Holders Saracens face tough start at Racing 92

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Gloucester v Toulouse
Friday, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 2

Toulouse can claim Kingsholm honours

This seasons' Champions Cup gets underway on Friday night at Kingsholm with Gloucester hosting Toulouse. The Cherry and Whites come into the match off the back of successive defeats while the Top 14 champions ran out dominant 34-8 winners against Clermont Auvergne last weekend. Four-time champions Toulouse will be aiming to surpass their run to the semi-finals last season.

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This is a finely-balanced opener according to the odds, with barely anything to split the teams, but Toulouse's European pedigree could make the difference. With wins in eight of their last 11 pool stage matches, Toulouse will fancy their chances of making a positive start. It should be tight though and a win by up to 12 points looks the best bet.

Bath to make winning start

Bath v Ulster
Saturday, 13:00
Live on Channel 4 and BT Sport 2

Ulster reached the quarter-finals last season and will have high hopes of qualifying from this pool. Their opener sends them to a Bath side which ended Northampton's unbeaten start to the Premiership season last weekend. Bath managed only one victory in the group phase last year and will be determined to improve on this disappointing return.

Bath are narrow favourites to win this match but the value lies with visitors Ulster. The last four meetings in the competition between the teams have all been won by Ulster. The Pro14 club have also been victorious in their four most recent pool matches and are backed to continue last season's form. Bath could come up short in a tight tussle at the Rec.

Warriors to see off Sharks

Glasgow v Sale
Saturday, 13:00
Live on BT Sport 3

Sale make their return to the Champions Cup, for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign, with a tricky start away to Glasgow. The Warriors progressed to the quarter-finals of the competition last season and Dave Rennie's side will be expected to make the knockout stage again. Glasgow come in off big victories against Zebre and the Southern Kings in the Pro14, while Sale edged past Wasps last weekend.

Glasgow have built a strong home record at Scotstoun and this can help them clinch a winning start against Sale. The Warriors have won eight of their last ten home Champions Cup games against Premiership sides which underlines the challenge facing Steve Diamond's team. Glasgow look worth backing to cover a three-point handicap in an opening victory.

Chiefs face tricky opener in France

La Rochelle v Exeter
Saturday, 15:15
Live on BT Sport 2

Exeter have only reached one quarter-final in six previous Champions Cup campaigns and Rob Baxter will be determined to improve on this lacklustre return. The Chiefs face a difficult opener against La Rochelle. The French side reached the last-eight in their sole year in the competition two years ago and will be dangerous opponents.

La Rochelle have won all their matches at Stade Marcel Deflandre this season and the Top 14 side will be very competitive against Exeter. The visitors are marginal favourites for this match but La Rochelle merit support with a small handicap advantage. The hosts are very strong on home soil and Exeter's modest European record suggests an away win is too short at [1.82].

Quins to struggle at Clermont

Clermont Auvergne v Harlequins
Saturday, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 2

Clermont Auvergne make their return to the Champions Cup after winning last season's European Challenge Cup. The French club have endured a series of near misses in this competition and are seen as one of the most likely challengers outside of favourites Leinster and Saracens. Harlequins face one of the toughest starts at Stade Marcel-Michelin and Clermont are as short as [1.16] to claim the win.

Although Clermont should make a winning start, this may not be as one-sided as expected. Clermont faced Harlequins last season in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup and were only beaten 32-27. Quins have been inconsistent but this demanding opener should ensure motivation levels are high and it looks worth backing Clermont to prevail again by up to 12 points.

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Saints to make promising start

Northampton v Lyon
Sunday, 13:00
Live on BT Sport 2

Two in-form teams collide this weekend with second-placed Northampton taking on early Top 14 leaders Lyon. The Saints have won three of their opening four league games while Lyon have claimed eight victories from their first nine matches. Northampton reached the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup last season and Chris Boyd will be looking to make an impact during his first crack at the Champions Cup.

Northampton are favourites to win their opener at Franklin's Gardens but this will not be straight forward against a Lyon side playing with confidence. Home advantage could tip the balance in the Premiership side's favour but the French team should keep it competitive. A tight Northampton victory by no more than 12 points looks the likely outcome.

Saracens to suffer at Racing

Racing 92 v Saracens
Sunday, 15:15
Live on BT Sport 2

Saracens won every match on their way to lifting the Champions Cup last season but the Premiership champions come into this campaign under a major cloud. The club are appealing a 35-point domestic deduction and £5.36m fine for breaching the salary cap. If it is upheld, their fight against relegation will surely take priority over the European competition.

This can only enhance Racing 92's chances and the French club can open up with a significant win. Saracens are unlikely to introduce most of their internationals back into the squad this weekend and a young team are likely to be punished by Racing 92. It is a repeat of the 2016 final but Racing 92 should avenge this defeat with a narrow home victory to gain the upper hand in the pool.

Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster



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