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European weekend preview: Leinster look vulnerable without Sexton

This 2022/23 Champions Cup kicks this weekend, with last season's finalists Leinster and La Rochelle both in action on Saturday.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, old rivals Munster and Toulouse meet for what could be a fabulous clash at Thomond Park. 

This year's competition is extra special as it will be the first to feature teams from South Africa, with Sharks, Bulls and Stormers all joining the party, with the first of those teams facing Harlequins in one of our featured games. 

Racing and Leinster head to the seaside

What: Racing Metro v Leinster, Champions Cup 
Where: Stade Oceane, Le Harve 
When: 13:00, Saturday 10th December 2022 
How to watch: BT Sport 1 
Odds: Racing Metro 6/5, Leinster 4/6 

What a way to start Saturday's schedule. Although not playing in Paris, Racing Metro will still carry the same threat when they take on last season's beaten finalists Leinster in Le Havre. 

Racing have been in fantastic form, scoring a combined 121 points in wins over Perpignan, Clermont and Toulon. 

They sit second in the Top 14 and in fly-half Finn Russell, have arguably the form number 10 in the world. With no Johnny Sexton opposite him, his replacement Ross Byrne will need a monster game, while world player of the year Josh van der Flier will look to dominate the breakdown. 

However, Leinster have fallen short in recent years when it comes to facing down the big packs and Racing's is a monster. With Les Ciel et Blanc set to go strong, they could just sneak home in Normandy. 

Can the Sharks make history?

What: Sharks v Harlequins, Champions Cup 
Where: Kings Park Stadium, Durban 
When: 13:00, Saturday 10th December 2022 
How to watch: BT Sport 2 
Odds: Sharks 4/9, Harlequins 7/4 

The first ever Champions Cup game to be played in South Africa takes place on Saturday as Sharks host Harlequins in Pool A. 

Quins head to Durban having won four of their last five matches, including beating Bath 19-13 last time out. 

Sharks beat Ospreys 25-10 last Friday but are generally struggling, sitting 10th in the United Rugby Championship and recently parted company with coach Sean Everitt. 

However, the occasion could inspire them, with their tournament debut almost a shot to nothing. They are also set to welcome back more of their international players and with their style suited to the firmer fields of South Africa, may run riot.  

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Champions set for a winning start

What: La Rochelle v Northampton, Champions Cup 
Where: Stade Marcel-Deflandre, La Rochelle 
When: 13:00, Saturday 10th December 2022 
How to watch: BT Sport 1 
Odds: La Rochelle 1/10, Northampton 6/1 

La Rochelle bulldozed their way to success in last season's Champions Cup and should have no issue making a winning start to their defence against Northampton. 

Coach Ronan O'Gara will not be on the sidelines as he continues his ban for comments made about match officials but his team are sure to play with his characteristic passion against a Saints team who were last seen losing 34-19 at Gloucester. 

La Rochelle lost 27-14 at Stade Francais but put 53 points on Castres in their most recent home outing. The Stade Marcel Deflandre is quickly becoming a feared venue in European rugby and Phil Dowson's side may find themselves on the wrong end of a Castres-like scoreline, with the 10/11 on a -15.5 Handicap appearing sensible. 

Sarries to shine against Edinburgh

What: Saracens v Edinburgh, Champions Cup 
Where: StoneX Stadium, London 
When: 13:00, Sunday 11th December 2022 
How to watch: ITV1 & BT Sport 2 
Odds: Saracens 1/10, Edinburgh 6/1 

Saracens return to the continent's top table after two seasons away and will be confident of getting off the mark with a win on Sunday against Edinburgh. 

Sarries have won four of their last five but have not played since 19th November and may take a while to get going. 

However, Edinburgh have lost their last two games and the odds tell us they are the real underdogs. With a trip to Lyon next time out, Mark McCall's men will look to use this game to find their rhythm and -15.5 on the handicap is not insurmountable at 10/11.    

Toulouse could be too good

What: Munster v Toulouse, Champions Cup 
Where: Thomond Park, Limerick 
When: 15:15, Sunday 11th December 2022 
How to watch: BT Sport 3 
Odds: Munster 6/5, Toulouse 8/11 

Finally for the Champions Cup, and there is a repeat of last year's quarter-finals as Munster host Top 14 leaders Toulouse in Pool B. 

The pair played out an incredible 24-24 draw in May, with Toulouse eventually triumphing by virtue of coming through a penalty shootout. 

Home advantage could help Munster get revenge and they were extremely impressive in last Friday's 38-17 win over Edinburgh. 

Star-studded Toulouse could welcome Antoine Dupont back after suspension after being sent off against South Africa. 

Dupont was one of a number of Stade players to shine for Les Bleus during the autumn and with confidence flowing through their team, they could beat their -2.5 handicap at 10/11 in the Game Betting 2-Way.

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