Northampton v Bourgoin, European Challenge Cup Final, May 22
Settled Saints ready for Bourgoin challenge
May 21, 2009
Ben Foden starts at fullback for Northampton © Getty Images
Northampton Saints and Bourgoin are set to collide at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday night, with the European Challenge Cup and qualification for next season's Heineken Cup on the line. With both sides having notched impressive victories en route to the final, the game looks set to go down to the wire.
The Saints saw off Saracens in dramatic fashion in the semi-final and a victory would set the seal on an excellent first season back in the English top flight. Their side for the game has a settled, familiar feel to it and will be more than a handful for their French opponents.
Stephen Myler, fresh from a call-up to the England Saxons squad, takes the fly-half berth alongside scrum-half Lee Dickson. James Downey and Jon Clarke are the centres, while they possess a potent attacking back-three. Skipper Bruce Reihana and the spiky Paul Diggin man the wings, with recently-voted PRA Young Player of the Year and England squad member Ben Foden at fullback.
Up front, there is a start for British and Irish Lions squad member Euan Murray, who will want to put the controversy of his non-release for the Lions meet on Monday behind him, and England hooker Dylan Hartley. In the back-row, Scott Gray and Neil Best provide international class alongside Mark Easter at No.8.
"In many ways we have had a good season," said Saints boss Jim Mallinder. "However success is only measured by the number of trophies that you win and we have the opportunity to win a major tournament.
"The European Challenge Cup has been an important competition for us this season. We have won at some difficult venues and blooded some players who have gone on to become regulars in the first team. There were some good teams in the Challenge Cup this year and it is a privilege to be in the final."
Bourgoin travel to London after a strong showing in defeating London Irish and Worcester in the last two rounds of the competition and will be cheered on by Wasps, who will secure Heineken Cup rugby next season through their seventh place finish in the Premiership if the French side down the Saints.
As ever Bourgoin will be marshalled by the classy halfback duo of Morgan Parra and Benjamin Boyet, Parra outstanding during the semi-final win over Worcester and soon to be donning the blue of France on their tour of New Zealand and Australia. Up front, their try-hero in the semi-final Coenie Basson gets a start in the second-row alongside Camille Levast.
"Bourgoin showed when they beat London Irish that they cannot be underestimated," said Mallinder. "Since then they have built up some good momentum in the Challenge Cup and in the Top 14. They are unbeaten in the last three weeks and have some experienced players who can control a game excellently, such as half-backs Morgan Parra and Benjamin Boyet, not to mention a tough pack of forwards who are able to produce good ball for the backs to work with."
Northampton: B Foden, P Diggin, J Clarke, J Downey, B Reihana (capt), S Myler, L Dickson, S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley, E Murray, I Fernandez Lobbe, J Kruger, N Best, S Gray, M Easter
Replacements: B Sharman, T Smith, C Day, C Lawes, A Dickens, B Everitt, J Ansbro
Bourgoin: A Forest; R Coetzee, M Viazzo, Y David, J Coux; B Boyet, M Parra; A Tchougong, J Genevois, K Wihongi, C Basson, C Levast, J Frier [capt], W Jooste, Y Labrit
Replacements: R Vigneaux, P Cardinali, T Genevois, S Nicolas, M Forest, M Nicolas, F Denos
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)