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Saturday's Heineken Champions Cup previews: Cardiff vs Toulouse, Leinster vs Bath, Bordeaux vs Leicester, Clermont vs Ulster, Exeter vs Montpellier

Saturday's Heineken Champions Cup 2021/22 Round 1 fixtures: Cardiff Rugby vs Toulouse (1pm), Leinster vs Bath (3.15pm), Bordeaux-Begles vs Leicester Tigers (3.15pm), Clermont Auvergne vs Ulster (5.30pm), Exeter Chiefs vs Montpellier (8pm)

Furlong, Dupont, Ford
Image: The likes of Leinster, Toulouse and Leicester Tigers kick off their European campaigns on Saturday

We look ahead to Saturday's five Heineken Champions Cup games as Europe's top competition kicks off for another year...

Cardiff Rugby vs Toulouse, Saturday 1pm

Cardiff, beset by absentees due to their ill-fated URC trip out to South Africa, will have to face defending European champions Toulouse in the first of Saturday's clashes with a scratch team made up of Wales internationals, squad and academy players, as well as potentially some lower-Welsh league performers.

LLANELLI, WALES - JANUARY 22: Josh Adams of Cardiff Blues evades the tackle of Leigh Halfpenny of Scarlets during the Guinness Pro14 match between the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues at Parc y Scarlets on January 22, 2021 in Llanelli, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)
Image: Wales wing Josh Adams is likely to be involved in a very different sort of Cardiff XV, with a host of players in isolation

Cardiff and Toulouse first met in Europe in the 1995/96 Heineken Champions Cup final, a game won by the French after extra-time; since then the sides have met seven times in the competition with Cardiff winning three and losing four of those clashes.

The last time Cardiff and Toulouse met in Europe was in the pool stage of the 2017/18 Challenge Cup, with the Welsh side narrowly winning both games (17-15 away, 18-13 home).

Toulouse won last season's crown for a record-breaking fifth time, while Cardiff remain the only Welsh team to have reached the final of the competition.

Image: Antoine Dupont led Toulouse to last season's Heineken Champions Cup title

Toulouse's star scrum-half Antoine Dupont was the joint-top try scorer in the European Cup last season, crossing the whitewash four times, while the French outfit also won 27/27 scrums on their own feed in Europe last season - the most of any of the five sides to maintain a 100 per cent success rate in this facet of the game.

Leinster vs Bath, Saturday 3.15pm

Leinster and Bath have met 11 times previously in the Heineken Champions Cup, with the Irish province winning nine of those encounters and losing two.

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At home, Leinster have won five of their six European Cup games against Bath, with the Premiership side's sole victory coming some 16 years ago in October 2005: a narrow 22-19 win at the RDS.

3 October 2021; Josh van der Flier
Image: Josh van der Flier made more tackles than anyone in Europe last season, and is in fantastic form for Ireland and Leinster

Bath's next defeat in the European Cup will be their 50th, when they will become the fourth Premiership club to notch up as many defeats in the competition after Leicester, Northampton and Harlequins.

Leinster flanker Josh van der Flier was the top tackler in the European Cup last season, making 65 tackles across his four appearances, with only three players winning more turnovers than the Leinsterman (four).

Bath currently sit rooted to the bottom of the Premiership table, having lost all nine of their fixtures to date, and could be in for a long 80 minutes in Dublin.

Anthony Watson (PA)
Image: Anthony Watson's Bath have made a rotten start to the season, losing all nine of their games to date

Bordeaux-Begles vs Leicester Tigers, Saturday 3.15pm

Bordeaux-Begles and Leicester Tigers have never met in Europe before, with Bordeaux the 39th different side the Tigers will have faced in Europe and 36th different side in the European Cup.

Bordeaux won all three of their home games in the Heineken Champions Cup last season, scoring 10 tries and conceding just two in the process as they made it to the semi-finals.

Mathieu Jalibert
Image: Nobody scored more points in the European Cup last season than Bordeaux playmaker Mathieu Jalibert

Leicester are 18 points shy of becoming the fourth side to score 4,000 points in the European Cup, behind Toulouse, Leinster and Munster. They are also 22 points shy of becoming the eighth side to concede 3,000 points in the competition.

Bordeaux playmaker Matthieu Jalibert finished as the top points scorer in the European Cup last season, notching up 72 points thanks to two tries, seven conversions and 16 penalties.

Leicester were the top points (204) and try (24) scorers in the Challenge Cup last season, also making the most carries, metres, breaks, tackles and offloads of any side, although they lost the final to Montpellier.

Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers - Gallagher Premiership - Sixways Stadium
Leicester Tigers' head coach Steve Borthwick during the Gallagher Premiership match at Sixways Stadium, Worcester. Picture date: Saturday May 29, 2021.
Image: Steve Borthwick has guided Leicester to their best start to a season since 2001/02

The Tigers have made a superb start to their domestic campaign, winning nine from nine to sit top of the Premiership - their best start to a season for 20 years.

Clermont Auvergne vs Ulster, Saturday 5.30pm

This will be the seventh clash between Clermont and Ulster in the European Cup, with the previous six all pool stage meetings and all won by the home side on the day.

Clermont have lost their last three home games in a row in the European Cup (vs Racing 92 2019/20, vs Munster 2020/21, vs Toulouse 2020/21), their worst-ever such run and as many defeats as they had suffered in their previous 41 home games.

ASM Clermont Auvergne's Alivereti Raka during the Heineken European Champions Cup, Pool B match at Ashton Gate, Bristol. Picture date: Saturday December 12, 2020
Image: Clermont Auvergne and Alivereti Raka take on Ulster in France on Saturday

Ulster have not won an away game in France in the European Cup since January 2016 (vs Oyonnax), losing their last six such matches in the competition.

Clermont full-back Kotaro Matsushima was the joint-top try scorer in Europe's top competition last season, scoring four times.

Clermont duo Damian Penaud (23) and George Moala (20) were also two of just three players to beat 20+ defenders in the European Cup last season.

Image: Ulster beat Leinster recently, but have not won a game in France since 2016

Exeter Chiefs vs Montpellier, Saturday 8pm

Exeter and Montpellier's only previous meetings in the European Cup came in the pool stage of the 2017/18 edition, with the Chiefs winning home and away that season.

Montpellier have tasted victory over Exeter in Europe before, beating them home and away in the Challenge Cup in 2010/11.

Exeter have not lost a home game in the pool stage of the European Cup since December 2018, winning their last five such matches.

Exeter's Joe Simmonds
Image: Joe Simmonds and Exeter will look to challenge for European honours again this season, having won the title in 2020

Only Racing 92 (18) scored more tries than Exeter Chiefs (16) in the Heineken Champions Cup last season, as nine different players crossed for the Premiership outfit with Tom O'Flaherty and Jonny Hill both scoring a team-high three tries.

Montpellier won the 2020/21 Challenge Cup, their second title having also won the competition in 2015/16. Wasps are the only side to ever win the Challenge Cup and then go on to win the Heineken Champions Cup the subsequent season (2002/03 - 2003/04).

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