European Club Rugby Preview: Alldritt leads La Rochelle title defence as Russell’s Racing host Leinster

With the Autumn Nations Series behind us and the Guinness Six Nations just two months away, it is now time for European rugby to take centre stage.

With the Autumn Nations Series behind us and the Guinness Six Nations just two months away, it is now time for European rugby to take centre stage.

There are plenty of seismic clashes between Guinness Six Nations stars as the Heineken Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup both get underway.

Finn Russell’s Racing 92 host Leinster in a huge heavyweight clash with a whole host of Ireland internationals on Saturday in arguably the pick of the weekend games.

Reigning champions La Rochelle, led by France back row Grégory Alldritt will open their title defence against Northampton Saints, while Italy star Paolo Garbisi is in action for Montpellier against London Irish.

Here, we have a look at all the big news ahead of European club rugby getting underway.

Racing and Leinster grab attention in mammoth tie

Scotland’s FinnRussell always grabs the headlines, and it is no different this week, with the fly-half set to be the main man in a mouth-watering opening round match between Racing 92 and Leinster.

Russell will control proceedings from fly-half for Racing, but the prospect of a gigantic clash with Johnny Sexton is off, with Sexton absent after sustaining a calf injury during the Autumn Nations Series.

Fellow Triple Crown winner Tadhg Furlong is also missing after injuring his ankle last week.

Russell is not the only Scotland international in action, as Duhan van der Merwe, Blair Kinghorn, Mark Bennett and Jamie Ritchie will don the Edinburgh jersey as they visit Saracens.

Harlequins make history as first side to head to South Africa

Harlequins have named a strong side packed full of England internationals as they visit the Cell C Sharks in the first Champions Cup game played in South Africa.

England quartet Joe Marler, Alex Dombrandt, Danny Care and Joe Marchant all start, while Italy fly-half Tommy Allan is also named in the starting XV.

That adds to the intrigue of Paolo Garbisi being named at inside centre for Montpellier against London Irish in tonight’s opening match, with the prospect of Allan and Garbisi lining up together for the Azzurri in the Guinness Six Nations ramped up.

La Rochelle open title defence against Saints

France Grand Slam stars Grégory Alldritt and Jonathan Danty start as La Rochelle open their title defence against Northampton Saints on Saturday evening.

The duo enjoyed a stellar 2022 after sealing European glory for both club and country and two months before their Guinness Six Nations defence begins, they resume Champions Cup duty.

They are not the only stars of Fabien Galthié’s all-conquering France side, with Uini Atonio starting at tighthead prop while recent call-up Reda Wardi starts at loosehead.

Two former champions clash in Limerick

Another massive match to open the Champions Cup sees two-time champions Munster host five-time winners Toulouse at one of rugby’s iconic stadiums – Thomond Park.

A host of Ireland’s Triple Crown winners are involved for Munster, in yet another match that sees Guinness Six Nations Players everywhere you look.

Joey Carbery starts at fly-half, but it is in the forwards that Munster are at their strongest, with Tadhg Beirne and Peter O’Mahony in the second row and at blindside flanker respectively.

Toulouse have France internationals decorating both their starting team and replacements bench, with Grand Slam starters Julien Marchand, Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Anthony Jelonch all starting, as well as current full-back Thomas Ramos.

Peato Mauvaka, Cyril Baille and Thibaud Flament will provide added impetus from the bench, while Italian superstar Ange Capuozzo is on the right wing and England back rower Jack Willis comes on from the bench.

Ospreys fly the flag for Wales

Ospreys have the daunting task of welcoming Gallagher Premiership champions Leicester Tigers, but they are equipped with Wales internationals throughout the side.

Wales flyers Alex Cuthbert and George North are joined by international newcomer Joe Hawkins in the backs, while in the forwards, Nicky Smith and Tomas Francis make up the front row, and Adam Beard and Alun Wyn Jones form the second row.

In-form flanker Jac Morgan starts on the blindside, while Wales captain Justin Tipuric is at openside, with players looking to impress returning Wales head coach Warren Gatland.