As the top leagues from across Europe take a fortnight’s break to once again converge and contest the Champions and Challenge Cups, there are unsurprisingly several big Six Nations names that will come head to head.
Champions Cup holders Leinster, who boast a plethora of Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam-winning team, are in action against English Premiership outfit Bath, while Wales’ Scarlets host Ulster and Edinburgh welcome Newcastle.
With the Six Nations just around the corner, the mouth-watering set of match-ups gives players a chance to scope out their competition when February rolls around, not to mention the extra layer of narrative the rivalries add to proceedings.
Here’s a look at some of the standout head-to-heads.
Bath Rugby v Leinster
The Premiership side recently welcomed several of their number back to the domestic fold after outstanding Autumn International performances with England.
The likes of Zach Mercer, Joe Cokanasiga and Charlie Ewels will all be hoping to have put their name in the hat when Eddie Jones pulls together his ranks for the Six Nations.
But they may have their work cut out this weekend when Leinster come to town, dominant in last season’s Champions Cup and this year’s Guinness PRO14, and blessed with representatives from the recently crowned World Rugby Team of the Year.
The likes of Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan give them incomparable strength in the pack, while Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney and World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton make them a scoring juggernaut going forward.
The gauntlet is set for Mercer and co to impress, but it won’t be easy for the England internationals as they look to lay down a marker for England’s trip to the Dublin in the opening round of next year’s Six Nations.
Benetton Rugby v Harlequins
The Treviso side contain a large swath of Italy’s exciting young backs that have been tipped to light up next year’s Six Nations, and will be put to the test by the visit of Harlequins and Kyle Sinckler in the Challenge Cup.
The England prop revelled in his destructive role during the November Tests, clattering anything and everything that he was faced with in a series of displays that will have had Jones purring ahead of February.
With the likes of Tommaso Allan, Luca Sperandio and Tommaso Benvenuti all set to star for the Italians, Sinckler may well be looking to set a precedent before England welcome the Italians at the start of March.
Edinburgh v Newcastle Falcons
Rather than an inter-Six Nations battle, this Champions Cup fixture looks all set to pit Scottish internationals against their own in a gladiatorial fight for the international jersey.
The Falcons’ squad features both centre Chris Harris and back row Gary Graham, each of whom are angling for regular inclusion in the international set-up after featuring in the Autumn squad.
But they will face some tasty competition for places when they cross the border, with Harris going up against experienced Scotland centre Matt Scott, while Graham will be hoping to impress Gregor Townsend when he faces up to Hamish Watson.
For his part, the Scotland head coach will certainly be keeping a close eye on proceedings at BT Murrayfield.
Racing 92 v Leicester Tigers
Several French internationals are set to feature for the Parisian side when they host Premiership heavyweights Leicester in the Champions Cup, but surely the standout name will be that of Teddy Thomas.
Electric in the 2018 Six Nations, he showcased his trademark explosive wing play to score against both Ireland and Scotland, and the Tigers will have a task keeping him out at the Paris la Defense Arena.
With experienced England man Jonny May also set to feature out wide for the Tigers, this one could well offer something of a window into the future for Round Two of next year’s Six Nations.
Scarlets v Ulster
This one looks set to be a battle of the packs: Wales v Ireland played out in the Champions Cup at Parc y Scarlets.
Ulster are of course skippered by Ireland’s captain – legendary hooker Rory Best – with Iain Henderson and Jordi Murphy also featuring among the province’s forwards.
And while the Scarlets can name Jonathan Davies, Rhys Patchell and Gareth Davies among their number, it is the front eight where they truly pack the Welsh ranks.
Ken Owens, Rob Evans, Samson Lee and Jake Ball in particular will look to get one over on their opponents before Ireland return to Wales for Round Five of next year’s Six Nations.