Biggar vs Russell as European competitions take centre stage

Dan Biggar 20/11/2021
European rugby makes its much-anticipated return this weekend as the Heineken Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup take centre stage in the domestic game.

European rugby makes its much-anticipated return this weekend as the Heineken Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup take centre stage in the domestic game.

Both competitions will provide a wall-to-wall schedule of heavyweight clashes between the best club teams on the continent and there will be no shortage of international stars on show.

We have a look at all the key talking points ahead of this weekend below as the road to be crowned champions of Europe in Marseille next May begins in earnest.


The action in Europe’s top tier club competition gets underway with a blockbuster collision on Friday night when Northampton Saints welcome Racing 92 to Franklin’s Gardens.

Wales fly-half Dan Biggar goes head-to-head with Scotland No.10 and fellow British & Irish Lions tourist Finn Russell as they look to guide their respective team to an opening victory.

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Russell starts inside an all-French midfield, with Les Bleus duo Gaël Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa forming the centre partnership, while Teddy Thomas has been named on the right wing.

Racing have finished runners-up in the tournament on three occasions and scored more points and tries than any other team despite being knocked out in the last eight a year ago.

A jam-packed Saturday sees another five games take place, starting with Cardiff hosting defending European champions Toulouse at Arms Park in the lunchtime kick off.

Wales back rower Ellis Jenkins will lead a makeshift Cardiff outfit following their Covid-hit build-up to the encounter, playing his first game in Europe since the 2018 Challenge Cup final.

But the hosts face a daunting challenge against the Top 14 outfit, with French stars Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack targeting a sixth star for the European giants.

Elsewhere, Leinster will resume their quest for European glory after last season’s quarter-final exit when they host struggling Premiership side Bath at the Aviva Stadium.

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Fellow Irish province Ulster also travel to Clermont Auvergne while Ellis Genge’s Leicester Tigers – who lead the Premiership with a perfect record – visit Bordeaux-Bègles.

Saturday’s final game sees 2019/20 European champions Exeter Chiefs go up against Montpellier at Sandy Park, having not lost a home game in the pool stage since December 2018.

Another five games on Sunday complete the opening round, including Ospreys against Sale Sharks and Glasgow Warriors’ visit to last season’s beaten finalist La Rochelle.

Connacht also lock horns with Stade Français before Wasps play host to Munster and reigning Premiership champions Harlequins travel to Castres for a mouth-watering finale.


An all-English showdown headlines the Friday night action in the European Rugby Challenge Cup, with Newcastle Falcons and Worcester Warriors renewing their rivalry at Kingston Park.

Scotland prop Rory Sutherland is unavailable for the visitors but Warriors will be able to call on the in-form Duhan van der Merwe, a scorer of nine tries in 13 caps for Scotland.

Electrifying England winger Adam Radwan starts for Falcons, who shared a thrilling 24-24 draw with Warriors when they last met in league action at the end of November.

The other Friday night fixture sees two-time champions Gloucester face Top 14 side Lyon, who return to the second tier competition for the first time in three years.

France lock Romain Taofifénua starts for Lyon, who are fourth in the Top 14 with six wins in the league this season, while Italian scrum-half Stephen Varney lines up for Gloucester.

Friday’s double-header is followed by another four games, starting with Zebre’s clash with Biarritz as the two teams meet in the competition for the first time in their history.

Dragons will also look to put their run of four consecutive defeats in the United Rugby Championship behind them when they visit Perpignan in their Challenge Cup opener.

Elsewhere on Saturday, three-time European champions Saracens welcome Edinburgh to the StoneX Stadium in their first game in the competition since the 2009/10 season.

The two teams have met twice before in the European Challenge Cup, with Saracens running out winners on both occasions in the 2012/13 pool stage, by an aggregate score of 85-7.

And Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair is well aware of the size of the task that awaits his side, with Saracens boasting a 100 percent win rate at home in the pool stage.

“This is a real challenge for the club,” he said. “I’d say Saracens are one of the best teams in Europe [and we’re] playing away from home, it will be a really good measure of where we are at.”

London Irish visit Pau in Saturday’s final game, with the Premiership side looking to build on their four-game winning run in all competitions against their Top 14 hosts.