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Leicester gear up for stern European Champions Cup test against Stade Francais

Leicester will face an immediate stern test of their European Champions Cup credentials when they kick off this season's tournament against French heavyweights Stade Francais on Friday.

Tigers' unbeaten start to the Aviva Premiership campaign ended with a 19-6 defeat at Exeter last weekend.

But there has been little time to reflect on that loss, with the reigning French champions and Pool Four favourites now looming at Welford Road.

"Friday night under the lights at Welford Road, the Champions Cup, Leicester versus Stade Francais - these are the big fixtures that everyone wants to be involved in," Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill said.

"It is going to be a big start for us, kicking the tournament off."

New Zealander Brendan O'Connor, fresh from completing his ITM Cup commitments with Hawke's Bay, goes straight into the Leicester back-row alongside Tom Croft and Lachlan McCaffrey, while full-back Matthew Tait and centre Peter Betham return to action.

Elsewhere, Argentina prop Marcos Ayerza makes his first appearance since the World Cup, while new front-row signing Matias Aguero is on bench duty after being recruited following injuries suffered by props Michele Rizzo and Logo Mulipola.

Stade, meanwhile, are captained by Italy Test skipper Sergio Parisse, with South African Morne Steyn and former Tigers number nine Julien Dupuy forging their half-back combination.

Leicester lock Mike Fitzgerald added: "We know what we have to work on to match the likes of Stade Francais.

"We have really high standards as a team, and we want to win every single game.

"Realistically, that is not going to happen, but we have won three out of four and are at the top end of the league table, which is pretty good.

"Each week there are things to work on, but we have a new game-plan and new style, so we are always tweaking things. I think we are on the right track."

The 20-team Champions Cup sees Leicester's east midlands rivals Northampton launch their European campaign against Franklin's Gardens visitors the Scarlets on Saturday.

Premiership champions Saracens host Toulouse, also on Saturday, while Sunday's action takes Bath to holders Toulon, with Exeter tackling the Ospreys and Wasps meeting Leinster in Dublin.

The second-tier European Challenge Cup, meanwhile, continues on Friday, with Newcastle away to Brive in Pool One and Edinburgh hosting Pool Five opponents Grenoble.


From Belfast Telegraph