Challenge Cup picture taking shape
December 15, 2009
Worcester and Connacht lock horns again this weekend © Getty Images
The European Challenge Cup returns this weekend as clubs scrap for a place in the quarter-finals and a possible match-up with some of the bright lights of the Heineken Cup.
Wasps tackle Bayonne on Thursday night after a hard-fought win at Adams Park. Danny Cipriani is back in the selection mix for our Game of the Week. Also on Thursday, Bourgoin have the chance for revenge after dropping points away to Overmach Parma in Pool 1.
Friday's action sees Newcastle out to further extend their lead at the top of Pool 5 against Montauban at the Stade de Sapiac. The Falcons have made three changes to their pack for the trip, with Micky Ward, Mark Sorenson and Ed Williamson coming into the team.
Montauban, meanwhile, have revamped their pack. Benjamin Sa, Gregory Arganese and Nick Adams form an all-new front row, while Cyril Montet and Matthew Clarkin have been drafted into the backrow. There is just one change behind the scrum, with Shannon Paku coming in at inside centre for Felix Le Bourhis.
Connacht return to the Sportsground to face Worcester in Pool 2 after back-to-back away wins over the Warriors and Montpellier in recent weeks. Mike Ruddock has named Rico Gear, Calum MacRae and Marcel Garvey in his backline, while Olivier Sourgens, Chris Fourtey, Will Bowley and Graham Kitchener start in the pack. Connacht are unchanged.
Pool 2's other game sees Montpellier out for consecutive bonus-points against Olympus Madrid while Pool 5's other action concerns Albi and Petrarca Padova renewing hostilities.
Montpellier have been forced into a back-line reshuffle on account of the unavailability of Benjamin Thiery. Jean-Mathieu Alcalde switches to fullback and that sees Jaques Schutte move from the wing to fly-half. In addition, there are recalls for Sebastien Max and Geoffrey Doumayrou.
In the pack, Olivier Tissot and Juan Figallo get the nod at loose-head and tight-head respectively, while Mickael Demarco comes into the second row. Jerome Vallee has been granted a start at openside flanker.
Madrid, for their part, make just three changes to the side beaten in France, and all three come in the forwards. Sebastian Hattori takes over from the injured Javier Salazar at tight-head, while Juan Gonzalez and Matthew Cook are preferred to Martin Acena and Cesar Bernasconi at openside and No.8 respectively.
Albi have made wholesale changes to the side which triumphed in Italy last weekend. In the back-line, John Stewart and Timothy Bowker are paired together in midfield, while Pierre Gilles Lakafia comes into the back three on the right wing. Frederic Manca and Kevin Boulogne are the chosen half-back pairing.
Up front, Clement Maynadier has been switched to blindside flanker so Pierre Saby is afforded a start at hooker. Saby will be joined in the front row by Benjamin Sore, who replaces Ronny Sua at tight-head. In the back row, Yogane Correa takes over from Yohann Misse on the openside, while Laurent Baluc-Rittener replaces Daniel Farani at No.8.
Petrarca Padova have made three changes to their starting XV. Enrico Patrizio replaces Stefano Ambrosio at inside centre, while Nicola Leonardi gets the nod at scrum-half ahead of Emmanuel Billot. In the only change to the pack, Gonzalo Pedro reclaims the No.8 jersey from Nicolas Galatro.
In Pool 1, Leeds scraped past Bucuresti Oaks in Romania last weekend and will be out for a more flattering scoreline at Headingley after slogging to a 6-10 win in the snow last time out. Fly-half Ceiron Thomas, flanker Hendre Fourie and No.8 Alfie To'oala all return from injury to boost Leeds' hopes of a resounding win.
Racing Metro face Roma in an early kick-off on Saturday fresh from scoring 10 tries against the Italian side at the Stade Yves du Manoir, finally kick-starting their Pool 4 challenge.
Racing make eight changes for the trip to the Stadio Tre Fontane. In the forwards, Mikalele Tuugahala comes in at loose-head prop, while Simon Raiwalui returns to skipper the second from the second row, with John Leo'o and Jone Qovu Nailiko earning recalls in the backrow.
In the backs, Jerome Fillol and Fabien Fortassin return at nine and ten respectively, with Nic Berry and Andrew Mehrtens making way. Sireli Bobo reclaims the right wing berth while Greg Goosen gets the nod at outside centre.
Roma, meanwhile, issue recalls to Juan Gauthier, Hayden Reid, Max Freschi, Carlo Vannini, Tino Paoletti, Gabriele Cicchinelli and Alessio Murrazzani.
Saracens were victorious in France last weekend, seeing off Castres at the Stade Pierre Antoine and they will need a rousing home win at Vicarage Road this time around as Toulon look for a second bonus-point win over Rovigo.
Chris Wyles, Rodd Penney and Alex Goode all return for Sarries after being rested last week while Justin Marshall is drafted in at scrum-half. Matias Aguero returns to the front-row after international duty and Tom Mercey and Don Barrell also start in a pack missing Steve Borthwick, who is rested.
As for Castres, Darron Nell and Ludovic Michaux are the only survivors from the pack which started in the two side's first meeting. Yannick Forestier, Akvsenti Giorgadze and Daniel Saayman come into the front row, while Rodrigo Capo Ortega joins Michaux in the second row. In the back row, Nell moves to openside flanker to facilitate the inclusion of Iosefa Tekori at No.8. Ibrahim Diarra starts on the blindside.
Toulon, meanwhile, have made five changes to the side which routed Rovigo at the Stade Felix Mayol last weekend. Jeremy Sinzelle and Christian Loamanu earn recalls on the wings, while Phillip Fitzgerald and Tim Ryan both return to the front row. Thomas Sourice will start at openside flanker.
As for the visitors, Andrea Sartoretto and Pietro Travagli earn recalls at outside centre and scrum-half respectively. Rik Dolcetto comes into the front row at loose-head, Daniele Tumiati takes over from captain Tomasso Reato in the second row and Younes Anouer and Jacobus Immelman have been added to the back row.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
With the World Cup only a few months away, the last thing France needed was doubts over the future of their coach, writes Huw Richards
They came to Murrayfield looking to put down a marker, but Scotland were sent home with their tails between their legs, writes Tristan Barclay
The controversial tackling technique will be in full swing in Dublin on Sunday, writes Conor O'Shea, and could be a decisive factor for Ireland