The inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup is set to explode into action in mid-October with two compelling weekends of heavyweight clashes between European club rugby’s professional elite. Leinster, Munster and Ulster will all face English opponents in the opening round.
Top 14 winners and defending European champions Toulon will kick off their Pool 3 campaign at Stade Mayol against the Scarlets, with reigning Aviva Premiership champions Northampton Saints travelling to Racing Metro 92 in Pool 5 as the 20th season of European competition gets underway.
GUINNESS PRO12 title holders Leinster are at home against Wasps in round 1 of the European Rugby Champions Cup, while Saracens renew their Anglo-French rivalry with Clermont Auvergne whom they famously defeated in last season’s European Cup semi-final.
Munster and Ulster will be on their travels for their opening pool fixtures, with Anthony Foley’s men visiting Sale Sharks and the Rory Best-led northerners renewing rivalries with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
All 20 games in rounds 1 and 2 will be broadcast live on either BT Sport or Sky Sports, with BT Sport kicking off their European coverage with the Pool 2 game between Harlequins and Castres Olympique at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday, October 17.
A brand new chapter in the European club story will begin a day earlier when Gloucester take on Brive live on Sky Sports in round 1 of the European Rugby Challenge Cup at Kingsholm Stadium on Thursday, October 16, following the announcement by EPCR of the fixture schedules for 2014/15.
Meanwhile, Pat Lam’s Connacht side will have home advantage for their Challenge Cup opener against French side La Rochelle on Saturday, October 18.
In round 2 of the Champions Cup, the Recreation Ground is certain to be sold out when Bath host four-time European champions Toulouse in Pool 4, and there are unlikely to be any spare seats at either Thomond Park (pictured below) or Kingspan Stadium when Munster go head-to-head with Saracens and when Ulster host Toulon.
Following the Gloucester v Brive Challenge Cup kick-off, other games of note in round 1 include the meeting of Cardiff Blues and Grenoble at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park in Pool 1 as well as Exeter Chiefs’ visit to Bayonne.
In round 2, London Welsh’s return to European competition against Bordeaux-Bègles at the Kassam Stadium on Thursday, October 23 will be live on BT Sport.
Two places in EPCR’s second tournament remain to be filled following Challenge Cup qualification play-offs which will take place over two legs in September. The winners of the play-off between Femi-CZ Rugby Rovigo and Georgian representatives, Tbilisi Caucasians, will qualify for Pool 1 where they will join Cardiff Blues, London Irish and Grenoble.
The winners of the play-off between Cammi Rugby Calvisano and Bucharest Wolves will compete in Pool 3 along with Stade Francais, Newport Gwent Dragons and Newcastle Falcons.
The dates, venues and kick-off times for rounds 3 and 4 in both tournaments will be announced in the coming weeks, with further details of the rounds 5 and 6 fixtures confirmed in December after the completion of round 4.