International stars will lock horns for their clubs once again this weekend as another round of European action takes centre stage.
It’s a much similar schedule due to new travel rules in France, which has meant seven European matches due to be played between French and British teams have been postponed.
Ospreys’ meeting with Racing 92, Leinster’s clash with Montpellier and Saracens’ showdown with Pau have also been called off this weekend due to coronavirus outbreaks.
But there are still several huge encounters to look forward to over the next three days as some of the biggest names in rugby go head-to-head in their bid for European glory.
LAWES RETURNS FOR SAINTS
England back rower Courtney Lawes returns to the Northampton Saints starting XV as the Premiership side travel to Belfast to take on Ulster under the Friday night lights.
Lawes skippered the Red Rose in the absence of Owen Farrell in the Autumn Nations Series but missed Saints’ 45-14 defeat to Racing 92 last weekend at Franklin’s Gardens.
Scotland back Peter Horne announces retirement
The 32-year-old’s inclusion is one of six changes made by Chris Boyd, with England teammate George Furbank also switching to No.10 to replace injured Wales fly-half Dan Biggar.
Lawes will come up against British & Irish Lions teammate Iain Henderson in a tasty battle, with the Ireland international and Ulster captain returning from injury himself at Kingspan Stadium.
Ulster defeated Clermont Auvergne 29-23 in their European curtain-raiser last weekend and will hope the return of Henderson can help them continue their perfect start to the competition.
Meanwhile, Saturday serves up a blockbuster Anglo-Welsh collision at the Twickenham Stoop as reigning Premiership champions Harlequins welcome Cardiff Rugby to the capital.
England stars Alex Dombrandt, Marcus Smith and Joe Marchant all start for the home side, who defeated Castres on the road in their opening fixture in Europe last weekend.
Quins face a Cardiff side littered with Wales internationals, though, as Josh Adams, Willis Halaholo, Tomos Williams, Ellis Jenkins and James Botham all start for the visitors.
HOGG FACES SCOTLAND TEAMMATES
There will also be a significant international contingent on show at Scotstoun Stadium, where Glasgow Warriors will take on Exeter Chiefs for the sixth time in only five seasons.
Scotland skipper and Chiefs full-back Stuart Hogg will face several of his international teammates, including Kyle Steyn, Ali Price, Zander Fagerson and Jamie Bhatti.
Sergio Parisse’s greatest Championship moments
Hogg will be joined in the visiting team by Scotland teammates Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner as well as England’s Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds.
Saturday’s finale in the European top tier sees Munster host Castres in Limerick, with the hosts naming a team packed with Ireland internationals for the contest.
Conor Murray, Keith Earls, Andrew Conway, Tadhg Beirne and Peter O’Mahony will all line-up at Thomond Park as they look to back up last weekend’s 35-14 victory over Wasps.
Finally, Europe’s premier club competition comes to a close on Sunday when Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers collide with Irish province Connacht at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
England full-back sensation Freddie Steward starts on the wing for Tigers in a team that also features England internationals Ben Youngs, Nic Dolly and George Martin.
Tigers defeated Bordeaux in their opening fixture but will not have it all their own way against a Connacht side that includes the likes of Bundee Aki and Jack Carty.
BRALEY FACES FORMER SIDE
Italy international Callum Braley will line up against former club Gloucester Rugby on Friday night when Benetton take on the West Country outfit in Europe’s second tier.
The scrum-half spent six years at Kingsholm before leaving the club in 2020 for the Italian side, who are playing their first European match of the season after enjoying a bye last weekend.
Braley will be joined in the starting XV by Azzurri teammates Edoardo Padovani, Monty Ioane, Sebastian Negri, Gianmarco Lucchesi and Italy skipper Michele Lamaro.
But the visitors will need to be at their very best against a buoyant Gloucester team, who opened their European campaign last weekend with a hard-fought 19-13 victory over Lyon.
Wales international Louis Rees-Zammit and England’s Jonny May start on the wings for the hosts, while Scotland duo Chris Harris and Adam Hastings also feature in an all-star backline.
That game is one of three taking place on Friday night, with Dragons hosting Lyon at Rodney Parade and Zebre travelling to Toulon in the other second tier European encounters.
Taine Basham, one of the stars of Wales’ Autumn Nations Series campaign, starts for Dragons in Newport but the hosts will be without fellow internationals Elliot Dee and Will Rowlands.
Meanwhile, Zebre are packed with Italian internationals for their first ever meeting with Toulon in the competition, with Jacopo Trulla, Pierre Bruno, Carlo Canna and Luca Bigi among the starters.
Toulon are also not short of international talent, with Springbok Cheslin Kolbe starting on the wing in a team that also features France stars Louis Carbonel and Baptiste Serin as well as Quinn Roux, capped 16 times by Ireland.