Champions Cup preview: five clubs fight for three best runners-up spots

Paul Rees
Photograph: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Pool 1

Leinster will be the top seeds for the quarter-finals if they win in Treviso and don’t have to fret about a bonus point. Last season’s beaten finalists have named almost their strongest available side with the Lions prop Tadhg Furlong on the bench along with Rob Kearney. Northampton are in Lyon playing for second place and a slot in the last eight as one of the best runners-up. They have made 10 changes from the side who stuttered to victory over Treviso last weekend with Dan Biggar, Cobus Reinach, Owen Franks and Teimana Harrison among the players returning. Saints may need a bonus point as they have a vastly inferior points difference to their rivals for the quarter-finals, Saracens and Gloucester.

Treviso v Leinster and Lyon v Northampton (both Saturday 1pm)

Pool 2

Unbeaten Exeter will secure a home draw in the quarter-finals if they defeat La Rochelle at Sandy Park. The Chiefs have Dave Dennis and Jonny Hill back in the second row with Harry Williams starting at tight-head prop after serving his suspension following his red card against Saracens. The Top 14 club are already out, but they won in Glasgow last month and include Uini Atonio and Gregory Alldritt in their lineup. Glasgow need to win at Sale and hope two out of Saracens, Gloucester and Northampton lose. They have the Fiji lock Leone Nakarawa in the back row following his sacking by Racing 92, while the Sharks have rested most of their backs but have the Curry brothers in the back row.

Exeter v La Rochelle and Sale v Glasgow (both Saturday 5.30pm)

Pool 3

It is the only group without an unbeaten team and with first place still to be decided. Clermont Auvergne lead Ulster by three points and finish at Harlequins, where they won in the tournament in 2013. Clermont have picked their strongest available side which includes Nick Abendanon at full-back while Quins, who have no chance of going through, have picked a largely second-string team, potentially in breach of the regulations, although Joe Marler and Alex Dombrandt are in the pack. Ulster will make the last eight regardless of the result at the Stoop if they beat a Bath side yet to win a match in the pool at Kingspan Stadium. The home side have Will Addison and Billy Burns, both named in the Ireland squad this week, in their back division. The England wing Ruaridh McConnochie makes his first appearance for a month for Bath.

Harlequins v Clermont and Ulster v Bath (both Saturday 3.15pm)

Pool 4

All attention will be on Saracens on Sunday, who will hope for some relief from their continued salary cap strife. The champions include eight of their England World Cup players in the starting lineup with Brad Barritt returning to lead the side from midfield. Saracens started the round as one of the three best runners-up because of their superior points difference over Northampton and Gloucester, unable to catch Racing who need to win to ensure they play at home in the quarter-finals, and they could go through even if they lose. Racing also have a team rippling with internationals, including Finn Russell, Virimi Vakatawa and Juan Imhoff. If Saracens slip up, Munster could steal second place. They finish at home to winless Ospreys but would need results in three other pools to go their way to make the last eight.

Munster v Ospreys and Saracens v Racing 92 (both Sunday 1pm)

Pool 5

Gloucester have lost nine of their 12 Champions Cup matches in France and will need to improve that record on Sunday if they are to make the quarter-finals. They face the pool winners Toulouse, who need to win to ensure they are home in the last eight. The Premiership club are without the injured Danny Cipriani and Lloyd Evans starts at fly-half with the Wales squad member Owen Williams on the bench. Louis Rees-Zammit and Ollie Thorley are on the wings with Mark Atkinson returning to midfield. Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack are at half-back for unbeaten Toulouse, who have not lost at home in the tournament for three years. Montpellier face Connacht in a match that will decide who finishes bottom of the group.

Montpellier v Connacht and Toulouse v Gloucester (both Sunday 3.15pm)