Chiefs facing make-or-break tie
January 12, 2011
Tom Hayes will be hoping to inspire Exeter this weekend © Getty Images
Aviva Premiership newcomers Exeter could do with a little help from their friends this weekend as they seek to prolong their European adventure in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
The Chiefs take on Top 14 strugglers Bourgoin at Sandy Park on Saturday and are currently two points behind Pool 3 leaders Montpellier, who are on the road to Newcastle Falcons on Friday night.
Exeter are buoyed by the availability of long-term injury absentees Neil Clark and James Phillips, both of whom have been named on the bench by head coach Rob Baxter. Elsewhere, there are starts for Matt Jess and Andrew Higgins on the wing, Phil Dollman returns at centre, while Ryan Davis and Junior Poluleuligaga have been paired together in the half-backs. In the pack, Ben Moon, Simon Alcott and Chris Budgen come into a revamped front row.
Bourgoin have opted to switch regular No.10 Alberto di Bernardo to fullback to facilitate the inclusion of Matias Viazzo alongside Mickael Forest in the half-backs. Jean Francois Coux will skipper the side from inside centre.
As for the aforementioned Falcons, they have made eight changes to the side which drew with Sale last Friday night, the most notable of which is the inclusion of Alex Tait, who makes his first start for the club since suffering ankle ligament damage against Exeter last month. There is also a welcome return from injury for Jon Golding, who will lock down with Matt Thompson and James Hall in the front row.
Newcastle's opponents, Montpellier, have made a staggering 14 changes to the side which drew with Perpignan in the Top 14 last Saturday, with openside flanker Johan Wasserman the only man to hold on to a starting berth. France fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc is among those to have earned a recall.
Harlequins are at the sharp end in Pool 1 and travel to face Cavalieri Prato at the Stadio Lungobisenzio on Saturday.
Quins currently trail table-topping Bayonne by a single point, with the teams set to face of at the Stoop in the final round. The Top 14 side will need to be on their mettle if they are to ensure a winner-takes-all showdown in Twickenham, as they face a tricky tie against gutsy Connacht outfit at the Stade Jean Dauger on Saturday.
In terms of team news for Quins' trip to Italy, director of rugby Conor O'Shea has opted to leave key duo Nick Easter and Nick Evans out of his starting line-up, though the latter has been named on the bench. As a consequence of those changes, there is a start for Rory Clegg at fly-half, while Tom Guest has been moved to No.8 to fill the void left by Easter, with Maurie Fa'asavalu coming into the side at blindside flanker. There are also starts for wing Sam Smith, centre Tom Casson, hooker Chris Brooker and lock Tomas Vallejos.
Meanwhile, Connacht boss Michael Bradley has dramatically revamped his back-line for the Westerners' clash with Bayonne, with Eoin Griffin the only survivor from last weekend's narrow Magners League defeat by Newport Gwent Dragons. Fionn Carr has been granted an outing at fullback, where he will be flanked by Shane Monahan and Brian Tuohy. In addition, Frank Murphy and Ian Keatley are recalled to the half-back line, while Niva Ta'auso slots back into the side at inside-centre. There are only two changes to the pack, with Bernie Upton coming into the second row and Mike McComish getting the nod at No.8.
The action kicks off on Thursday night with an all-Top 14 affair between Agen and La Rochelle at the Stade Armandie. The sides are locked together on 15 points in Pool 5, four ahead of Gloucester, who take on Italian minnows Rovigo this weekend.
Former Cardiff Blues and Toulon centre Jamie Robinson starts for Agen, while La Rochelle include prop Petrisor Toderasc, fit again after being the victim of a stamp from Gloucester's Dave Attwood in the last round.
Attwood, of course, picked up a nine-week ban for his indiscretion so he does not feature in a Gloucester side which is much changed from the one which lined out against Exeter in the Aviva Premiership last weekend. In the backs, winger Lesley Vainikolo and scrum-half Dave Lewis have both been recalled, while Henry Trinder and Tim Molenaar line up alongside one another in the Cherry and Whites' midfield. Up front, Paul Doran-Jones, Peter Buxton, Will James and Andy Hazell are the only survivors from the pack which saw off the Chiefs.
Sale Sharks are on home soil this weekend to take on Petrarca Padova, but are lagging well behind Pool 2 leaders Brive, who face Spanish minnows Cetransa El Salvador on Friday.
Sale boss Pete Anglesea has opted for a strong side in order to continue their recent resurgence and Petrarca will have to deal with England wing Mark Cueto as well as the impressive James Gaskell in the back-row.
Leeds have been on an upward curve in recent weeks but need one of the tournament's great upsets to influence matters at the top of Pool 4, where Stade Francais are five points clear. The French aristocrats are back at the Stade Charlety this weekend after defeating Heineken Cup champions Toulouse at the Stade de France last weekend.
Leeds travel without injured duo Michael Stephenson and Lachlan MacKay but have named as strong a side as possible for the game in Paris. Luther Burrell returns in midfield, while England pair Hendre Fourie and Steve Thompson will both start.
The visitors face a monumental challenge, though, underlined by the fact that Stade boss Michael Cheika has named 12 internationals in his starting line-up, including on-form centre Mathieu Bastareaud, who missed the corresponding fixture at Headingley. In total, there are just four changes to the side which routed Toulouse in Saint Denis last weekend, with Laurent Sempere, Alexandre Flanquart, James Haskell and Pierre Rabadan all earning recalls. Former Leeds pair Rayno Gerber and Tom Palmer have both been named on the Parisians' bench.
The Pool's other game pits Crociati against Bucuresti.
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