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Rugby Union weekend preview: Champions Cup takes centre stage

The second round of fixtures in this year’s European Champions Cup gets under way on Friday evening, with plenty of intriguing clashes throughout the weekend.

Starting in Dublin, title-contenders Leinster put down a marker last week and it’s Gloucester who head across the Irish Sea looking to test themselves against one of the best.

A tough night in store for Gloucester

What: Leinster v Gloucester
Where: RDS Main Arena, Dublin
When: 20:00, Friday 16th December 2022
How to watch: BT Sport 1
Odds: Leinster 1/33, Gloucester 10/1

Having delivered a 42-10 demolition job away at Racing Metro in the opening round, Leinster really put a marker down across the Channel.

Leinster appear to be unstoppable at the moment, after also winning all of their first nine games in the United Rugby Championship.

Typifying the strength of Irish rugby at present, Leinster will be confident of putting on a big score on Friday night, against a Gloucester side that managed to scrape past Bordeaux at Kingsholm last week.

The Cherry & Whites have been making progress this season, but going to Leinster at this moment in time is one of the most daunting tasks in European club rugby.

Expect a high-scoring affair in Dublin with Leinster at 10/11 to win with a -23.5 handicap.

Edinburgh can respond after Sarries defeat

What: Edinburgh v Castres
Where: DAM Health Stadium, Edinburgh
When: 13:00, Saturday 17th December 2022
How to watch: BT Sport 2
Odds: Edinburgh 1/9, Castres 11/2

Edinburgh might well be thinking about what might have been following their close defeat at Saracens last week.

Few gave the Scottish outfit much of a chance at the home of the Premiership frontrunners but head coach Mike Blair and his side ran Sarries close in a 30-26 defeat in north London.

Edinburgh return to the home comforts of the DAM Health Stadium looking for a response, against a Castres side that were beaten on home soil last time out against the Exeter Chiefs.

It’s been a tough start to the season for Castres, who sit down in 11th place in the Top 14 table with six wins from their first 12 games of the campaign.

Edinburgh are firmly fancied to come out on top this weekend and are 10/11 with a -14.5 handicap.

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Saracens look to build momentum

What: Lyon v Saracens
Where: Matmut Stadium, Lyon
When: 15:15, Saturday 17th December 2022
How to watch: BT Sport 2
Odds: Lyon 6/4, Saracens 8/15

Having had somewhat of a scare against Edinburgh, Saracens next travel across the Channel to take on Lyon at Matmut Stadium on Saturday.

Like Leinster, Saracens have enjoyed a perfect start to their league season in the Premiership and are considered serious contenders for another European title this term.

Lyon got their Champions Cup campaign off with a high-scoring defeat at the Bulls, losing 42-36 in South Africa.

Defence might well be an issue for Lyon, who have conceded 307 points in their first 12 league games this season, at an average of 25.5 points each outing.

Lyon can’t afford to fall off tackles or be inaccurate in defence against Saracens, who should be able to head back to London with a win.

Sharks set for massive test

What: Toulouse v Sale Sharks
Where: Stade Ernest-Wallon, Toulouse
When: 13:00, Sunday 18th December 2022
How to watch: BT Sport 2
Odds: Toulouse 1/6, Sale Sharks 4/1

Sale Sharks will have their credentials put to the test when they make the trip to Stade Ernest-Wallon to face the stars of Toulouse.

The Sharks have enjoyed a positive start to the Premiership season and sit in second place behind frontrunners Saracens.

Sale also got their European campaign off to a perfect start with a 39-0 thrashing of Ulster at AJ Bell Stadium last Sunday.

Toulouse will provide a much sterner test, with the French giants earning a hard-fought 18-13 win at Munster last weekend.

As expected, Toulouse are the favourites going into this one, but Sale with a generous +12.5 handicap is worth considering at 10/11.

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