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The Champions Cup pool stages are almost complete and this weekend’s 11 fixtures are set to decide the 16 teams making it through to the knockout stage.

Cardiff’s visit to Toulouse has been called off due to Covid cases in the French side’s camp. Awarded a 28-0 default bonus-point victory, Cardiff occupy the final knockout spot in Pool B as things stand.

Ligue Nationale de Rugby [LNR], the body that oversees the professional game in France, called the decision “scandalous” and “totally unfounded”, while its president Rene Bouscatel suggested that legal action could be taken as a result.

“Following the announcement of the EPCR to cancel the Champions Cup match between Stade Toulousain and Cardiff Rugby, the LNR condemns a scandalous and totally unfounded decision,” a statement read.

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“Toulouse has put together a group of players to field a team fit to play the match, in full compliance with EPCR health regulations and the French health protocol.

“The EPCR’s Covid-19 protocol stipulates that the EPCR applies and defers to the protocol established by the league to which each club belongs, and adheres to the position of the medical authority of this league regarding the possibility for a club to play the match when positive cases are declared.

“In the case of Stade Toulousain, the commission of expertise Covid-19 of the NRL (LNR) has communicated its position Thursday evening, January 20th to the EPCR – this position being that the club could play the match against Cardiff Rugby.

“The decision of the EPCR is therefore taken in violation of its own regulations. It is incomprehensible and seriously prejudices the club and the fairness of the competition.”

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Leicester Tigers have also been awarded a 28-0 win after Bordeaux Beagles recorded a number of positive tests among their squad that meant they were unable to fulfil the fixture.

Leicester now have four wins to their name and their lead at the top of the Pool B table has stretched to five points.

The knockouts are not due to get underway until the spring, with the two-legged round of 16 kicking off in early April.

This weekend’s action is therefore last continental rugby for almost three months.

Harlequins v Castres

  • Fri 21 Jan, 8pm on BT Sport 2HD

Harlequins’ last-gasp triumph over Cardiff last week was the ideal Friday night showpiece, with hotshot wunderkind Marcus Smith kicking a cool 16 points – including the winner in time added on.

Castres have won four on the bounce in the Top 14 but have lost their last three in Europe, including the reverse fixture between these two sides.

A sold out Stoop will witness a Quins XV take to the field with nine changes from the victory at Cardiff, including Springbok Andre Esterhuizen at centre, while Ben Botica returns to his former stomping ground as Castres’ fly-half.

Bath v Leinster

  • Sat 22 Jan, 1pm on BT Sport 2HD and Channel 4

This weekend’s free-to-air fixture sees two teams who have enjoyed contrasting fortunes this season clash at The Rec.

Four points off top in their hunt for a fifth successive United Rugby Championship (URC) title, Leinster thumped Montpellier 89-7 last week and welcome Ireland captain Johnny Sexton back for his first start since mid-October.

Bath, second from bottom in both the Premiership and Pool A, have made nine changes after defeat to La Rochelle last week, with England Six Nations call-up Orlando Bailey starting at fly-half.

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Ulster v Clermont Auvergne

  • Sat 22 Jan, 5.30pm on BT Sport 3HD

Pool A leaders Ulster could make it four Champions Cup wins from four with victory over a Clermont side who are yet to secure their place in the knockouts.

A repeat of their 29-23 victory in December’s reverse fixture would see Ulster handed home advantage in both the second leg of the round of 16 and the one-legged quarter-final.

Ulster have made just two changes from victory over Northampton Saints last week as Angus Curtis and Eric O’Sullivan come into the XV at inside centre and loosehead respectively.

Scarlets v Bristol Bears

  • Sat 22 Jan, 5.30pm on BT Sport 2HD

In a season of poor league form, the Champions Cup has so far provided welcome relief for Bristol, who sit 4th in Pool B after two wins and a draw.

Knockout qualification is not out of the question for bottom-placed Scarlets, though this would require a bonus-point victory and other results to go their way.

Their XV is stacked with call-ups to Wales’ Six Nations squad, including Johnny McNicholl on the wing, Wyn Jones at loosehead and Ryan Elias at tighthead.

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Glasgow Warriors v La Rochelle

  • Sat 22 Jan, 8pm on BT Sport 2HD

Glasgow may have the edge over La Rochelle in terms of league position, but it is the latter who have enjoyed finer form in the Champions Cup this season.

Saturday’s visitors won out in the reverse fixture in December and name a XV that boasts Gregory Alldritt as captain and Jonathan Danty at inside centre.

Glasgow make four changes to the side that was thumped 52-17 by Exeter last weekend, with Scotland winger Rufus McLean set for his Champions Cup debut.

Stade Francais v Connacht

  • Sun 23 Jan, 1pm on BT Sport 3HD

It has been a middling season so far for Connacht, who sit 8th in the 16-team URC and 6th in 12-team Pool B.

Stade Francais, too, will have wished for more – the two European games they have played this season have both ended in defeat, including a 36-9 loss to Connacht in December.

Andy Friend’s side have made six changes, with Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back in line for his 199th club cap.

Sale Sharks v Ospreys

  • Sun 23 Jan, 1pm on BT Sport 2HD

Sale’s inconsistent Premiership form has been very much replicated in their Champions Cup campaign, with one win, one draw and one loss to their name.

Ospreys have had a much tougher time and sit rooted to the bottom of Pool A after losing three out of three.

The visitors have made nine changes, with 2001-born flanker Harri Deaves in for a tough debut against Lood de Jager and Jean-Luc du Preez in Sale’s second row.

Racing 92 v Northampton Saints

  • Sun 23 Jan, 3.15pm on BT Sport 3HD

Tied on points with Pool A leaders Ulster, Racing 92 will be looking for a fourth straight European victory against a Northampton side who have lost three on the spin.

Saints, though, are not to be underestimated – as their strong league form this season shows – and have named a side that features Tom Wood making his 50th cap at flanker.

Scotland Six Nations call-up Rory Hutchinson is at inside centre for Saints, where he’ll line up against international teammate Finn Russell.

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Munster v Wasps

  • Sun 23 Jan, 3.15pm on BT Sport 2HD

Wasps were thoroughly impressive in their 30-22 triumph over favoured Toulouse last weekend, especially as it came just six days after ending Leicester’s 100 per cent start to the season.

A third win on the bounce would be a great achievement, especially against a Munster side who won December’s reverse fixture 35-14 and sit 3rd in Pool B.

Loosehead David Kilcoyne will make his 200th cap for Munster as flanker Jack O’Donoghue becomes the youngest player to make 150 appearances for the club.

Montpellier v Exeter

  • Sun 23 Jan, 5.30pm on BT Sport 2HD

Montpellier were on the receiving end of the biggest Champions Cup drubbing of the season so far last week as Leinster ran out 89-7 winners.

Exeter, on the other hand, handed out a drubbing of their own to Glasgow as they won 52-17.

Rob Baxter’s men are unsurprisingly largely unchanged, with front-rower Sam Nixon and centre Sean O’Brien the only two starters who weren’t in the XV against Glasgow.

Highlights for round four of the Champions Cup are available on BT Sport



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