England internationals return in Europe

The second round of back-to-back European games bring with them plenty of exciting match-ups, with the standout news being the return of Saracens’ England contingent for their clash with Munster.

The second round of back-to-back European games bring with them plenty of exciting match-ups, with the standout news being the return of Saracens’ England contingent for their clash with Munster.

The defending champions are in must-win territory as they host the Irish province who beat them 10-3 at Thomond Park last weekend.

And they will be able to call on the likes of Owen Farrell and the Vunipola brothers to get their campaign back on track.


The action begins on Friday evening though, with Harlequins hosting Ulster and Racing 92 welcoming the Ospreys to Paris.

England tighthead Kyle Sinckler is back for his first home appearance since going off in the opening exchanges of the World Cup final, and he captains Quins against Ulster.

While Joe Marler and Marcus Smith are both absent, Alex Dombrandt gets the nod at No.8 as he pushes for a first international call-up in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.

Ulster are three from three so far in Europe, and will be looking to consolidate their push for the quarter-finals. Iain Henderson leads the team, while Jacob Stockdale gets another chance in the No.15 jersey and he looks to prove his versatility to new Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

John Cooney and Stuart McCloskey have both started the season in fine form and will also be looking to impress.

The night’s other game sees France centre Henry Chavancy play his 300th match for Racing 92, while young teammate Boris Palu starts his 13th match of 14. The versatile forward has been in impressive form and could yet feature in France’s squad for the Championship under Fabien Galthié.

He will certainly be tested on Friday as the Ospreys’ Adam Beard starts at lock for the Welsh region.

Beard is not the only Welsh lock in action on Friday night. While he may be playing in the back row, Cory Hill will just be happy to be back, having not featured since scoring the crucial try in Wales’ victory over England in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

He will be part of the Dragons team looking to earn revenge over Worcester Warriors in the Challenge Cup.


The action continues on Saturday in Treviso where Benetton welcome back Jayden Hayward and Braam Steyn for their return fixture with Lyon. The Italian side were well-beaten away in France last weekend, but with the Azzurri duo returning, will hope to open their account in the tournament back at the Stadio Monigo. Lyon are missing both of their club captains, France hopefuls Félix Lambey and Baptiste Couilloud, but centre Pierre-Louis Barassi starts having made his Test debut at the World Cup.

One of the games of the weekend comes at Allianz Park where Saracens host Munster, knowing that only a win will keep them in the hunt for the quarter-finals. They have made 12 changes for the game, with Farrell captaining the side, while Mako and Billy Vunipola, Jamie George and George Kruis all add international experience to the pack. Elliot Daly is also back on the wing in a formidable side. Munster, meanwhile, have gone for continuity with just one change to the team that beat Sarries last weekend, John Ryan coming in at tighthead for his 150th appearance for the province.

In the all-French affair in Montpellier, Romain Ntamack will get a rare start at fly-half, having scored a double in the first meeting between the sides last Sunday. Selevasio Tolofua, who could also be in line for a first France call-up in January, gets the nod at No.8, while tighthead prop Mohamed Haouas will be hoping to impress for Montpellier after catching up with the new French coaching staff in recent weeks.

In Dublin, Leinster will be without Johnny Sexton, although there has been some good news about his potential availability for the Guinness Six Nations. In the meantime, however, the void he leaves at Leinster will be filled by Ross Byrne, who will be able to test himself this weekend against Dan Biggar as Northampton Saints come to the Aviva Stadium.

Elsewhere for Leinster, Jordan Larmour starts at full-back as he tries to force his way into Farrell’s plans.

The other late game sees Glasgow Warriors host La Rochelle, with Ali Price getting the chance to start at scrum-half this weekend, George Horne dropping to the bench. The pair could be fighting for the first choice jersey for Scotland depending on Greig Laidlaw’s plans, so these European games provide the chance to impress.

Staying in Scotland, Hamish Watson will continue his return from injury with a third successive start for Edinburgh in the Challenge Cup as they travel to Wasps. He starts alongside Jamie Ritchie in what could be a sneak preview of Scotland’s back row for their Championship opener against Ireland in February.


There will be more Scottish interest on Sunday when Stuart Hogg starts at home to Sale for Exeter Chiefs. The full-back went off in the first half of last week’s win at the Sharks but is passed fit to take his place in the back three with Jack Nowell.

Elsewhere on Sunday Clermont host Bath, with Damian Penaud shifting back to the position where he started his career as he lines up at outside centre.

Penaud has thrived since moving to the wing last season, but with injuries in the midfield, he switches inside. That means that Alivereti Raka and Samuel Ezeala will start out wide for Clermont, the teenager having scored a double in last Friday’s bonus-point success at Bath.