Amlin Challenge Cup - Round 3
Wilkinson returns to Kingston Park
December 7, 2011
All eyes will be on Jonny Wilkinson when he returns to Kingston Park on Thursday © Getty Images
Exeter Chiefs 18 - 6 Dragons Round 3: Bucuresti v Worcester Warriors at Bucharest, Dec 11, 2011 Bayonne 19 - 11 London Wasps Lyon 31 - 16 Petrarca Padova Crociati Rugby 0 - 57 Stade FranÃ§ais La Vila 18 - 47 Brive Rovigo 7 - 31 Bordeaux Begles Perpignan 54 - 20 Cavalieri Prato Newcastle Falcons 6 - 3 Toulon Agen 14 - 29 Sale Sharks
England star Jonny Wilkinson returns to his old stomping ground Kingston Park on Thursday evening as the Top 14 giants Toulon take on struggling Aviva Premiership side Newcastle Falcons.
Both sides are undefeated in Pool 2 and are neck and neck on nine points apiece from their opening two clashes. But with Newcastle struggling in the Premiership - despite beating Gloucester last Friday - it may be a welcome distraction from their domestic strife. And with Wilkinson and Carl Hayman returning to Kingston Park, it will provide the Falcons faithful with a chance to see some of their former heroes. Toulon lost at the weekend to Toulouse and Bernard Laporte has mixed up the team for their trip to Newcastle but the side still boasts the likes of Mathieu Bastareaud, former Sale duo Eifion Roberts and Dean Schofield and Hayman at tight-head. Wilkinson lines up on the bench alongside French international Alexis Palisson.
The Falcons have opted to ring the changes with Alan Tait making five alterations from the side which dispatched the Cherry and Whites last Friday. Jamie Helleur partners James Fitzpatrick at outside centre while Luke Eves gets the nod on the wing in place of Suka Hufanga. Joe Graham replaces Michael Mayhew at hooker while there are starts for Mark Wilson and Richard Mayhew. And Tait is eyeing the clash as a chance to give some out of favour players the opportunity to shine.
"I have told them over the next fortnight that I am going to mix it up and throw a few lads in to keep the squad fresh," Tait said. "Then comes the Sale game on Boxing Day and it is all in the mixer as to who gets in for the Premiership return. I have told this team for some time now that they are a good one, and we have added quality players on top of that as we have gone on." Elsewhere in Pool 2, Top 14 side Lyon host Petarcha on Sunday.
And in Thursday's other match, Sale Sharks travel to Agen looking to make up for their round one loss to Brive. The Top 14 side currently sit atop of Pool 5 and Sale face an uphill battle to qualify from the group. Brive face winless La Vila on Saturday as they look to continue their unbeaten run. But Sale boss Steve Diamond has set out his stall for the competition and has named a strong side for their trip to Agen. Russian forward Andrei Ostrikov makes his debut for the Sharks against one of his former sides with other starts for Cillian Willis, Luther Burrell and a spot on the bench for Rob Miller. England international Mark Cueto continues at fullback for the Premiership side with inform Dave Seymour starting in a back-row alongside Scottish international Richie Vernon and Wales' Andy Powell.
In Pool 1, Worcester Warriors go up against Bucuresti in Romania as they look to make it two from three. The group's leaders Stade Francais host Crociati who have yet to pick up a win. And the Warriors hope to have promising duo Matt Kvesic and Matt Mullan to call upon in time for their round five and six clashes after the duo sustained injuries in the past couple of weekends in the Premiership.
Elsewhere, in Pool 3, Wasps travel to Bayonne on Saturday evening in a week where the Top 14 side sacked their entire coaching staff. Wasps came close to disrupting Harlequins' winning run at the weekend and with two wins from their first two matches in the tournament, they will look to further compound Bayonne's misery. But with the likes of Joe Rokocoko, Mike Phillips and Cedric Heymans in their ranks, their new boss Jean-Pierre Elissalde will look for immediate results. Bordeaux travel to Rovigo on Saturday in the pool's other fixture.
And the weekend's action finishes with the Exeter Chiefs hosting the Newport Gwent Dragons on Sunday. Newport are two from two in Pool 5 while Exeter lost to Perpignan in the opening round of the competition. And the Dragons will hope to put off field matters to one side - in a week where French reports suggested Luke Charteris will join fellow Pool 5 side Perpignan - in a bid to reach the quarter-finals of the competition. Perpignan host Cavalieri Prato on Friday.
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