Champions Cup: Fixtures, kick-off times, TV details and format

Leinster are the first Irish province into action with a Saturday clash against Bath

Leinster’s James Ryan  during training ahead of their Champions Cup meeting with Bath. Photo: Ben Brady/Inpho

Leinster’s James Ryan during training ahead of their Champions Cup meeting with Bath. Photo: Ben Brady/Inpho

 

It has been a strangely subdued start to the season for the four Irish provinces.

While Ireland enjoyed a November to remember, beating the All Blacks as part of a three-Test cleansweep, all was quiet on the domestic front.

But now provincial duty takes precedence once again, and this weekend sees the return of Europe and the Champions Cup.

Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster are all dining at the continent’s top table, in a tournament which is already being impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The competition retains the alien format which was introduced last year - more on that later - but will still provide the Irish sides, particularly Leinster, with their truest tests of the season.

And with winter derby matches to follow the opening two rounds of European action, now is the time for the provinces to really get firing.

Here is everything you need to know, as the Champions Cup gets underway.

What is it?

The opening weekend of the 2021-22 Champions Cup.

When is it?

The first round of fixtures will be played across Friday December 10th, 11th and 12th.

How can I watch it?

All of the tournament’s fixtures will be shown live on BT Sport, with one game every weekend - the early slot on a Saturday - shown free-to-air by Virgin Media and Channel 4. You will also be able to follow most of the action via our liveblogs - we will be bringing you Leinster’s clash with Bath from 2.30pm on Saturday.

How does it work?

The 2020-21 tournament was severely disrupted by Covid-19 and as a result a new format was introduced, which has been retained this season.

There are 24 teams - eight each from the Pro14, English Premiership and Top 14 - which have been divided into two pools of 12.

Each side will play four pool matches each, two at home and two away. The eight highest-ranked sides in each pool will progress to a two-legged last-16, followed by quarter-finals, semis and the final.

What are the pools?

Pool A

ASM Clermont Auvergne

Bath

Exeter Chiefs

Glasgow Warriors

Leinster

Montpellier

Northampton Saints

Ospreys

Racing 92

Sale Sharks

Ulster

La Rochelle

Pool B

Bristol Bears

Cardiff Blues

Castres Olympique

Connacht

Harlequins

Leicester Tigers

Munster

Stade Francais

Bordeaux-Begles

Wasps

Scarlets

Toulouse

What are the fixtures?

All kick-off times Irish. All games live on BT Sport.

Round One

Tuesday December 7th

Bristol Bears 28 Scarlets 0, Ashton Gate, (Scarlets forfeit)

Friday December 10th

Northampton Saints v Racing 92, Franklin’s Gardens, 8pm

Saturday December 11th

Cardiff Blues v Toulouse, Cardiff Arms Park, 1pm (Virgin Media/Channel 4)

Bordeaux-Begles v Leicester Tigers, Stade Chaban-Delmas, 3.15pm

Leinster v Bath, Aviva Stadium, 3.15pm

Clermont v Ulster, Stade Marcel-Michelin, 5.30pm

Exeter Chiefs v Montpellier, Sandy Park, 8pm

Sunday December 12th

Ospreys v Sale Sharks, Liberty Stadium, 1pm

Connacht v Stade Francais, The Sportsground, 1pm

Wasps v Munster, Ricoh Arena, 3.15pm

La Rochelle v Glasgow Warriors, Stade Marcel Deflandre, 3.15pm

Castres v Harlequins, Stade Pierre Fabre, 5.30pm

Round Two

Friday December 17th

Montpellier v Leinster, GGL Stadium, 8pm

Ulster v Northampton Saints, Kingspan Stadium, 8pm

Saturday December 18th

Harlequins v Cardiff, Twickenham Stoop, 1pm (Virgin Media/Channel 4)

Bath v La Rochelle, The Rec, 1pm

Sale Sharks v Clermont, AJ Bell Stadium, 3.15pm

Racing 92 v Ospreys, La Defense Arena, 5.30pm

Glasgow Warriors v Exeter Chiefs, Scotstoun, 5.30pm

Munster v Castres, Thomond Park, 8pm

Sunday December 19th

Leicester Tigers v Connacht, Welford Road, 1pm

Scarlets v Bordeaux-Begles, Parc Y Scarlets, 1pm

Toulouse v Wasps, Stade Ernest Wallon, 3.15pm

Stade Francais v Bristol Bears, Stade Jean Bouin, 5.30pm

Round Three

Friday January 14th

Cardiff v Harlequins, Cardiff Arms Park, 8pm

Castres v Munster, Stade Pierre Fabre, 8pm

Saturday January 15th

Wasps v Toulouse, Ricoh Arena, 1pm (Virgin Media/Channel 4)

Ospreys v Racing 92, Liberty Stadium, 3.15pm

Connacht v Leicester, The Sportsground, 3.15pm

Exeter Chiefs v Glasgow Warriors, 5.30pm

La Rochelle v Bath, Stade Marcel Deflandre, 5.30pm

Bristol Bears v Stade Francais, Ashton Gate, 8pm

Sunday January 16th

Leinster v Montpellier, RDS Arena, 1pm

Northampton Saints, Franklin’s Gardens, 3.15pm

Bordeaux v Scarlets, Stade Chaban-Delmas, 3.15pm

Clermont v Sale Sharks, Stade Marcel-Michelin, 5.30pm

Round Four

Friday January 21st

Harlequins v Castres, Twickenham Stoop, 8pm

Saturday January 22nd

Bath v Leinster, The Rec, 1pm (Virgin Media/Channel 4)

Toulouse v Cardiff Blues, Stade Ernest Wallon, 1pm

Leicester v Bordeaux-Begles, Welford Road, 3.15pm

Ulster v Clermont, Kingspan Stadium, 5.30pm

Scarlets v Bristol Bears, Parc y Scarlets, 5.30pm

Glasgow Warriors v La Rochelle, Scotstoun, 8pm

Sunday January 23rd

Sale Sharks v Ospreys, AJ Bell Stadium, 1pm

Stade Francais v Connacht, Stade Jean Bouin, 1pm

Racing 92 v Northampton Saints, La Defense Arena, 3.15pm

Munster v Wasps, Thomond Park, 3.15pm

Montpellier v Exeter Chiefs, GGL Stadium, 5.30pm

Knockout dates

April 8th-10th - Last-16 first leg

April 15th-17th - Last-16 second leg

May 6th-8th - Quarter-finals

May 13th-15th - Semi-finals

Friday May 27th - Final

Covid-19 disruption

The United Rugby Championship, which sees the inclusion of four South African sides alongside the usual suspects from the Pro14, always seemed like a daft premise in the midst of a pandemic.

The discovery of the Omicron variant in South Africa left Munster stranded waiting to return to Ireland, with Cardiff and the Scarlets also heavily affected.

Indeed, the Scarlets have had to forfeit their opening fixture away to Bristol with 32 of their players in quarantine in a hotel in Ulster - meaning Pat Lam’s side are awarded a 28-0 walkover.

Munster’s trip to play Wasps however, is set to go ahead. . .

One of Munster’s finest hours?

Munster often save their best days for the European Cup, and victory over Wasps in Coventry on Sunday would rank as one of the most improbable.

The province have had to register 22 new players this week - all of them aged 21 or younger - with 14 of their travelling party having to stay in South Africa after testing positive for coronavirus, and the rest currently in isolation.

However a core of seasoned pros including nine internationals are still available - and the likes of Peter O’Mahony often thrive in adversity.

The Ireland flanker said this week: “”I think I trained with a guy who was born in 2004 the other day, Earlsie could have been his father we reckoned!

“I wouldn’t have come across him, there’s guys just out of school, but to see some of the talent that’s come on is incredible. It’s really encouraging for the club.”

Can I go?

As it stands sporting events in Ireland remain at full capacity. You can buy tickets for Leinster’s clash with Bath here, and there are still tickets available for Connacht’s opener against Stade Francais here.

There are currently also full attendances allowed in both England and France. Travelling supporters from Ireland do not need a test to enter either if they are fully vaccinated, but would require proof of a negative PCR or antigen test when returning.

What happened last year?

Toulouse stitched a fifth star onto their chests after a 22-17 win over Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle at Twickenham, with up to 10,000 supporters allowed to attend. Due to the pandemic each side only played two pool fixtures each, with Leinster then receiving a bye into the quarter-finals after Toulon were hit by a Covid outbreak. The four-time winners beat Exeter 34-22 in the last-eight but were blown away by La Rochelle in the semis, losing 32-23.

Toulouse’s players celebrate after winning the Champions Cup last year. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Toulouse’s players celebrate after winning the Champions Cup last year. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Who are the favourites to win it?

Last year’s winners Toulouse are fancied to retain their crown - but Leinster won’t be far away according to the bookies.

Toulouse 7-2

Leinster 9-2

La Rochelle 15-2

Exeter Chiefs 9-1

Racing 92 9-1

Bordeaux 18-1

Clermont 22-1

Leicester Tigers 25-1

Munster 25-1

Harlequins 25-1

BAR 40-1

The road to Marseille

This year’s final will finally be held at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome - maybe see you there in May?

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