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Heineken Champions Cup pool-by-pool guide: fixture dates and kick-off times and what you need to know about each club's European's chances

Read of our club-by-club previews below ahead of the return of the Heineken Champions Cup this weekend.

Europe's elite club competition returns this weekend with the start of the Heineken Champions Cup.

The entertainment gets underway with a true Friday-night blockbuster as four-time winners Toulouse travel to fortress Kingsholm to face Gloucester in a mouth-watering curtain raiser to the European season.

Join now to watch every Heineken Champions Cup game exclusively live on BT Sport

The game is one of 10 live matches to be shown on BT Sport over the weekend as Saracens get the defence of their crown under way with a trip to French giants Racing on Sunday afternoon.

Ahead of round one, we help you get up to speed with the upcoming campaign with a pool-by-pool guide to the new season. 

To whet your appetite for what’s to come over the next few months, here is BTSport.com’s guide to all five pools.

Pool 1 (Leinster, Benetton, Lyon and Northampton Saints)

2011 Champions Cup finalists resume hostilities this season with five-time winners Leinster going toe-to-toe with Northampton Saints for supremacy in pool 1.

The Irish province produced one of the greatest comebacks in living memory to snatch a maiden European Cup from Saints' grasp eight years ago and revenge will be high on the agenda for Chris Boyd's in-form side when the two teams meet in round three.

Leinster's Ireland internationals will be desperate to put a disappointing World Cup campaign behind them, starting with the visit of Benetton, who are returning to Europe's top table.

“What’s happened is the lads have come back from the World Cup, there’s been no hangover because they can’t afford it," said Leinster assistant coach Stuart Lancaster.

"They realise that if they don’t perform in training they’re not going to get picked in the team,” he added.

Benetton return to Champions Cup action having qualified outright last year with a third-place finish in PRO14 Conference B.

An away trip to pre-competition favourites Leinster represents the toughest possible start for the Italian minnows.

Completing pool 1 are Lyon who have flown out the blocks in the French league. 

With eight wins from nine games so far this season, Lyon sit top of the Top 14 ahead of the start of the European season having recorded impressive victories over Toulouse, Toulon and Racing already.

Fixtures

Round 1
Leinster v Benetton – Saturday 16 November (3.15pm)
Northampton Saints v Lyon – Sunday 17 November (1pm)

Round 2
Benetton v Northampton – Saturday 23 November (2pm)
Lyon v Leinster – Saturday 23 November (4.15pm)

Round 3
Lyon v Benetton – Saturday 7 December (2pm)
Northampton Saints v Leinster – Saturday 7 December (1pm)

Round 4
Benetton v Lyon – Saturday 14 December (1.45pm)
Leinster v Northampton Saints – Saturday 14 December (5.15pm)

Round 5
Leinster v Lyon – Sunday 12 January (1pm)
Northampton Saints – Sunday 11 January (1pm)

Round 6
Lyon v Northampton Saints – Saturday 18 January (2pm)
Benetton v Leinster – Saturday 18 January (2pm)

Pool 2 (Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors, La Rochelle and Sale Sharks)

Premiership runners-up Exeter Chiefs will be hopeful of making the quarter-finals for the first time since 2016 after being handed a favourable draw.

Rob Baxter's side will play last season's Champions Cup quarter-finalists Glasgow Warriors, Premiership rivals Sale Sharks and Challenge Cup runners-up La Rochelle in pool 2.

The Chiefs have struggled to translate their dominant domestic form into success on the continent in recent years. In their last six European appearances they have made the quarter-finals once in 2015-16, failing to emerge from their group on every other occasion.

A trip to the Bay of Biscay to face La Rochelle in round one will provide an early litmus test for their European Cup credentials.

Exeter signed Scotland and British & Irish Lions full-back Stuart Hogg in part to give them European X-factor. Will he inspire them out of their pool? Or will La Rochelle’s star-studded backline make it another painful start to the pool stages for Exeter?

Chiefs are joined in pool 2 by Premiership rivals Sale Sharks, who are returning to the competition after a two-year absence from the Champions Cup.

Steve Diamond's side won just twice on the road in the league last season and their away-day mettle will be sternly tested with a trip to last season's quarter-finalists Glasgow Warriors on opening weekend. 

Sale's task will be made all the harder without star players Faf de Klerk, Tom Curry, Lood de Jager and Mark Wilson, who are all recovering from their World Cup exploits. 

New signing Robert Du Preez will available and has already impressed at fly-half since arriving from The Bulls in the summer. 

Fixtures

Round 1
Glasgow v Sale – Saturday 16 November (1pm)
La Rochelle v Exeter – Saturday 16 November (4.15pm)

Round 2
Exeter v Glasgow – Saturday 23 November (3.15pm)
Sale v La Rochelle – Sunday 24 November (1pm)

Round 3
La Rochelle v Glasgow – Saturday 7 December (4.15pm)
Sale v Exeter – Sunday 8 December (3.15pm)

Round 4
Glasgow v La Rochelle – Saturday 14 December (5.15pm)
Exeter v Sale – Sunday 15 December (1pm)

Round 5
La Rochelle v Sale – Friday 10 January (8.45pm)
Glasgow v Exeter – Saturday 12 January (3.15pm)

Round 6
Sale v Glasgow – Saturday 18 January (5.30pm)
Exeter v La Rochelle – Saturday 18 January (5.30pm)

Pool 3 (Clermont, Bath, Harlequins and Ulster)

Pool 3 sees two former winners and the reigning Challenge Cup holders battling it out to qualify for the knockout stages.

Bath and Ulster won Europe's top prize before the turn of the millenium, while Clermont Auvergne hold the unenviable record of losing every one of the three Champions Cup finals that they have competed in. 

Harlequins return to Europe's top table after losing out to Clermont in the last four of last season's Challenge Cup. 

The London side have reached the knockout stages on four occasions but have never progressed past the last eight.

Quins return to Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin on opening weekend on the back of just one win from their opening four Gallagher Premiership fixtures.

“We can’t wait to get started,” said Quins captain Chris Robshaw ahead of Saturday's trip south. “For the last couple of seasons, we bounced into it, but before that we’d been out of the competition for some time. 

“It’s where you want to be as a player, to test yourself against the best players out there, the best teams out there, going to some incredible stadiums – like ASM Clermont Auvergne’s Stade Marcel-Michelin, which is one of the best stadiums in world rugby, especially club rugby."

Saturday will also see Stuart Hooper lead Bath into a Champions Cup fixture for the first time as head coach as the Premiership side welcome Ulster to The Rec. 

Hooper made 31 appearances in the competition as a player and is relishing making his bow as a coach following his appointment in May. 

He said: “As a player, there’s huge excitement about going into the competition and really challenging yourself physically against the best players in the world, not just in Europe. As director of rugby, there’s obviously a bit more strategy around it, a bit more understanding of what it looks like across the whole season. It’s a bit more tactical.

“You don’t get the opportunity to go out there and physically assert yourself against the opposition, but it’s still a really exciting challenge for us as a management group and a coaching group – and one which we’re massively looking forward to.”

Fixtures

Round 1
Bath v Ulster– Saturday 16 November (1pm)
Clermont v Harlequins – Saturday 16 November (6.30pm)

Round 2
Benetton v Northampton – Friday 22 November (7.45pm)
Harlequins v Bath – Saturday 23 November (5.30pm)

Round 3
Bath v Clermont – Friday 6 December (7.45pm)
Ulster v Harlequins – Saturday 7 December (3.15pm)

Round 4
Harlequins v Ulster – Friday 13 December (7.45pm)
Clermont v Bath – Sunday 15 December (4.15pm)

Round 5
Clermont v Ulster – TBC
Bath v Harlequins – Friday 10 January (7.45pm)

Round 6
Ulster v Bath – Saturday 18 January (3.15pm)
Harlequins v Clermont – Saturday 18 January (3.15pm)

Pool 4 (Munster, Ospreys, Racing and Saracens)

Holders Saracens face a difficult pool-stage campaign after they were handed a nightmare draw.

Mark McCall's side beat Leinster in last season's showpiece in Newcastle, but the Premiership champions will have to overcome stiff opposition if they are to reach next season's final in Marseille, France.

The three-time winners are still reeling from their punishment for salary-cap breaches, which saw them docked 35 Premiership points. 

While they do not face the prospect of more sanctions from European rugby, McCall has admitted his side will be prioritising Premiership survival over a fourth Champions Cup crown. 

"Our job at the moment if the points deduction remains and the appeal is not successful is to try to stay up and that is what we will try and do," McCall told The Telegraph.

"I think we have to (assume the challenge will fail). We have got a plan for the worst-case scenario which will affect our strategy around the Champions Cup."

The Irishman also revealed he would resist the temptation to rush back Saracens' England World Cup stars, insisting players like Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola would likely not feature in the opening two rounds in Europe.

"I think we would have had some big conversations anyway about how they are feeling because it is unrealistic to think some can come back from five months away and play in a Champions Cup game two weeks after a World Cup final," McCall said.

"Those conversations are going to be a bit different now. When we play like that in a game like today I think a lot of these players deserve to experience European Rugby and that could be a big benefit to the club in the long term."

The defending champions are joined in pool 4 by two-time European Cup winners Munster, French juggernauts Racing 92 and Ospreys.

Saracens and Munster, who have met in the knockout stages of the competition in three of the last four seasons, will renew their rivalry just six months after they met in the last four in April.

Two-time winners Munster lifted the trophy in 2006 and 2008. Since then the Irish province have made the last four on seven occasions without managing to reach the final. 

The Red Men play host to Ospreys in round one of the Champions Cup with the Welsh side on a dismal run of form.

Quarter-finalists in 2008 and 2010, Ospreys face a daunting trip to Thomond Park on the back of five defeats in their last six Pro14 fixtures, including a shock defeat to Southern Kings.

Fixtures

Round 1
Ospreys v Munster – Saturday 16 November (5.15pm)
Racing v Saracens – Sunday 15 November (4.15pm)

Round 2
Saracens v Ospreys – Saturday 23 November (1pm)
Munster v Racing – Saturday 23 November (5.30pm)

Round 3
Munster v Saracens – Saturday 7 December (5.30pm)
Ospreys v Racing – Saturday 7 December (5.30pm)

Round 4
Racing v Ospreys – Friday 13 December (8.45pm)
Saracens v Munster – Saturday 14 December (3pm)

Round 5
Racing v Munster – TBC
Ospreys v Saracens – Saturday 11 January (1pm)

Round 6
Munster v Ospreys – Sunday 19 January (1pm)
Saracens v Racing – Sunday 19 January (1pm)

Pool 5 (Connacht, Gloucester, Montpellier and Toulouse)

Pool 5 features one of the most mouth-watering match ups of the season as free-scoring Gloucester go toe-to-toe with a Toulouse side that have been re-born since putting their faith in young French talent. 

The four-time winners reached the semi-finals last season thanks to their thrilling brand of attacking rugby, with French trio Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos all earning World Cup calls on the back of a phenomenal season in domestic and European competition.

Head coach Ugo Mola has vowed to go one stage better in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup as the French league champions bid to build on an impressive European campaign last time out. 

"We’ve got a major history in this competition,” said Mola. “Alongside Leinster [Rugby] we’re the competition’s most decorated club, although Saracens are rapidly making up ground on us. 

“It’s in our interests to put our all into this competition, so that there are no regrets. At Stade Toulousain we’re keen to perform well or, indeed, very well in this competition.”

With Danny Cipriani once again pulling the strings at fly-half, Gloucester fans will be hopeful that their side can reach the knockout stages.

The Cherry and Whites failed to escape last season's pool of death featuring Exeter Chiefs and Munster but head coach Johan Ackermann will be more optimistic of reaching the last eight with Connacht and Montpellier completing pool 5.

French side Montpellier narrowly missed out on a place in the last eight last season and will be hoping new signings like France captain Guilhem Guirado and South Africa's World Cup hero Handre Pollard can help the Top 14 side go one further this year.

Fixtures

Round 1
Gloucester v Toulouse – Friday 15 November (7.45pm)
Connacht v Montpellier – Sunday 17 November (4.15pm)

Round 2
Toulouse v Connacht – Saturday 23 November (2pm)
Montpellier v Gloucester – Sunday 24 November (4.15pm)

Round 3
Gloucester v Connacht – Sunday 8 December (1pm)
Toulouse v Montpellier – Sunday 8 December (4.15pm)

Round 4
Connacht v Gloucester – Saturday 14 December (12.45pm)
Montpellier v Toulouse – Saturday 14 December (4pm)

Round 5
Connacht v Toulouse – Saturday 11 January (3.15pm)
Gloucester v Montpellier – Saturday 11 January (5.30pm)

Round 6
Montpellier v Connacht – Sunday 19 January (4.15pm)
Toulouse v Gloucester – Sunday 19 January (4.15pm)

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Saracens relegated from the Gallagher Premiership

Saracens relegated from the Gallagher Premiership

Saracens relegated from the Gallagher Premiership

Saracens relegated from the Gallagher Premiership

Saracens relegated from the Gallagher Premiership

Saracens relegated from the Gallagher Premiership

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Last season's Gallagher Premiership winners will play next season in the second tier of English rugby following an annou...

Last season's Gallagher Premiership winners will play next season in the second tier of Englis...

Last season's Gallagher Premiership winners will play next season in the second tier of English rugby following an announcement by Premiership Rugby.

Last season's Gallagher Premiership winners will play next season in the second tier of English rugby following an announcement by Premiership Rugby.

Last season's Gallagher Premiership winners will play next season in the second tier of English rugby following an announcement by Premiership Rugby.

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