints last week, and they face a Gloucester side who tore their nearest rivals Bath Rugby to shreds in a 40-20 win.

Also chasing a semi-final spot are Northampton Saints, who are currently just three points behind Gloucester in fifth. They welcome second-placed Saracens as Dan Biggar looks to guide his side to a much needed win in another huge game to start off the new year.

Two big clashes in URC 

In the United Rugby Championship, there are just two matches that have currently avoided postponement this weekend, as we see an all-Ireland affair and an all-Wales affair to start the new year.

Connacht host Munster at the Sportsground as they look to overtake Munster, who sit above them in seventh place, although they do have two games in hand over Connacht.

Bundee Aki taking on Irish teammates such as Andrew Conway is a battle to make the mouth water.

Bundee Aki scores a try

Over in Llanelli, the Scarlets welcome the Ospreys who are flying high in fourth place in the URC table.

It is a match which is packed with Welsh talent, including battle such as Wyn Jones v Tomas Francis, while Gareth Davies against Rhys Webb is always a battle to catch the eye.

The Scarlets have had an indifferent year, winning two and losing three of their opening five matches in a Covid-troubled season so far.

Toulouse face tough trip as top welcomes bottom in France  

In the Top 14, European champions Toulouse have the daunting task of a visit to the Stade Marcel Michelin to meet ASM Clermont Auvergne.

Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack will be hoping to guide Toulouse to a famous win against a side packed with World Class talent including French winger Damian Penaud.

Both sides saw their festive matches postponed and so will be fresh for what should be a spectacle at one of Europe’s most hostile stadiums.

Meanwhile, top-of-the-table Bordeaux Bègles welcome bottom of the league Biarritz Olympique to the Stade Chaban-Delmas.

Matthieu Jalibert will be hoping to return after his injury forced him to miss the important Heineken Champions Cup clash with Leicester Tigers.

Bordeaux had their match with Toulon postponed, while Biarritz struggled to a 27-12 loss to Montpellier, who welcome Toulon to the GGL Stadium.