The first two rounds of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup pool stage have produced some cracking contests and the tension levels are set to rise further this weekend as the race for the knockout stage heats up.
Round 3, the penultimate round of pool stage games, begins on Friday at 20:00 (UK & Irish time) as Leicester Tigers travel to ASM Clermont Auvergne, with new head coach Richard Wigglesworth looking to guide the visitors to a third successive Pool B win in his first Heineken Champions Cup game at the helm.
On Saturday, Sale Sharks welcome Stade Toulousain at 13:00 and that Pool B encounter is set to have an added edge after the bad-tempered end to their Round 2 clash, which saw Toulouse full-back Thomas Ramos sent off.
Also at 1pm, Gloucester Rugby host Leinster Rugby in Pool A as the Gallagher Premiership club look to avenge their Round 2 mauling.
Gloucester are expected to field a more experienced side than in Dublin, but captain Lewis Ludlow will have his hands full with opposing flanker Josh van der Flier, the 2022 EPCR European Player of the Year, who already has three tries in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup .
At 15:15, there will be another fascinating back-row battle as Northampton Saints visit Munster Rugby with hopes of recording a first win in Pool B to keep their qualification hopes alive.
Stat attack 📊
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 27, 2022
Lewis Ludlam will be a key part of the Northampton efforts to keep Munster’s Gavin Coombes quiet, with the No.8 having dotted down twice in the Irish province’s Round 2 win at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
Also at 15:15, Cell C Sharks will aim to make it three wins from three in their maiden Heineken Champions Cup campaign as they welcome Union Bordeaux-Bègles to Durban, where fly-half Curwin Bosch will hope to add to his 28 points so far in Pool A.
There are two tantalizing encounters at 17:30, as Vodacom Bulls play Exeter Chiefs in Pretoria in Pool A and Ulster Rugby travel to Stade Rochelais in Pool B.
Vodacom Bulls hooker Bismarck Du Plessis will be seeking a more prosperous outing than in Round 2, when opposite number Luke Cowan-Dickie stole the show with a hat-trick of tries.
Ulster head to Stade Marcel Deflandre in desperate need of a win. Scrum-half John Cooney, who led their narrowly unsuccessful comeback against reigning champions La Rochelle in Round 2, is set to be a key figure again along with the home side’s prolific fly-half Antoine Hastoy.
Saturday is rounded off by two mouth-watering 20:00 games, with Saracens at home to Lyon in Pool A and Ospreys welcoming Montpellier Hérault Rugby in Pool B.
Lyon fly-half Fletcher Smith enjoyed a solid first outing in the Heineken Champions Cup in Round 2, tallying 10 points, but he will be up once again against Saracens star Owen Farrell, who helped his side scrape to their second victory from two.
Ospreys pulled off a shock in Round 2 when they won at Montpellier and they will need the likes of try-scoring No.8 Morgan Morris on top form again – particularly against counterpart Zach Mercer – if they are to clinch a famous double over the TOP 14 champions.
Hacjivah Dayimani’s 119 meters in #HeinekenChampionsCup R2 was the most by any forward in a game this season 👊
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 2, 2023
There are three finely-poised matches on Sunday, when Edinburgh Rugby head to Castres Olympique in Pool A and London Irish host DHL Stormers in Pool B, both at 13:00, before Harlequins visit Racing 92 in Pool A at 15:15.
Edinburgh beat Castres in Round 2 to boost their qualification hopes and they will likely call on the boot of full-back Emiliano Boffelli, who has 25 points to his name so far, again at Stade Pierre Fabre.
DHL Stormers were made to work hard for their Round 2 win over London Irish and they will need to stifle the home side’s full-back, Ben Loader, one of the competition’s leading attackers so far, to complete the double. However, the Cape Town outfit have a leading threat of their own in No.8 Hacjivah Dayimani.
Quins prop Fin Baxter made a name for himself in a battling win over Racing at Twickenham Stoop in Round 2, but the Paris clash will be stern test for the youngster as Camille Chat looks set to return to the front row for the hosts, who are in desperate need of a first win of their campaign.
BT Sport and beIN SPORTS are once again broadcasting every Heineken Champions Cup match throughout the pool and knockout stages.
Coverage of the South African sides, who are making their historic first steps in the tournament – DHL Stormers, Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks – is being fronted by SuperSport, while EPCR also has a new agreement with FloRugby, who will be broadcasting to fans in the USA.
There is additional free-to-air coverage of certain games through ITV, RTÉ, S4C and France TV.
Click HERE for the full fixture list including all broadcast information.