Saracens will begin the defence of their Champions Cup title away at Racing 92, while Challenge Cup champions Clermont Auvergne will face Harlequins.

Premiership holders Saracens became the first English club to win Europe's flagship club tournament for a third time last season, and will get their Pool 4 campaign up and running on November 17.

Reigning Top 14 champions Toulouse get the tournament started two days earlier, taking on Gloucester.

Clermont were hugely impressive as they claimed the Challenge Cup title last term, beating La Rochelle 36-16 in Newcastle, and host Harlequins on November 16.

Benetton, who last season became the first Italian side to qualify by right for Europe's top competition, face PRO14 champions Leinster in their opening fixture.

Meanwhile, the Challenge Cup will kick-off with a clash between Enisei-STM and Worcester Warriors in Krasnodar.

Seven former European title winners – Brive, Cardiff Blues, Leicester Tigers, Pau, RC Toulon, Stade Francais Paris and Wasps – are involved in this season's Challenge Cup, which along with the Champions Cup, will culminate at the Stade Velodrome in May.

Jim Mallinder has left his England role for an opportunity with Scotland that he said was too good to turn down.

Mallinder joined the Rugby Football Union (RFU) as the performance pathway coach in June 2018 and was tipped as a potential replacement for Eddie Jones when the England coach's contract expires in 2021.

However, on Friday he was named as Scottish Rugby's new performance director after Scott Johnson left for Australia in April.

Mallinder led Northampton Saints to the final of the European Champions Cup in 2011 and to Premiership glory three years later.

The former Sale Sharks and England Saxons coach also oversaw an England XV in a 51-43 success against the Barbarians at Twickenham in June.

"I'm sad to be leaving the RFU as I've really enjoyed my time here, in particular getting to work with some fantastic people in a wide range of roles within the men's pathway. I will miss working with them all but this was an opportunity that I couldn't refuse," said Mallinder.

"It's a chance to lead a long-term programme, work with talented people, and I'm looking forward to moving up to Scotland and getting started."

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson said: "I am delighted to have secured Jim in what is a pivotal and vital role within our high-performance structure.

"He has a proven track record of developing players across a range of different career stages and I want him to strengthen and deepen the pathway our players will take into the professional game and develop the skills and behaviours they will need to succeed at their respective highest levels."

Australia captain Michael Hooper expects David Pocock to be "dominant" upon his return from injury at the Rugby World Cup.

Pocock has been out of action since March due to a calf problem and was not passed fit for the humbling 36-0 Bledisloe Cup Test defeat against New Zealand in Perth on August 17.

However, head coach Michael Cheika on Friday included the experienced flanker in his 31-man squad for the upcoming tournament in Japan.

Hooper and Pocock formed a formidable back-row partnership dubbed as 'Pooper' at the 2015 World Cup and the captain is pleased they have been reunited.

"I love playing with Dave and what he's bringing to the squad," said Hooper.

"Because he hasn't been on the field lately he's actually upped his stuff in a different way, how he can contribute, how he can impact the group off the field and it's been really noticeable.

"To have that going on and then he's imminent to get on the field and play some good minutes now.

"He's going to do us no surprise when he comes back. The guy's physically in fantastic shape. I imagine when he hits the ground running he's going to be dominant again."

Hooper and Pocock started games together despite both being openside flankers and Cheika was unwilling to confirm if he will return to using them in tandem.

"That's the decision to make isn't it. Michael [Hooper]'s the captain so it's either them together or we make the decision that one plays one game and one plays another," Cheika said.

"We'll just prepare for the Fiji game, see what's the best combination for that game and we'll go from there."

Australia face Samoa in a warm-up match on September 7 before beginning their World Cup campaign against Fiji in Sapporo two weeks later.

Uncapped rookie Jordan Petaia has been included in Australia's 31-man squad for the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Petaia missed most of the Super Rugby season due to a Lisfranc injury but the exciting 19-year-old back is set to feature at the World Cup, which gets underway on September 20.

The Reds sensation was set to make his debut against Italy last year, however, a hamstring injury delayed his international bow for 2015 World Cup runners-up the Wallabies.

Now, Petaia – the only uncapped player in Michael Cheika's squad – is poised to become the youngest World Cup player in Australia history.

There are not too many surprises in the Wallabies team, though Cheika opted to select just two half-backs in Will Genia and Nic White, with Joe Powell left out and giant lock Will Skelton not on the list.

"We've become a really tight group and it was a very difficult process in picking only 31 players, but I know each player selected will travel to Japan with the full support of those team-mates who won't board the flight," said Cheika, who included Powell, Tom Banks, Liam Wright, Luke Jones and Tatafu Polota-Nau as extended members for the team's pre-World Cup camp and Test against Samoa.

"We have worked really hard at building each week and each game so far this season and play a brand of Rugby that Australia would be proud of and get every player contributing towards the outcome.

"It's also important that we select a squad that will handle the tournament play and our draw in particular at the Rugby World Cup, as well as maintain a strong competition for places in the team.

"These next few weeks are about building and adding that little extra edge as a squad and we'll be working hard to make sure we deliver on the qualities we want people to see when we run out on the field in Japan.

"We have five extra train-on members coming with us to New Caledonia and then we'll return to take on Samoa, who we have had great clashes with in the past."

Australia will face Samoa in Sydney on September 7 before kicking off their World Cup campaign against Fiji on September 21.

The Wallabies are also scheduled to meet Wales (September 29), Uruguay (October 5) and Georgia (October 11) in Pool D.

 

Australia's 31-man Rugby World Cup squad in full:

Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Jack Dempsey, Folau Fainga'a, Michael Hooper, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Isi Naisarani, David Pocock, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese.

Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, James O'Connor, Jordan Petaia, Matt To'omua, Nic White.

Owen Farrell and George Ford will start while Mako Vunipola has been named among the replacements for England's Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Ireland.

Captain Farrell will shift to inside centre and make up a midfield pairing with Manu Tuilagi to accommodate fly-half Ford at Twickenham on Saturday.

Farrell and Ford will be in the same starting line-up for the first time in over a year in England's last match before flying out for the tournament in Japan.

Prop Vunipola is set to feature off the bench after recovering from a hamstring injury, while fit-again duo Tom Curry and Sam Underhill have been included in the back row.

Jonny May comes back in on the left wing, with Joe Cokanasiga moving to the other flank and Eddie Jones has gone with Jamie George, Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler in the front row.

Jones said: "The players have come back in a very good physical and mental state and we have had a good preparation this week. We purposefully made the week short looking ahead to the World Cup where this might happen beyond our control.
 
"It is the third of four games for us and come September 8, when we get on the plane, we want to be ready to go. This is another step forward for us.
 
"This weekend we will be looking to gain more game fitness and testing different sorts of game strategies. We have a specific way of how we want to play and the focus is very much on ourselves."

 

England: Elliot Daly, Joe Cokanasiga, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements:  Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Mark Wilson, Willi Heinz, Piers Francis, Jonathan Joseph.

Johnny Sexton will miss Ireland's Rugby World Cup warm-up match against England on Saturday.

The Leinster fly-half has been struggling with a thumb issue and has been left out of Joe Schmidt's team for the match at Twickenham.

With Joey Carbery absent due to an ankle problem, Ross Byrne will make his first Test start and hope to stake his claim for World Cup selection.

Schmidt has made 12 changes from the team that beat Italy 29-10 on August 10, with Rory Best returning to captain the side and Cian Healy joining him in the front row for his 90th cap.

Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier team up in the back row, while Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale, Bundee Aki and Rob Kearney return in the backs.

Ireland XV: Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Ross Byrne, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Jean Kleyn, Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, Tadhg Beirne, Luke McGrath, Jack Carty, Andrew Conway.

Former England rugby union star James Haskell has signed a contract with mixed martial arts promotion Bellator.

Haskell, who made 77 Test appearances, in May announced the end of his 17-year rugby career, which included three Six Nations titles and a Grand Slam in 2016.

The 34-year-old trained in MMA while playing rugby and is expected to make his debut in the cage in 2020.

A Bellator statement read: "Leading mixed martial arts promotion Bellator MMA is excited to announce the signing of international rugby star James Haskell to its elite roster of athletes.

"Haskell will compete in the Bellator heavyweight division and is expected to make his professional MMA debut for the global promotion in 2020."

Ben Te'o has joined Toulon on a short-term deal after calling time on his spell with the Worcester Warriors.

The 32-year-old New Zealand-born England international left Worcester in April, and was not included in Eddie Jones' 31-man squad for the upcoming World Cup.

Top 14 side Toulon have now signed the free agent, who will provide cover for players leaving the French club to take part in the World Cup, which runs until September 20 to November 2.

Te'o has signed for Toulon until November, with the club announcing the deal on Wednesday. The centre will undergo a medical on Friday.

An 18-time England international and two-time British and Irish Lion, Te'o joined Worcester in 2016, after spending two years at Leinster.

Toulon's fellow Top 14 sides Racing 92 and 2018-19 champions Toulouse had also been credited with an interest in the former NRL star.

Sergio Parisse will lead an Italy squad that includes Leonardo Ghiraldini, fit again following a serious knee injury, at this year's Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Director of rugby Conor O'Shea confirmed his list of 31 names on Monday, with Ghiraldini selected after recovering from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament sustained during the Six Nations in March.

The hooker has won 104 caps for his country but is currently without a club. He will serve as a vice-captain to Parisse, who is set to appear in a fifth edition of the tournament.

O'Shea has also included Wasps full-back Matteo Minozzi after he scored a hat-trick of tries in Sunday's resounding 85-15 win over Russia, as well as Gloucester's Bristol-born scrum-half Callum Braley.

"Choosing the 31 players for the Rugby World Cup - and talking to those who will not continue the adventure with us - was probably the hardest thing I have done since I've been in the rugby world," said O'Shea.

The Azzurri are in Pool B alongside reigning champions New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia and Canada.

"Compared to when I started my journey here, we now definitely have a better team, with more internal competition and much-improved performances," added O'Shea.

"Recently, we have shown that we can play against the top teams when we play our best game.

"At the World Cup we absolutely must win against Namibia and Canada and then focus on the other two big challenges we have. I believe that against South Africa, with this team, we can create an opportunity on our day."

Before the tournament, Italy are scheduled to play Tests against France and England on August 30 and September 6 respectively.

 

Italy's 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup:

Forwards: Simone Ferrari, Andrea Lovotti, Tiziano Pasquali, Nicola Quaglio, Marco Riccioni, Federico Zani, Luca Bigi, Oliviero Fabiani, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Dean Budd, Federico Ruzza, David Sisi, Alessandro Zanni, Maxime Mbanda, Sebastian Negri, Sergio Parisse (capt), Jake Polledri, Abraham Steyn

Backs: Callum Braley, Guglielmo Palazzani, Tito Tebaldi, Tommaso Allan, Carlo Canna, Tommaso Benvenuti, Michele Campagnaro, Luca Morisi, Mattia Bellini, Giulio Bisegni, Jayden Hayward, Matteo Minozzi, Edoardo Padovani

France stormed to a dominant 32-3 victory against an over-matched Scotland to launch their Rugby World Cup preparations in emphatic style.

Jacques Brunel's side beat Scotland 27-10 in this season's Six Nations and this was an even more sapping experience for their visitors in Nice.

The damage was done by first-half tries from Alivereti Raka, Maxime Medard and Gregory Alldritt, with Medard adding a second before Antoine Dupont went over with an hour played.

Gregor Townsend's men host the same opponents next weekend at Murrayfield, where they will need to make a better start than the botched line-out that allowed Raka to gleefully charge over on the end of Wesley Fofana's second-minute pass.

Medard touched down in the corner to make it 15-0, Camille Lopez having dispatched his initial attempts from the tee.

Adam Hastings kicked Scotland's solitary points but was in the sin-bin when the France pack obliterated their opponents in a rolling maul, with Alldritt the beneficiary.

Francois Cros was the latest home player to tear through Scotland's meagre defensive efforts in the 54th minute, allowing Medard a gleeful run to the line.

Dupont benefitted from Damian Penaud's mazy run, with Lopez adding the extras before France eased to the close, giving Townsend plenty to think about before the sides reconvene in Edinburgh.

Sbu Nkosi produced two flashes of brilliance as South Africa ground out a 24-18 victory over Argentina at Loftus Versfeld.

The Sharks wing dashed over for a pair of silky tries that were out of keeping with the quality in the rest of the contest, with only a late disallowed score denying Argentina a famous win.

South Africa, who start their Rugby World Cup campaign against holders New Zealand on September 21, caused a surprise by winning the recent Rugby Championship ahead of the All Blacks, Australia and Saturday's opponents.

This was their final home Test before going for global glory in Japan, and it was a tough contest, with coach Rassie Erasmus seeing his side given plenty of trouble by the Pumas.

His Boks had won 46-13 in Salta when they travelled to Argentina for last weekend's Rugby Championship finale, but this never looked like being a similarly one-sided match.

Led by hooker Schalk Brits, who at 38 years and three months became South Africa's oldest first-time captain, South Africa were often sluggish 

Elton Jantjies booted South Africa ahead in the 18th minute but Argentina responded in kind through Joaquin Diaz Bonilla.

Nkosi skipped in down the right for his first try, with a stylish shuffle of his feet before darting for the line. Jantjies rattled the post with the conversion attempt.

Argentina hit back right at the end of the half with an interception try, Guido Petti seizing on a loose pass from Cobus Reinach to run in from halfway. Diaz Bonilla added the extras and the Pumas held a 10-8 half-time lead.

Nkosi produced a sparkling run and dived over for his second try, taking the aerial route to avoid a last-ditch Pumas tackle.

But there was plenty of mileage left in the contest, with Diaz Bonilla and Jantjies exchanging penalties before Pablo Matera pounced for a try from a line-out by the Boks line.

Jantjies kicked another penalty to nudge the hosts 21-18 in front yet Argentina looked to have won it when Lucas Mensa charged through to dot down late on.

An earlier obstruction on Vincent Koch resulted in the try being disallowed, to South Africa's relief, and Jantjies added the resulting penalty to secure a narrow win.

Australia coach Michael Cheika told his players to "suck it up" and move on to the next challenge after being thrashed 36-0 by New Zealand in Auckland.

With the Rugby World Cup getting under way in five weeks' time, there is little time for the Wallabies to stew and consider what might have been, after again failing to get their hands on the Bledisloe Cup.

They have not won at Eden Park since 1986 or claimed the Bledisloe Cup since 2002, and, aside from a spell early in the game when they were camped by the New Zealand line, Australia never looked like troubling the All Blacks.

Cheika, who admitted to being "terribly disappointed", nevertheless urged his team to "be resilient" following the heavy loss.

And he said they must not allow their plans for the more important quest in Japan to be knocked off track.

"You're going to be sad and disappointed but suck it up and get ready for the next one," said Cheika. "And build into the World Cup just how we've always planned to."

New Zealand made a raft of changes after their 47-26 to Australia a week earlier in Perth, and those paid off handsomely as they raided the Wallabies for five tries.

The teams could yet meet again at the World Cup, and Cheika will not lose sight of the fact Australia were better than their trans-Tasman rivals on home soil.

He added: "We've improved a lot since 2018 - on the field and off the field - and we have to take it on the chin.

"If you'd asked me how I was feeling yesterday or before the game, I was feeling really good about the improvements we'd made.

"And as terribly disappointed as I am about the game, I'm not going to throw them away, I'm going to put them into context."

Cheika is due to name his 31-man squad for the World Cup on Friday and said he would not rush to judge the team on the Eden Park performance.

He said, according to the Wallabies' website: "We just wanted all the games to play out and then we'll sit down early in the week and get it done."

Dan Biggar gave "special thanks" to JJ Williams after his man-of-the-match display in Wales' 13-6 win over England.

A cruciate knee ligament injury to Gareth Anscombe during last weekend's defeat at Twickenham thrust Biggar into the number 10 shirt – prompting former Wales great Williams to state his country would not win the forthcoming World Cup with the Northampton Saints fly-half in the team.

But Biggar kicked a penalty and a conversion, the latter coming courtesy of him brilliantly creating the only try of a low-scoring contest for George North as Wales edged ahead of New Zealand at the top of the world rankings.

"Special thanks to JJ Williams for his comments this week, it's been really motivating," said Biggar, as quoted by BBC Sport.

"The forwards were brilliant all day - England's strength is in the set piece, to front up and keep a world-class team try-less is an excellent effort.

"We go to Turkey for a week to hopefully get better for the two Ireland games."

Captain Alun Wyn Jones lauded Biggar's display and the wider achievement of his side, who overcame Liam Williams withdrawing due to a tight hamstring in the warm-up.

"Ten is a position in Wales that has always been in vogue. Fair play to Dan, he stood up knowing the pressure was on him at home," said the veteran lock.

"We are a team of 3.3 million so we can be happy with [being world number one]."

Wales coach Warren Gatland told Channel 4 he was impressed with his players' character during a contest that wasn't always easy on the eye.

"It was a proper Test match, it was tough, it was physical," he said.

"I said to the boys in the changing room, we showed massive character and big cojones. We lost Williams just before kick-off.

"Other teams are going to beat us at some stage, but if you're going to beat us you have to play pretty well."

George Ford captained an experimental England line-up and was responsible for the visitors' entire points haul.

"It's a disappointing result [but] I can't fault the effort, the commitment was brilliant again," he told Channel 4, before concurring with Gatland's assessment.

"We just need to tidy a few areas up - discipline and the breakdown.

"We knew Wales were going to come back. We wanted to play a better game this week too. That was a proper Test match - physical, not much time and space.

"It's been good for us to play in a stadium like this with the roof closed, so we'll keep working."

Ford added: "I don't think many people will remember these games. What happens at the World Cup in a few weeks' time will be completely different so we'll be ready for that."

New Zealand are confident an injury scare for fly-half Richie Mo'unga will prove nothing to worry about.

With the Rugby World Cup just five weeks away, it appeared concerning when Mo'unga had to be replaced midway through the second half against Australia on Saturday.

The 25-year-old, who scored New Zealand's opening try in their 36-0 Bledisloe Cup win, went off with a shoulder blow after clashing with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.

But head coach Steve Hansen said in a post-match news conference at Eden Park he had no fears about Mo'unga facing a long lay-off.

"He's got a sore shoulder. He's not that bad, doc says he'll be fine," said Hansen.

"He got tipped up and fell on his shoulder. We'll know more in the morning, but doc's pretty comfortable with where he's at."

Hansen, after his 100th match in charge of the All Blacks, said he was pleased with New Zealand's response to their 47-26 defeat seven days prior in Perth as they retained the Bledisloe Cup.

"We had to respond to a performance last week that we would all say wasn't good enough from our point of view and an exceptional one from Australia," he said in quotes reported by the New Zealand Herald.

"It's a long time in sport, seven days, and I'm very proud of them. We got towelled up last week and I'm not sure any All Black has enjoyed that experience."

All Blacks captain Kieran Read saluted his team-mates after they retained the Bledisloe Cup with a clinical 36-0 win over Australia at Eden Park.

The world champions scored five tries without reply, as New Zealand made amends for last weekend's 47-26 defeat to the Wallabies in Perth.

Sonny Bill Williams, Sevu Reece and George Bridge were promoted to the starting XV and each scored a try, as Steve Hansen's 100th match in charge proved one to savour.

Read said: "It feels fantastic. A lot's been said all week and the guys really fronted. So, I'm so happy. It's a trophy that we cherish. I know the Wallabies do as well.

"We both really love playing for this cup and it showed in these two matches.

"I don't think you can expect to have a result like that, but it comes through hard work.

"The team truly believes in each other and that's what we're going to need moving forward."

His opposite number, Michael Hooper, had high hopes of becoming the first Australia skipper in 17 years to get to grips with the Bledisloe Cup trophy.

But Read it was who joyously lifted the silverware in Auckland, leaving Hooper to reflect on where the second game in the series went wrong for Australia.

Hooper said on Sky Sports: "The turnaround in seven days... they dominated all bar a few minutes of that game in all areas, they were really good at the scrum, lineout, so hats off to them.

"Our boys, we threw everything we had at them the whole game, probably let it get too far away in the end there.

"We've got a lot of heart, a lot of heart to come down here. We've had a really good week, unfortunately it didn't show out there tonight.

"But we'll rebuild. We're still rebuilding and gaining momentum.

"We'll have a couple of days off, it's going to take a toll on our bodies. We'll get back together, regroup, and see what we can learn from this game and build and get better."

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