Twenty clubs featuring stars of the global game with as many as 28 European titles between take their first steps on the Road to Newcastle this weekend in the 2018/19 Heineken Champions Cup.
Holders, Leinster Rugby, kick off the tournament recognised universally as The One to Win in club rugby at home to Wasps tomorrow, launching their search for a record fifth star on the jersey in front of the BT Sport cameras at the RDS Arena.
In total, the clubs in a fiercely-competitive Pool 1 have lifted 11 of the 23 European Cups to date, with former winners Bath Rugby and Toulouse set to meet on Saturday in a landmark match that will be carried live on free-to-air television in the United Kingdom (Channel 4) and Ireland (Virgin Media) as well as to audiences in the United States on NBC Sports.
More than 45,000 tickets have already been sold for the 2019 Finals Weekend at St James’ Park next May, however, Newcastle has a more pressing engagement in the tournament with the Falcons returning to Europe’s top table, opening against three-time champions RC Toulon at Stade Mayol on Sunday.
Other Heineken Champions Cup, Round 1 highlights include:
- The runners-up from Bilbao, Racing 92, begin their campaign in west Wales against Scarlets who reached the semi-finals last season.
- Ulster Rugby, celebrating the 20th anniversary of their European Cup success this season, open up against Leicester Tigers at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday.
- Saracens beat Glasgow Warriors en route to the second of their Champions Cup successes in 2017, but Dave Rennie’s charges have the chance to avenge that loss when they welcome the reigning Premiership champions to Scotstoun on Sunday.
- Lyon make their Heineken Champions Cup debut also on Sunday when they take on Challenge Cup holders, Cardiff Blues, at the Matmut Stadium de Gerland.
The high quality of the Challenge Cup is emphasised by a Round 1 meeting of former winners, Northampton Saints and ASM Clermont Auvergne, at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday. Both clubs won their home fixture when they met in the pool stage of the Champions Cup last season, but the French outfit have made an electric start to the domestic season and currently head the TOP 14 table.
The tournament brings together European heavyweights and clubs from emerging rugby nations, never better exemplified by the Round 1 clash of last season’s Continental Shield winners, Enisei-STM, and La Rochelle at the Krasny Yar Stadium in Krasnoyarsk. Exactly a year ago, the Siberian city was the setting of a major Challenge Cup shock when Krasny Yar defeated holders Stade Français Paris.
Other Challenge Cup, Round 1 pointers include:
- Two-time winners, Sale Sharks, open the tournament on Friday as they travel to Stade Aimé Giral in Pool 3 to face Perpignan who return to European action this season.
- Connacht Rugby will extend their record tally of Challenge Cup matches to 120 when they entertain Bordeaux-Bègles at The Sportsground.
- Three other former tournament winners also feature this season. Pau, victorious in 2000, will be looking to go one step further than their run to the semi-finals last season when they open up away to Ospreys in Pool 2, while the 2017 winners, Stade Français Paris, host Worcester Warriors, and three-time winners, Harlequins, are at home against Agen in Pool 5.