European Challenge Cup - Round 1
Big names gear up for euro bow
October 7, 2009
Winger Marcel Garvey returns to the Warriors line-up for their euro opener © Getty Images
The battle for this season's European Challenge Cup kicks off this weekend with some big names set to grace the opening round of action.
Worcester, semi-finalists last season, kick off the new campaign against Montpellier at Sixways on Thursday night bolstered by the return of winger Marcel Garvey. The Warriors will also boast a new centre partnership that will see New Zealander Rico Gear and Dale Rasmussen paired together. Scrum-half Jonny Arr is given his first start of the season while Alex Grove and Sam Tuitupou are rested for the match.
A new look front row will give Shaun Ruwers a first start of the campaign with Aleki Lutui and Matt Mullan restored to the starting line-up after coming on the bench at Tigers. Locks Graham Kitchener and Will Bowley are paired in the second row for the game against the Top 14 outfit, with Pat Sanderson skippering the team from the back row.
The action continues on Friday with Castres taking on Toulon at Stade Pierre-Antoine in one of two all-Top 14 clashes. The high-flying hosts are currently second in France's top flight thanks in part to a narrow 21-19 victory over Jonny Wilkinson's mid-table Toulon side last weekend. The visitors have opted to rest a host of their frontline players including the England No.10 for this clash with Sébastien Fauque getting the nod at fly-half. Fullback Romain Teulet booted Castres to victory last weekend but he starts from the bench as the hosts also opt to rotate for their first foray into Europe this season.
Elsewhere, Top 14 strugglers Bayonne welcome Italian Super 10 side Rugby Roma to Stade Jean Dauger and last year's beaten finalists Bourgoin tackle Premiership basement side Leeds Carnegie at Stade Pierre Rajon. Only Lee Blackett and Tom Denton survive from the Leeds side that lost to Gloucester at Headingley last weekend with seven academy graduates given the chance to impress.
Olympus Madrid will make history when they line up against Connacht at the Sportsground with 18-year-old schools international Tiernan O'Halloran handed his competitive debut for the hosts. While no-one has played more tournament matches than Connacht - this will be match No.85 for the Irish province - the Spanish invitation side will be the 80th team to take part in the competition.
They are largely based around the C.R.C. Madrid team, who won the 2009 Division de Honor title after losing just one of their 18 matches and finishing 11 points clear of 2008/09 European Challenge Cup side Cetransa El Salvador.
Friday also sees the second all-French affair with Albi facing fellow Top 14 strugglers Montauban at La Maison des Sports. Montauban made a splash in the opening round of the Heineken Cup last season, running Munster close at Thomond Park, and include Scotland centre Andrew Henderson in their starting XV.
Much of Albi's good work this season has been through fly-half Blair Stewart and he starts alongside Anthony Poujol at halfback.
On Saturday, Romanian minnows Bucureşti take on Italians Overmach Parma at Arcul de Triumf and Super 10 side Petrarca Padova clash with Premiership big-boys Newcastle at Stadio Plebiscito. The Falcons hand an opportunity to fly-half Rob Miller, with a pacy wing pairing of Tom Biggs and Danny Williams set to do some damage.
The opening round will culminate with current Premiership leaders Saracens going up against Super 10 visitors Rovigo at Vicarage Road. Sarries coach Brendan Venter has chosen to rotate his squad, with No.8 Michael Owen leading an inexperienced side.
Jake Sharp starts at No.10 alongside Sevens specialist Kevin Barrett, with veteran Kevin Sorrell starting in the centre. Winger Richard Haughton starts after punishing Newcastle with an intercept last weekend and Michael Tagicakibau is on the opposite wing.