Reigning LV= Cup champions Harlequins have been handed a tough start to this season's competition after being drawn away to Exeter Chiefs in Round 1. With the LV=Cup continuing to adopt a cross-pool fixture model during the group stages, teams from Pool 2 will play those from Pool 3 while Pool 1 teams will take on teams in Pool 4.
Harlequins have been paired in Pool 3 with Bath Rugby, Worcester Warriors and former winners Ospreys, while the Chiefs are accompanied in Pool 2 by double champions Leicester Tigers, Sale Sharks and Cardiff Blues. Harlequins, who beat Sale Sharks 32-14 last March to lift the Anglo-Welsh Cup for the first time in their history, have lost on two of their last three visits to Sandy Park. Saturday's tie will be the first time the sides have met in the LV= Cup.
Bath begin their bid to win their first piece of silverware since lifting the European Challenge Cup in 2008 with a trip to last season's losing finalists Sale Sharks, who beat Bath 19-13 at the AJ Bell Stadium in the Aviva Premiership on October 4. Since the Anglo-Welsh format was introduced Bath have made the knockout stages in each of the last two years and three times in total, but have never reached the final. Tickets are available for the Sale Sharks v Bath game by phoning 08444-994-994.
Former Worcester Warriors forwards coach Phil Davies comes up against his old club when his Cardiff Blues side play host to the Premiership strugglers at the Arms Park on Friday night. Blues were the last Welsh winners of the cup when they defeated Gloucester in the 2009 final. Worcester, meanwhile, have yet to make it past the pool stages, their best finish being second place behind Leicester in the 2006/07 EDF Energy Cup. Indeed, in five of the last seven seasons the Warriors have finished bottom of their group. This will be the first time Cardiff Blues and Worcester have met in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Ospreys' rivalry with Leicester Tigers continues at Welford Road on Friday evening in what will be the 12th competitive fixture between the sides in the last seven years. Leicester edge the Heineken Cup and Anglo-Welsh head-to-head record with five wins to the Ospreys' four with two draws. Tigers famously beat Ospreys 41-35 in the final of the 2007 EDF Energy Cup before the Welsh region exacted revenge at Twickenham 12 months later following a 23-6 victory. The last LV= Cup meeting produced an emphatic win for Ospreys: 46-13 at the Brewery Field on November 12, 2010. Leicester became the only side to win the Anglo-Welsh Cup twice when they overcame Northampton Saints 26-14 in the 2012 final at Sixways.
Inaugural winners London Wasps kick off their campaign with a visit from one of last year's beaten semi-finalists. These Premiership rivals have met twice in the Anglo-Welsh Cup before, with the home side winning on both occasions. Wasps thrashed Saracens 42-8 on their way to winning the Powergen Cup in 2006, while Saracens won, 26-15, at Vicarage Road the following year.
The 2010 and 2011 champions face each other at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday when Northampton Saints take on Gloucester. Saints won 26-7 when the sides met at the same venue and the same stage of last year's competition. Saints won the 2010 LV= Cup after beating Gloucester 30-24 in a thrilling final at Sixways.
London Irish make a swift return to the North East after being drawn away to Newcastle Falcons in the opening round. The Exiles lost 13-11 to the Falcons at Kingston Park in the Aviva Premiership on October 27 and have not beaten Sunday's opponents since a 48-9 win in January 2009. In cup competitions the sides have played each other four times at Kingston Park with two wins apiece.
The remaining tie of the opening weekend is the all-Welsh affair between Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons. Dragons won 23-16 when the sides met at Rodney Parade in the RaboDirect PRO 12 League earlier this season.
Friday November 8
London Wasps v Saracens, KO 19:30
Scarlets v Newport Gwent Dragons, KO 19:30
Cardiff Blues v Worcester Warriors, KO 19:30
Sale Sharks v Bath Rugby, KO 19:45
Leicester Tigers v Ospreys, KO 19:45 (Live on Sky Sports HD)
Saturday November 9
Exeter Chiefs v Harlequins, KO 15:00
Northampton Saints v Gloucester, KO 17:00
Sunday November 10
Newcastle Falcons v London Irish, KO 15:00
Sale Sharks entertain Gloucester at the AJ Bell Stadium on Sunday afternoon (kick off 2pm) knowing that a win will keep up the pressure on the leading pack and help earn a place in the elite European Competition next term.
Sale Sharks have re-scheduled the fans evening, and the new date is Tuesday 5th May at the AJ Bell Stadium, starting at 5-30pm for dressing room tours, club shop and ticket office with the players in attendance from 7pm.
After a week off, the lads are now back in training heading into the final run-in of the Aviva Premiership starting with Gloucester at The AJ Bell Stadium next Sunday afternoon, (29th March) kick off at 2pm.