Sunday’s Champions Cup action should be a day to remember, with the round getting underway at Kingsholm where Gloucester host Connacht.
Gloucester v Connacht
In the first of a double-header against the Irish side, the Cherry and Whites make three changes to their starting line-up for Sunday’s clash at Kingsholm.
All of the changes to the side that started away at Harlequins last weekend are in the pack. Fraser Balmain comes in for Jamal Ford-Robinson, Gerbrandt Grobler for Alex Craig and Jake Polledri for Lewis Ludlow.
Italian international scrum-half Callum Braley is named amongst the replacements and, should he be used, will make his 100 competitive appearance for Gloucester.
The Cherry and Whites have pushed both Toulouse and Montpellier hard in the first two rounds of pool action, and will consider themselves unlucky to only come away with two losing bonus-points from those encounters.
Meanwhile, Connacht have been boosted by the return of their captain Jarrad Butler to the starting team.
Butler starts at number eight having come off the bench last week following a knee injury. He joins a back-row that includes Eoghan Masterson and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively.
Elsewhere in the forwards, there is a highly experienced front-row with hooker Tom McCartney and props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham. In the second-row Joe Maksymiw starts alongside Quinn Roux.
Bundee Aki has a new partner in midfield with Peter Robb coming into the side, while a late injury to Matt Healy sees John Porch switching from the wing to full-back. The former Australian Sevens player, who scored two tries last weekend, is part of a back three with Kyle Godwin and Niyi Adeolokun occupying the wings.
Jack Carty comes back in at fly-half where he renews his half-back partnership with the impressive Caolin Blade.
Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Ben Morgan (c), 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Val Rapava-Ruskin
Replacements: 16 Todd Gleave, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Alex Craig, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Matt Banahan
Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Kyle Godwin, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler (c), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Joe Maksymiw, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Jonny Murphy, 17 Matthew Burke, 18 Dominic Robertson McCoy, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Stephen Kerins, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Tom Daly
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Maxime Chalon (France), Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy (France)
TMO: Éric Gauzins (France)
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) December 6, 2019
Sale Sharks v Exeter Chiefs
Sale Sharks boss Steve Diamond has limited changes to his side as they return to Champions Cup duty against fellow Premiership side Exeter.
James Phillips returns in place of the suspended Jean-Luc du Preez in the second-row for this pool showdown at a sold-out AJ Bell Stadium.
Rob du Preez moves into the fly-half position in place of AJ MacGinty, who misses out, and Sam James is back at number 13 after his injury.
Elsewhere, Marland Yarde replaces his fellow England international Denny Solomona on the wing and Will Cliff moves to the replacements bench after Embrose Papier’s loan move from the Bulls ended.
Meanwhile, having taken last weekend as a prime time to rest a number of Exeter’s key players following their exertions in the Premiership and at the recent Rugby World Cup, it’s little surprise that all of them return to the fold on Sunday.
In the pack, Alec Hepburn, Jonny Hill, Jacques Vermeulen and Sam Simmonds all return, whilst behind a hamstring injury to Tom O’Flaherty means the back division is reshuffled somewhat with Ian Whitten moving to the wing and Henry Slade restored to centre.
England international Slade is back in the starting mix at centre, alongside young playmaker Joe Simmonds and summer signing Stuart Hogg, in what is a powerful attacking arsenal for the visitors.
As for O’Flaherty, Rob Baxter confirmed the livewire winger, who this week won the Premiership’s Try of the Week for his second-half effort against Wasps, is still being assessed over the severity of his injury. At this stage, Baxter admits it could be a ‘number of weeks’ – but he is waiting for further medical reports before deciding the next course of action for the Londoner.
On the plus side, fellow flyer Olly Woodburn is fit-again and he will take his place in a Chiefs matchday squad for the first time since pulling up injured against Harlequins in the Premiership back in mid-October.
Sale Sharks: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jono Ross (c), 7 Ben Curry, 6 Tom Curry, 5 James Phillips, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Matthew Postlewhaite, 20 Cameron Neild, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Luke James, 23 Denny Solomona
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Dave Dennis (c), 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Don Armand, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Olly Woodburn
Venue: AJ Bell Stadium
Kick-off: 15:15 GMT
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Thomas Charabas (France), Sébastien Minery (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)
🚨 3ème journée de @ChampionsCup & choc 100% français pour les Stadistes !
Découvrez sans tarder le XV de départ désigné par le staff toulousain pour affronter l'équipe du @MHR_officiel, dimanche à 16h15 au stade Ernest-Wallon ! #STMHR #J3 #GoST 🔴⚫️
— Stade Toulousain (@StadeToulousain) December 6, 2019
Toulouse v Montpellier
Pool 5 pace-setters Toulouse take on fellow countrymen Montpellier at the Stade Ernest Wallon in their Round Three clash.
As expected it’s a strong team named by the Top 14 champions as they look for a third straight win in this year’s competition.
Jerome Kaino captains the side from number eight while Rory Arnold and Rynhardt Elstadt are also included in their pack.
The backline named is also strong as Thomas Ramos, Yoann Huget, Sofiane Guitoune, Romain Ntamack, Maxime Médard, Zack Holmes and Sébastien Bézy line up together, with Cheslin Kolbe on the bench.
Montpellier are also led by their number eight as the powerful Louis Picamoles packs down against his former club, with Yacouba Camara and Kelian Galletier alongside him on the flanks for Sunday’s fixture.
Frans Steyn and Nemani Nadolo are at centre and wing respectively and need big games if Montpellier are to seal a shock win.
Montpellier currently sit in second position in this pool after winning one out of two games ahead of a tricky double header.
Toulouse: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Sofiane Guitoune, 12 Romain Ntamack, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Sébastien Bézy, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Francois Cros, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Joe Tekori, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Clément Castets, 18 Paulo Tafili, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Selevasio Tolofua, 21 Pierre Pages, 22 Pita Ahki, 23 Cheslin Kolbe
Montpellier: 15 Henry Immelman, 14 Gabriel N’Gandebe, 13 Arthur Vincent, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Anthony Bouthier, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Louis Picamoles (c), 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Kelian Galletier, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Nico Janse van Rensburg, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili
Replacements: 16 Youri Delhommel, 17 Grégory Fichten, 18 Mohamed Haouas, 19 Martin Devergie, 20 Kahn Fotuali’i, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Yvan Reilhac, 23 Konstantine Mikautadze
Venue: Stade Ernest Wallon
Kick off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)