European heavyweights clash with Six Nations stars on show

Europe’s top leagues take a break for the next two weeks as clubs contest the final two rounds of the European Champions and Challenge Cups.

Europe’s top leagues take a break for the next two weeks as clubs contest the final two rounds of the European Champions and Challenge Cups.

It gives some of the big names from the Six Nations the mouthwatering opportunity to face-off against opposition usually reserved for international fixtures.

The next two weekends are a chance for players to impress their international coaches before squads are named, with the likes of Eddie Jones and Joe Schmidt preparing to ink their line-ups for the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

With the kick-off to the World’s Greatest Championship just weeks away, the stars will want to put in stellar displays against some of the continent’s best players.

Here’s some of the standout match-ups from this weekend’s European fixtures.

Leinster v Toulouse

There’s no better place to start then this battle in Dublin, with a chance to see more than a dozen internationals on display.

Six Nations star Johnny Sexton is a doubt for Leinster but a host of his Grand Slam winning colleagues are set to feature.

Jordan Larmour and Rob Kearney could line up in the back three while scrum-half Luke McGrath is hoping to impress Schmidt with his European performance, as he looks to add to his 10 international caps this spring.

Not to mention the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healey, Dan Leavy, James Ryan and Devin Toner in the pack.

The French side, who are one of three clubs to have four wins from four so far in the Champions Cup, have supplied seven players for Jacques Brunel’s France training squad later this month.

It includes more than a third of the backs, with most expected to start in Dublin on Saturday.

The star-studded line-up could include French internationals Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, Yoann Huget, Maxine Medard and Thomas Ramos.

It was Medard who starred by scoring two tries when Toulouse took the narrowest of victories as they toppled the Irish side 28-27 in October.

Ulster v Racing 92

The Irish club are looking to be the first to topple Racing 92 in the competition this campaign, as they remain unbeaten in Pool 4.

Jacob Stockdale has been on fire all season for the Guinness PRO14 club and his back-line colleague Will Addison has also impressed.

Both featured heavily in the Autumn Tests for Schmidt’s side and will be wanting to showcase their talents on home turf.

Facing up against them for the French outfit includes a pack featuring Wenceslas Lauret and Bernard Leroux.

The back-rowers will pack down against a group including Ireland’s captain Rory Best at hooker, and flanker Jordi Murphy – but the Irish side will have their work cut out if they want to take any points off the French outfit.

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell has proved a successful signing for Racing since joining in the summer, and he will be looking to pull the strings in a victory for the visitors.

Glasgow Warriors v Cardiff Blues

The back-row battle will be one to savour as the side from the Welsh capital travel to Scotstoun Stadium for this Pool 3 match-up against Glasgow Warriors.

It could provide a handy preview for Warren Gatland and Gregor Townsend ahead of Wales’ trip to BT Murrayfield on March 9.

Cardiff’s Josh Navidi and Seb Davies will go head-to-head with Glasgow’s Adam Ashe and Ryan Wilson, with all four having the potential to line up as the two countries do battle in Round 4 of the Guinness Six Nations.

The back-rowers who dominate the game will undoubtedly have a better chance of success in Glasgow, with the Scottish side looking to secure victory as they chase Pool 3 table-toppers Saracens.

There’s also an international battle to enjoy at stand-off with Adam Hastings and Gareth Anscombe set to feature.

Both are looking to secure the starting No. 10 jersey for their respective Six Nations openers, with Anscombe battling for places with Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell while Hastings hopes to beat Russell to the Scotland fly-half start.

Saracens v Lyon

England star Billy Vunipola will be hoping to continue his comeback and prove his fitness ahead of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations as Saracens look to maintain an unbeaten start to their European campaign.

Another returning star last weekend against Sale Sharks was Liam Williams, as the Wales back hopes to show Gatland he is ready for the start of the World’s Greatest Championship on February 1.

As well as those making a comeback there is a wealth of international star power set to be on show at Matmut Stadium de Gerland, with Lyon looking to pick up their first points in the competition.

It could be tough going for the French side with England’s Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth, Mako Vunipola, Nick Isiekwe and Alex Lozowski looking to stake their claim as well as Scotland’s Sean Maitland.

One Lyon player to look out for is lock Felix Lambey, who is his club’s sole representative in the France training squad.

Leicester Tigers v Scarlets

Wales’ Jonathan Davies and England’s Manu Tuilagi are all set to face-off for their respective clubs as they try to chase down Ulster and Racing 92 in Pool 4.

The battle of the centres is sure to produce fireworks and both will be looking to carry their sides over the gain line at Parc y Scarlets.

Jonny May will be aiming to show his twinkle-toes as he battles for a starting berth for England, while his club and international team mate George Ford will also look to impress.

For Scarlets, Wales hooker Ken Owens could be forced to line-up at No. 8 for the second straight week as coach Wayne Pivac continues to fight an injury crisis.

Centre Hadleigh Parkes and prop Samson Lee are both set to feature for the Welsh club, with both gearing up for the 2019 championship opener against France.

La Rochelle v Zebre

French and Italian stars are in action at Stade Marcel Deflandre on Friday night, with the Challenge Cup Pool 4 fixture seeing the top two clubs clashing.

The visitors have supplied 10 players for Conor O’Shea’s Italy training squad including Guglielmo Palazzani, Jimmy Tuivaiti and Giulio Bisegni.

Another to impress recently has been Maxime Mbanda, who is continuing his comeback from injury. The back-rower’s last appearance for his country was in the 2018 Six Nations against Wales.

It could be a chance for Jacques Brunel to see how some of his France stars will fare against Italy’s best players.

Dany Priso, Uini Atonio and Gregory Alldritt will hope to use the match as a marker, as they line up in the pack for La Rochelle against the Italian side ahead of the two countries meeting on the Guinness Six Nations’ final weekend.

Both clubs have three wins from their four matches so far in the Challenge Cup, with their final two games set to determine who qualifies from Pool 4.