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Premiership Rugby

Stage set for inaugural Zurich Challenge clash

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

The clash will be staged at Wasps' home ground, the Causeway Stadium (formerly Adams Park) on Sunday, August 24 and will thereafter alternate between the home of the English and French champions each year, with the game staged in the lead up to the new domestic season in both countries.

Wasps are the current champions in England following a strong campaign in the Zurich Premiership and in Europe, which saw them win 18 of their last 21 premiership matches, including their triumph over premiership leaders Gloucester in the inaugural Zurich Premiership Final at Twickenham, and defeating Bath in the Final of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup at the Madejski Stadium.

Wasps scrum-half Rob Howley, a crucial figure in his club's march to the title, is looking forward to meeting the French champions: "When I heard that we would play host to Stade Français, I thought what a great challenge it would be for us, as English champions, to face the French champions. It gives the fans and players the opportunity to see two great sides compete in a winner takes all fixture.

"What makes it more exciting is that there has been a strong rivalry between Wasps and Stade Français over the last few years and with us doing the double over them last season, I know they will be very competitive and looking to reverse those results.

"The wins over Stade Français last season were the turning point in our season. If this Zurich Challenge match is anything like the two January games that were played between us, the fans will be in for a spectacle of top-class rugby."

Howley's sentiments were echoed by Wasps' Director of Rugby Warren Gatland.

"Pre-season games are normally an opportunity for coaches to test sides and build for the upcoming season," said Gatland. "However, when this game was scheduled during our pre-season preparations, I thought what a perfect way to kick-start our season and get the squad ready for what lies ahead.

"An even bigger incentive will be the trophy on offer. When I told the players about this game during the team meeting, the first reaction within the squad was, what a great opportunity to prove we can play well without our big guns and even pick up another trophy for the club.

"So the Zurich Challenge is very important to Wasps and we will be doing our best to add more silverware to our trophy cabinet."

Gatland's counterpart at Stade Français, former Springbok coach Nick Mallett, also believes this annual Anglo-French clash will be an attractive proposition for both players and spectators.

"The domestic leagues in France and England are comparable in terms of playing standards so it should be a very closely fought match between the two respective champions," said Mallett.

"As a pre-season fixture the clubs will be determined to start the season as they mean to go on. It should be a great match for both sets of supporters and I hope many of the Stade Français fans will travel to England."

* The match, which is Wasps' only home pre-season fixture, will be broadcast live on Sky Sports.

Tickets are on sale now from the Wasps ticket office on 01494 769 471.


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