Make-or-break time in Challenge Cup
January 13, 2010
Connacht are in for another scrap on Friday © Getty Images
The latest round of European Challenge Cup action sees several clubs in make-or-break situations. It all kicks off in Watford on Thursday, when Saracens welcome Jonny Wilkinson and Toulon to Vicarage Road in our Game of the Week.
Toulon are currently five points clear at the top of Pool 3, leaving Sarries with little margin for error. In Pool 3's other game, Castres face Rovigo on Friday, having relinquished their grip at the summit of the Top 14 to Clermont Auvergne following a shock defeat to Montpellier.
Also on Thursday, Wasps take on minnows Rugby Roma at Adams Park, with Pool 4 under control. The Premiership side are five points clear from Racing Metro and have named a side blending youth and experience for the game. Serge Betsen skippers Wasps, with Danny Cipriani, Paul Sackey and Tom Varndell all starting. Coach Tony Hanks hands first starts to Martin Rice and James Honeyben.
Racing Metro face fellow Top 14 side Bayonne at the Stade Jean Dauger on Sunday off the back of two defeats. Their hosts, though, have sacked coaches Thierry Mentieres and Jean-Philippe Coyola after a slide into the relegation zone. Former All Black fly-half Andrew Mehrtens skippers Racing, with former Springbok Frans Steyn and promising fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski included on the bench.
The attention on Friday will be focused on the Sportsground, where Michael Bradley's Connacht face Montpellier in a battle for top spot in Pool 2. The Irish side are two points clear after back-to-back wins over Worcester and also picked up the points away to Montpellier earlier in the season, with the French side needing the kind of performance that upset Worcester at Sixways.
Connacht have named Troy Nathan at fullback in place of the injured Gavin Duffy, while Brett Wilkinson has been passed fit to start at loose-head alongside Sean Cronin and Robbie Morris. John Muldoon starts at No.8 and captains the Irish side.
Worcester will fancy their chances of picking up a bonus-point as they take on Olympus Rugby on home turf, although they are now out of contention.
Newcastle travel to face Albi at the Stade Municipal in Pool 5 and are currently three points clear of their nearest rivals, Montauban. The Falcons have been in impressive form but have made six changes for their clash with the Top 14's basement side who they hammered 45-3 back in October. Matt Thompson makes a first start for the club at tight-head prop with club captain Carl Hayman on the bench. Elsewhere, a fit-again Micky Young resumes scrum-half duties while a new wing partnership sees Yorkshire pair Danny Williams and Tom Biggs starting out wide.
Montauban are also on the road but are in with a shout of a bonus-point win against Petrarca Padova at the Stadio Plebiscito.
Leeds are locked together with Bourgoin at the top of Pool 1, and have an away trip to take on Overmach Parma at the Stadio XXV Aprile on Saturday. Bourgoin, meanwhile, host Bucuresti at the Stade Pierre Rajon, buoyed by a recent away win over Racing Metro. Henry Paul starts in the centre for Leeds, with Ceiron Thomas named at fly-half. Andy Key and Neil Back will be expecting plenty of work from the combative back-row of Hendre Fourie, Kearnan Myall and Alfie To'oala.