The 2018/19 European Rugby Challenge Cup, which kicks off on Friday night with Perpignan’s home game against Sale Sharks at the Stade Aime Giral live on beIN SPORTS, promises to be one of the most hotly contested ever. 

Not only are there six previous tournament winners in the field in Harlequins, Sale, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Northampton Saints, Stade Français Paris and Pau, but there are also six teams from last season’s Champions Cup in the line-up. 

La Rochelle and Clermont, who both topped their pools in Europe’s elite club competition in 2017/18, join Northampton, Harlequins, Ospreys and Benetton Rugby in the 20-strong entry. 

In addition, Clermont, Stade Français, Ospreys and, Benetton have already shown their capabilities this season in their respective domestic competitions. 

Clermont and Stade Français are the current front runners in the TOP 14, while Ospreys are second in the Guinness PRO14 Conference A and Benetton lie third in Conference B. 

Clermont open their campaign for a third Challenge Cup at fellow two-time winners Northampton in Pool 1 on Saturday afternoon and 2017 champions Stade Français begin their Pool 2 schedule at home to Worcester Warriors on Saturday night live on FRTV. 

Benetton also have live TV coverage of their Pool 5 opener at home to Grenoble on DAZN on Saturday afternoon, when Ospreys entertain Pau in Pool 2. 

Meanwhile, Harlequins, the most successful Challenge Cup club in history with three titles, also kick off their Pool 5 campaign against Agen on Saturday afternoon. 

First, though, it is Perpignan v Sale and for last season’s Pro D2 winners, it marks a first appearance in European competition since 2014. 

Grenoble are also making a Challenge Cup comeback, after a one-season absence – as are Romanian club Timisoara Saracens, who start their European campaign with a home tie against Dragons in Pool 1 on Saturday afternoon.