7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
Friday, December 5.
ROTHERHAM TITANS v NARBONNE at Millmoor (19.45)
Scrum-half Jacob Raulini has taken over as Titans leader, although Ireland's Guy Easterby is due to return in that position. Welshman Jason Strange is at fly-half with wily former Wales cap Geraint Lewis at No 8. Narbonne have signed talented Springbok fly-half Louis Koen and have the powerful Argentinian Martin Scelzo at prop.
Head to head: Geraint Lewis faces Argentina's Gonzalo Longo at the back of the
line. Longo gave Scott Quinnell a tough match in the 1999 World Cup and Lewis will have to be in top form against him.
LEONESSA v MONTFERRAND at Campo Communale di Rugby (20.00)
Montferrand never quite made it in the Heineken Cup last season after starting by walloping Swansea 47-12, while Leonessa are new faces in Europe and will find the competition very tough. They have the experienced Guiseppe Lanzi at lock and new Italian fly-half Rima Wakarua to kick the points. Montferrand have talent aplenty with names such as Rougerie, Merceron, Magne and Tony Marsh due back from the World Cup, and Viars, Vermuelen and Australian Pat Howard also in their ranks.
Head to head: It has to be at hooker where a fascinating battle will see Leonessa skipper and Italian international Stefano Saviozzi against either the French cap and former Gloucester player Olivier Azam or former England player Richard Cockerill.
Saturday, December 6
CETRANSA EL SALVADOR v NEC HARLEQUINS at Pepe Rojo, Valladolid (12.30)
Harlequins have a champion kicker in Ireland fly-half Paul Burke, while they also have a strong backrow in South African skipper Andre Vos, Tony Diprose and Pat Sanderson. However, they have already lost to Leeds in the Powergen Cup, admittedly without England stars Will Greenwood and Jason Leonard. This will be a stern test for the new boys in Valladolid, but at least they open with a home match.
Head to head: In the back row, the three Spanish international players - Ivan Criado Garachana, Alfonso Mata Suarez and Carlos Souto - will face Andre Vos and Co in a crunch meeting.
RUGBY ROVIGO v CASTRES OLYMPIQUE at Stadio M Battaglini (15.00)
Last season's Shield winners Castres often flatter to deceive, but Yohan Dalla Riva's kicking and balanced fly-half control by Xavier Sadourny helped gain a useful win at Toulouse recently. Rovigo include Romanian caps Marcel Socaciu at prop and Cristian Sauan on the wing, while skipper Andrea Scanavacca is a powerful kicker and Castres will have an interesting task on their hands.
Head to head: Skipper Scanavacca will be in opposition to either the talented young Sadourny or the old master Thierry Lacroix in both the fly-half and kicking roles.
BRIVE v VIADANA at Parc Municipal des Sports (19.30)
Flanker Jerome Bonvoisin leads a Brive squad that has Canadian John Tait and Australia John Welborn paired at lock. Viadana took several bad maulings in the Heineken Cup last season, but ran Perpignan close both home and away. They have England wing Tom Beim in their squad.
Head to head: Could be an interesting all-Australian meeting at lock, where former caps John Welborn of Brive and Tom Bowman of Viadana will battle it out. Bowman should have Matt Phillips behind him, while former Cardiff player John Tait will provide cover for Welborn.
MONTAUBAN v LONDON IRISH at Stade de Sapiac (19.30)
Montauban ran Bath to a 48-45 aggregate in last season's Cup quarter-finals and beat Bath, Borders and Ebbw Vale at home. The Irish are good travellers, though they fell 28-23 at Toulouse in the Heineken Cup pool matches. Barry Everitt is an outstanding goalkicker and they have a strong back row that includes Canadian Phil Murphy and Ireland's Kieron Dawson.
Head to head: Montauban skipper and Russian international Sergei Sergueev will have his work cut out against Ireland cap Rob Casey at lock with the latter only 25 - 12 years younger than his opponent.
RUGBY ROMA v SARACENS at Stadio Tre Fontane (14.30)
Saracens faced Division One club Penzance away in the Powergen Cup and came through and that will stand them in good stead for this Roman holiday. Roma conceded 143 points in two matches against Pontypridd last season and will have to improve a lot. Wales cap Peter Rogers has signed for Roma and young Englishman Ryan Pickering may be at full back. Saracens are led by Fijian star Simon Raiwalui with fomer All Black skipper Taine Randell likely to be joined by England's Richard Hill and Kyran Bracken, Canada's Morgan Williams and Scotland hooker Richard Russell. Samoan fly-half Nicky Little is supplying the goal points.
Head to head: Scrum-half Giampeiro Mazzi faced South Africa at Durban in 1999 when Italy conceded 101 points. It will be no easier against either Kyran Bracken or the elusive Morgan Williams.
MONTPELLIER v GLASGOW RUGBY at Sabathe (19.30)
Glasgow gained a 19-9 victory over the Celtic Warriors in a September Celtic Cup match, but that is their only away win this season and they will have to raise their game and their try-count for this trip. Montpellier will be an unknown quantity with few big names, though Georgian prop Soso Nikolaenko will return from World Cup action, along with the fine Italian centre Alessandro Stoica.
Head to head: There are few better centres in Europe than the experienced Stoica and he will be competing against Scotland World Cup player Andrew Henderson.
VRAC v NEWCASTLE FALCONS at Pepe Rojo, Valladolid (12.30)
Valladolid Rugby Associacion Club will have to contend with Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half for the Falcons, but it is likely to be another England cap, Dave Walder, who recently put over nine goals against Rotherham. It is noticeable that few of the home side are over six feet in height and Newcastle have great experience at lock, where Mark Andrews (South Africa), Stuart Grimes (Scotland) and Garath Archer (England) are available.
Head to head: Either Walder or Wilkinson will make life difficult for Miguel Frechilla, who played in an 85-point loss to Scotland in 1998 and was in the Spain side that conceded 92 points against Australia two years ago. Things can only get better!
COLOMIERS v PETRARCA RUGBY at Stade Selery (18.00)
Skipper Bernard De Guisti and Francis Ntamack are formidable back-row forwards in a Colomiers side that are coached by former internationals Hugues Miorin and Jean-Luc Sadourny. Petrarca are led by the good Italian centre Marco Barbini and last season knocked out Mont de Marsan to reach the Shield semi-finals. Lock Marco Bortolami should be back to bolster the Petrarca pack.
Head to head: Argentinian scrum-half Nicolas Fernandez Miranda may have to face the strong backrow challenge of skipper De Guisti and his colleagues.
L'AQUILA RUGBY v BATH RUGBY at Stadio Tommaso Fattori (15.00)
Bath have already showed they mean business as former Wales hooker Jonathan Humphreys led them to a league win at Gloucester before blasting Northampton out of the Powergen Cup. Scotland wing Simon Danielli played in the latter match as a replacement and scored a try. Springbok Robbie Fleck is out with injury, but Mike Catt, Iain Balshaw and Kevin Maggs should be returning. L'Aquila face a mighty struggle, having conceded 133 points to Colomiers in two matches last season.
Head to head: Cordoba-born German Cagnolo is likely to be facing England cap Olly Barkley in the vital fly-half position.
GRAN RUGBY v GRENOBLE at Sergio Lanfranchi (15.00).
GRAN Rugby Parma ran Pau to a 46-41 aggregate last season and won the home match convincingly, while Grenoble were knocked out of the Shield by Castres 45-43 in another exciting two-leg tie. Hooker Carlo Festuccia should provide good ball for GRAN, with a good battle in the centre between Diego Sacca and Grenoble's Argentina cap Jose Orengo.
Head to head: At fly-half the 31-times-capped Francesco Mazzariol will be competing against Ludovic Mercier, who has returned to France after gaining good experience at Gloucester.
Sunday, December 7.
BEZIERS v CONNACHT at Stade de la Medierranee (15.00)
Connacht just failed to clinch a Celtic Cup final place when they fell to Edinburgh, but with Eric Elwood controlling affairs at fly-half, they are capable of surprising form away from home. Beziers played badly in the Heineken Cup last season but with a strong-looking squad, including international Sebastien Bruno at hooker, this should be a close match.
Head to head: Connacht will have the experienced Mark McHugh, who played for several seasons in France, to join Eric Elwood in fire power, while Beziers have the talented Yannick Laharrague in their back division and Argentina's kicking ace Gonzalo Quesada.
RUGBY PARMA v PAU at Sergio Lanfranchi (14.30).
Pau have not clicked yet this season, but with the likes of Wales fly-half Arwel Thomas, they have the firepower, while Parma's skipper, South African Roland de Marigny, has also played some of his earlier rugby in Wales at Llanelli and Llandovery. Pau skipper Philippe Carbonneau will welcome the return of the impressive Imanol Harinordoquy to the pack.
Head to head: Pau have kickers in both Arwel Thomas and France centre Damien Traille, while Parma have two aces in Italian full back Corrado Pilat and Samoan star Silao Leaega, who is remembered for beating Wales in the 1999 World Cup.