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Sunday's Heineken Champions Cup: Connacht vs Stade Francais, Ospreys vs Sale, Wasps vs Munster, La Rochelle vs Glasgow, Castres vs Harlequins

Sunday's Heineken Champions Cup 2021/22 Round 1 fixtures: Connacht vs Stade Francais (1pm); Ospreys vs Sale Sharks (1pm); Wasps vs Munster (3.15pm); La Rochelle vs Glasgow Warriors (3.15pm); Castres vs Harlequins (5.30pm)

Smith, O'Mahony, Botia
Image: Marcus Smith and Harlequins, Peter O'Mahony's Munster, and Levani Botia's La Rochelle kick off their European campaigns on Sunday

We look ahead to Sunday's five Heineken Champions Cup games as Europe's top clubs face each other in Round 1 for another year...

Connacht vs Stade Francais, Sunday 1pm

One of Sunday's early kick offs will be the first time Connacht and Stade Francais have met in European competition, with Stade the 24th different French outfit that Connacht have faced in either the Challenge Cup or Heineken Champions Cup.

Connacht are on a four-game losing streak in the European Cup, which is their worst run since losing their opening five games in the competition in 2011/12.

Image: Connacht will look to try and reach the knockout stages of the European Cup for the first time in their history

Stade Francais are playing in the European Cup for the first time since 2015/16, which was also the last time they played an away game against an Irish side in Europe, losing 26-13 to Munster back in January 2016.

Connacht have won 14 of their last 17 home games in European competition, however two of their three defeats in that time did come in their most recent two games at The Sportsground.

Connacht averaged the most metres gained (575) and most defenders beaten (34) of any side in the Challenge Cup last season, although their tackle success rate of 77 per cent was the lowest in the competition.

Ospreys vs Sale Sharks, Sunday 1pm

Ospreys and Sale Sharks have met just twice before in the Heineken Champions Cup, with the Welsh side winning both previous clashes in the 2006/07 pool stage.

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More recently, the Ospreys are winless in their last eight matches in the European Cup though, losing their last seven games in the competition and conceding 34 points per game across those defeats.

Stephen Myler
Image: Stephen Myler and the Ospreys kick off their European campaign at home to Sale Sharks

Sale have won just one of their last eight games in the European Cup, though that victory did come in Wales: a 57-14 win against Scarlets, which was their second-biggest win in the competition (after 67-11 vs Calvisano, 2006).

Sale made 41 clean breaks in Europe last season, more than any other side, with 17 different players making at least one break for the Sharks in the campaign.

London Irish v Sale Sharks - Gallagher Premiership - Brentford Community Stadium
Sale Sharks' Will Cliff celebrates scoring a try during the Gallagher Premiership match at the Brentford Community Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday September 26, 2021.
Image: Can Manu Tuilagi and Sale force a European run this season?

Ospreys averaged 8.7 turnovers won per game in the Challenge Cup last season, more than any other side, with Morgan Morris and George North both contributing a team-high four turnovers each.

Wasps vs Munster, Sunday 3.15pm

Two-time winners Munster head into the weekend - like Cardiff, and Scarlets before the cancellation of their clash vs Bristol - with preparations severely disrupted due to a URC excursion to South Africa.

Indeed, Johann van Graan's side have 14 members isolating in South Africa, and a further 34 players and staff isolating in Ireland. As a result, the XV named sees five debutants and a potential for seven further debutants off the bench.

johann van graan
Image: Johann van Graan's Munster have 49 players and staff (14 in SA, 34 in Ireland) in isolation due to their trip to South Africa

Wasps and Munster have met four times before in the Heineken Champions Cup, with both sides picking up two wins apiece; though the most recent clashes came in a pair of 2007/08 pool stage games, both of which were won by the home side on the day.

Wasps have only lost one of 11 home games against Irish opposition in the European Cup (W9, D1), however that defeat did come in their most recent such fixture (19-37 vs Leinster, January 2019).

Munster have conceded an average of just 15 points per game on their last six away games against Premiership opposition, enough for two wins and a draw (L3).

Wasps' tackle success rate of 83 per cent was the lowest of any side in the European Cup last season, missing 64 tackles in the campaign in total.

Image: Alfie Barbeary is back to start for Wasps at home to Munster

La Rochelle vs Glasgow Warriors, Sunday 3.15pm

La Rochelle and Glasgow have met twice before in the Heineken Champions Cup, both those clashes coming in the pool stage in 2019/20 with the away side on the day emerging victorious on both occasions.

Glasgow have won three of their last four away games against Top 14 opponents in the European Cup, more victories than they'd managed in their 17 previous such fixtures (W2, D1, L14).

Image: Ali Price and Glasgow Warriors face a tough task first up, travelling to face La Rochelle

La Rochelle have reached the knockout stages of Europe in four of their last five campaigns in either the Challenge Cup (Semi-final in 2016/17, Final in 2018/19) or Heineken Champions Cup (QF in 2017/18, Final in 2020/21), only failing to do so in the 2019/20 edition of the Champions Cup.

Only Kurtley Beale (11) made more clean breaks in the European Cup last season than La Rochelle's Dillyn Leyds (9), while Leyds made four line breaks as well as a competition-high five breaks from support carries.

will skelton
Image: Will Skelton and La Rochelle made it to the European Cup final last season

La Rochelle's Levani Botia conceded more penalties (8) than any other player in the European Cup last season - including a red card in the final vs Toulouse. In fact as a team La Rochelle (54) conceded the third most penalties of any side last season (Bordeaux 77, Clermont 56).

Castres vs Harlequins, Sunday 5.30pm

Harlequins have won their last two clashes with Castres in the Heineken Champions Cup, with that pair of victories coming in the 2014/15 pool stage. The French side were undefeated in their previous four meetings with the Premiership outfit (W3, D1).

Castres are unbeaten at home in the European Cup since January 2015, that last defeat coming at the hands of Harlequins, winning five and drawing two of their seven games since then.

Marcus Smith
Image: Marcus Smith's Harlequins begin their campaign away to Castres, who haven't lost at home in the European Cup since 2015

Castres' largest win in the European Cup and Harlequins' biggest defeat came when the sides met in January 2005 (58-13).

Harlequins have lost their last five European Cup games against Top 14 opposition, their last such victory however came away from home against Castres in January 2015.

Quins had the best tackle (90 per cent) and lineout (96 per cent) success rates in Europe last season, winning 25/26 lineouts on their own throw and missing just 28 tackles across their two matches in the competition.

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