The first and second round fixtures of the 2013/14 Heineken Cup pool stages have been announced, with the European tournament set to kick-off with a mouth-watering tie between Ulster and Leicester Tigers.
The match will take place at Ravenhill on Friday October 11, with both sides reaching the quarter-final stage last season. Ulster remains one of the toughest away trips in European rugby, and the match will be an early test of where the reigning Aviva Premiership champions stand this season.
The match is one of three games to launch the new campaign on the Friday night, with Saracens set to travel to Connacht and four-times champions Toulouse to host Italian minnows Zebre.
Saturday will feature six matches starting with Edinburgh as they host two-time winners Munster in the early kick-off, while Benetton Treviso will entertain Montpellier at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo.
Harlequins will host the Llanelli Scarlets at the Twickenham Stoop, while Northampton Saints – who will be armed this season with Lions winner George North and the entertaining Kahn Fotuali’I – travel to face Top 14 champions Castres.
The final two games on Saturday features an all-RaboDirect Pro12 clash between the Ospreys and league champions Leinster, and Gloucester host Perpignan at Kingsholm.
Sunday is made up of three games kicking-off with Exeter Chiefs v Cardiff Blues, who will be without Lions skipper Sam Warburton and possibly Leigh Halfpenny as he considers his future. Reigning champions Toulon will get their defence of the cup underway against Glasgow Warriors, with Jonny Wilkinson and Co looking to become the third team to successfully defend the title after Leicester and Leinster.
And the opening weekend wraps-up with an all-French tie between Racing Metro, who will boast both Jonathan Sexton and Jamie Roberts, against last year’s runners-up Clermont Auvergne.
The second round gets underway with a bang at Wembley Stadium as Saracens welcome Toulouse in the first ever rugby match to be played at Wembley on a Friday night. Leicester are also in action against Treviso in the first European match of the season at Welford Road.
Cardiff and Toulon meet on Saturday afternoon to begin another thrilling day of Heineken Cup rugby, while Zebre welcome Connacht to the Stadio XXV Aprile. Leinster host Castres at the RDS in a battle of the champions as Ireland meets France, and the rivalry is stoked further when Montpellier entertain Ulster.
Saturday ends with Racing Metro travelling to Wales to face the Scarlets, while Munster welcome Gloucester to Thomond Park in a replication of one of the great matches of European rugby.
Sunday arrives with a bumper four-game schedule, starting with Northampton facing the Osprey’s at Franklin’s Gardens while Perpignan welcome Edinburgh to the south of France.
And the weekend comes to a close when Exeter make the trip North to meet Glasgow, and Clermont Auvergne will give a famous hostile reception to Harlequins when they meet at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
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