Champions Cup: Unbeaten Ulster take on Top 14 giants Toulouse and Northampton host Bordeaux-Begles

Northampton and Bordeaux-Begles will kick off this season’s Champions Cup at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night, after which unbeaten Ulster take on Top 14 giants Toulouse at Kingspan Stadium…

Northampton Saints v Bordeaux-Begles

Domestic form

It’s been a tough start to the Premiership season for Northampton, who are without a win in their first three games of the campaign. Their most recent outing was a heartbreaking loss to Bristol, with Saints ahead for much of the match before Sam Bedlow kicked a penalty with the last kick of the match to condemn Chris Boyd’s side to their 11th consecutive loss across the last two seasons.

Bordeaux-Begles have had a mixed start to domestic life this term; they’ve won five out of 10 so far in France. A victory against Brive to start their season was followed by three consecutive losses, but a 71-5 dismantling of Agen breathed life back into the team, and they have gone on to record victories over Castres and Montpellier to get back on track.

Key players

With Tom Curry and Sam Underhill the currently preferred option for Eddie Jones in the back row, and Joe Launchbury and Maro Itoje forming a strong partnership in the second row over the autumn, Courtney Lawes will want to use this European campaign to remind Jones why he started last year’s World Cup final, and muscle his way back into England’s starting XV for the Six Nations.

There are plenty of stars in this French team, including former Hurricanes winger Ben Lam and Argentina’s Santiago Cordero, but it was only last week that Cameron Woki truly announced his credentials with all-round power at Twickenham against the No 2-ranked team in the world. There will be plenty of eyes on his battle with Lawes in the No 6 jersey on Friday.

Team news

Northampton have named Lawes, Fiji hooker Sam Matavesi and Wales fly-half Dan Biggar for the first time this season.

The international trio are joined by centres Rory Hutchinson and Matt Proctor, who are united in the Saints midfield for the first time this term, and Australia wing Taqele Naiyaravoro.

Bordeaux-Begles have picked Lam and Cordero alongside Romain Buros in the back three, while Ben Botica starts at fly-half.

Woki is joined in the back row by skipper Mahamadou Diaby and 34-cap Wallaby Scott Higginbotham.

Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Alex Mitchell; 1 Nick Auterac, 2 Sam Matavesi, 3 Owen Franks, 4 David Ribbans, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Tom Wood (c), 8 Shaun Adendorff.

Replacements: 16 James Fish, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 JJ Tonks, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Fraser Dingwall, 23 Ryan Olowofela.

Bordeaux-Begles: 15 Romain Buros, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Yoram Falatea-Moefana, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Ben Botica, 9 Maxime Lucu; 1 Thierry Paiva, 2 Maxime Lamothe, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 4 Guido Petti, 5 Cyril Cazeaux, 6 Cameron Woki, 7 Mahamadou Diaby (c), 8 Scott Higginbotham.

Replacements: 16 Clement Maynadier, 17 Lekso Kaulashvili, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Jandré Marais, 20 Marco Tauleigne, 21 Jules Gimbert, 22 Matthieu Jalibert, 23 Pablo Uberti.

Ulster v Toulouse

Domestic form

It’s the perfect start for Ulster in the PRO14 with eight wins from eight outings. It would normally be enough to keep all others comfortably at bay but Leinster are right there with seven wins from seven in second place in Conference A. Last time out Ulster eased to a 43-14 victory over Edinburgh, and will be hoping to carry that form into their European campaign.

Toulouse started their season with a narrow loss to Clermont, but followed that with consecutive wins over current league leaders La Rochelle, Toulon and Racing 92. They are sitting second in the overall standings after winning seven of their 11 games so far, including a 63-18 hammering of Agen.

Key players

Marcell Coetzee recently celebrated his 50th Ulster appearance by scoring four tries against Zebre in a bruising 57-14 PRO14 victory. The South African was unlucky not to feature for the Boks at last year’s World Cup but there is no time to rest on his laurels as this week he’s up against the likes of countryman Rynhardt Elstadt and Selevasio Tolofua in a physical back row battle.

Toulouse normally have Romain Ntamack in the No 10 jersey, but as is tradition in France the scrum-half is often the man pulling the strings and in Antoine Dupont they have a more than handy half-back. The 24-year-old was recently named Six Nations player of the tournament; a tough assignment for Ulster half-back John Cooney.

Team news

Ulster are without injured Ireland pair Iain Henderson and Billy Burns, but Eric O’Sullivan, Jacob Stockdale, Rob Herring and Stuart McCloskey are included after Ireland duties.

Toulouse have picked Ntamack in the midfield as Thomas Ramos starts at fly-half where he pairs at half-back with Dupont.

Maxime Médard, Matthis Lebel and Cheslin Kolbe form the back three while Rory Arnold and Joe Tekori join up in the second row.

Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Matt Faddes, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 John Cooney; 1 Eric O’Sullivan, 2 Rob Herring, 3 Marty Moore, 4 Alan O’Connor, 5 Sam Carter (c), 6 Sean Reidy, 7 Jordi Murphy, 8 Marcell Coetzee.

Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 David O’Connor, 20 Matty Rea, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Craig Gilroy.

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Matthis Lebel, 13 Sofiane Guitoune, 12 Romain Ntamack, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Thomas Ramos, 9 Antoine Dupont; 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Julien Marchand (c), 3 Charlie Faumuina, 4 Rory Arnold, 5 Joe Tekori, 6 Rynhard Elstadt, 7 Alban Placines, 8 Selevasio Tolofua.

Replacements: 16 Guillaume Marchand, 17 Rodrigue Neti, 18 David Ainuu, 19 Emmanuel Meafou, 20 Louis-Benoit Madaule, 21 Yannick Youyoutte, 22 Pita Ahki, 23 Alexis Balès.

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