There is now less than a month to go until Ireland and Wales open up the Guinness Six Nations and there is a perfect precursor to that as the Ospreys and Leinster clash.
There are internationals wherever you look in that giant United Rugby Championship clash as Justin Tipuric’s Ospreys face a Leinster side full of Irish internationals.
Meanwhile, there is a mammoth all-French battle as La Rochelle and Toulouse go head-to-head in a match that sees the Heineken Champions Cup holders take on the 2021 winners.
Over in Gallagher Premiership Rugby, there are plenty of fascinating battles across the league for players hoping to impress Steve Borthwick and earn their place in his first squad.
Here, we have a look at all the key news ahead of a big round of European domestic rugby.
Ospreys host Leinster in Guinness Six Nations warm-up
Tipuric is not the only Welsh international who will feature for the Ospreys, with the openside joined in the forward pack by Alun Wyn Jones and a whole Wales front row of Nicky Smith, Dewi Lake and Tomas Francis.
They will be hoping to impress Warren Gatland, recently re-appointed as Wales boss following Wayne Pivac’s departure after the Autumn Nations Series.
They will have their work cut out against a Leinster side who, despite missing Johnny Sexton due to a facial injury, are still filled with Ireland internationals.
Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour and Jimmy O’Brien form an all-Irish international back three, while Cian Healy and Dan Sheehan will make the front row battle fascinating, and Jack Conan will be a difficult man to stop for Tipuric and his back row colleagues.
That is not the only game Gatland will want to be watching as Cardiff and the Scarlets are up against each other in a big all-Welsh encounter.
With the full-back position up for grabs, this game will be very important for Gatland and Wales supporters as Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny face each other, while Josh Adams, Tomos Williams and Taulupe Faletau will also be looking to secure their place in Gatland’s first squad with a win for Cardiff.
Atonio and Baille lock horns
Over in France, there is a clear match that is getting all the attention as European heavyweights La Rochelle and Toulouse go up against each other in a match that is set to be one for the ages.
The most eye-catching individual battle sees French Grand Slam heroes Uini Atonio and Cyrile Baille go head-to-head in what should be compelling viewing.
The duo will lock horns, with Baille supported by France hookers Julien Marchand and Peato Mauvaka before all linking up in a few weeks’ time and looking to go for back-to-back titles with Les Bleus.
Captain Antoine Dupont will be joined by Romain Ntamack as the telepathic pair continue to grow their relationship, while Thomas Ramos will take on kicking duties from full-back.
Gregory Alldritt will also be on show for the hosts, but there will be no Jonathan Danty, who has been ruled out for the entire Guinness Six Nations with a knee injury.
Danty’s likely centre replacement Yoram Moefana will be in action for Bordeaux-Begles against Bayonne, joined by Matthieu Jalibert, who could slot in at fly-half should Fabien Galthié opt to play Ntamack at inside centre.
Galthié will not be the only one with eyes on the Top 14, with Gregor Townsend still casting a look at Racing 92 and Scotland fly-half Finn Russell in their tie with French champions Montpellier.
He escapes a battle against Italy star Paolo Garbisi due to his injury that will rule him out of the opening rounds of the Championship.
Townsend will have to keep his eyes spread around Europe, but especially in Edinburgh, who welcome back Dave Cherry and Nick Haining from injury as they take on Zebre.
Over in Glasgow there is also some intrigue, as among the plethora of Scotland internationals on show against the Stormers, Matt Fagerson shifts over to blindside to allow Jack Dempsey to start at No.8, potentially something Townsend could look to replicate when Scotland face England on February 4th.
Rapava-Ruskin leads charge of England hopefuls
Speaking of England, there is plenty to look out for in Round 15 of Gallagher Premiership Rugby, with new coach Steve Borthwick set to name his England squad on January 16th.
In Friday night’s clash there are plenty of potential call-ups, but perhaps none more in form than Gloucester prop Val Rapava-Ruskin, who has the tough task of taking on Saracens and Italy prop Marco Riccioni.
Saracens have their fair share of England stars in the likes of Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje who will be hoping to guarantee their spots under Borthwick, while in Hugh Tizard and Ben Earl, there are two more players for Borthwick to have a big look at.
The likes of George McGuigan and Jonny May will also be hoping to be included in that squad as Gloucester look to cement their place in the top four.
Two other sides looking to secure a top-four spot in the Premiership are Exeter Chiefs and Northampton Saints and there is also a battle for a spot among Borthwick’s back row selections.