Last quarter final spots up for grabs
January 21, 2010
Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon are in a shootout for a quarter-final place © Getty Images
The final round of Pool action in the European Challenge Cup finds Connacht and Wasps safely through into the quarter-finals after victories last weekend, but elsewhere it's all to play for.
Saracens beat Toulon at Vicarage Road last time out but remain a point behind the French side in Pool 3. Sarries face minnows Rovigo at the Stadio Comunale Mario Battaglini and need to better Toulon's result against Castres. Jonny Wilkinson and Toulon have a vastly superior points difference and will be counting on their vociferous home support to carry them through at the Stade Felix Mayol. Wilkinson starts at fly-half alongside former Australian international Matt Henjak. Former Saracens lock Kris Chesney is named to start and could influence his former's club's fate.
Saracens must do without scrum-halves Neil de Kock and Justin Marhsall due to knocks, meaning a start for a Moses Rauluni. Steve Borthwick skippers a side including changes in wings Chris Wyles and Richard Haughton, centre Adam Powell, prop Tom Mercey and lock Mouritz Botha.
Leeds face a winner-takes-all tie with Bourgoin at Headingley on Sunday, with the sides locked together on 19 points following their victories over Overmach Parma and Bucuresti last round. The other game in the Pool sees those sides scrap for pride at the Stadio XXV Aprile.
Leeds make four changes from last time out as props Mike MacDonald and Juan Gomez, lock Erik Lund and flanker Kearnan Myall all slot in to the starting XV. Benjamin Boyet starts at fly-half for Bourgoin after being recalled to the France setup in midweek.
Newcastle's qualification hopes are also in the balance, with their home tie against Petrarca Padova set to decide the fate of Pool 5. Montauban are two points behind the Falcons and must face Top 14 rivalsAlbi at the Stade de Sapiac on Friday night.
All Black prop Carl Hayman leads the Falcons, with his fellow Kiwi Jimmy Gopperth pulling the strings at fly-half. Exciting scrum-half Micky Young is also given the nod, as are fullback Alex Tait and snappy winger Charlie Amesbury. At No.10 for Padova is former Gloucester pivot Ludovic Mercier.
Scott Murray starts in the second-row for Montauban, although the veteran lock's countryman, centre Andy Henderson, must make do with a place on the bench for the game.
Wasps face Racing Metro at the Stade Olympique Yves du Manoir on Thursday, with both naming strong squads for the game. Danny Cipriani marshals the Wasps backline, with Tom Varndell providing plenty of firepower out wide. Racing have included Lionel Nallet and Sebastien Chabal in their side and Springbok Frans Steyn starts in the centre outside impressive fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski. In the Pool's other game, Bayonne face Rugby Roma at the Stadio Tre Fontane.
Connacht have booked consecutive quarter-finals and face Olympus Madrid at the Campo Universitaria, while Montpellier round off their near-miss of a campaign against Worcester at the Stade Yves du Manoir. Hooker Chris Fortey leads the Warriors, who welcome back prop Matt Mullan and former All Black wing Rico Gear. In the Montpellier ranks is former Leicester and England centre Olly Smith.
Connacht call Ronan Loughney, Johnny O'Connor and George Naoupu into their pack for their trip to Spain and will be confirmed as top seeds for the quarter-finals if they win.
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