European Challenge Cup Rugby – a guide to round five
It’s another crucial weekend of European Challenge Cup rugby for the Aviva Premiership Rugby teams.
Teams have just two games left to try and secure their places in the quarter-finals with Newcastle Falcons and Gloucester Rugby both particularly well placed.
Sale Sharks, Worcester Warriors and London Irish are all at home this weekend looking for big wins ahead of the final round of group stage fixtures.
Agen v Gloucester Rugby
The Cherry & Whites were beaten in their only previous trip to Stade Armandie, back in the 2010/11 season, but Agen haven’t beaten an Aviva Premiership Rugby side since.
Gloucester are second in Pool Three, three points behind Pau, so will need a win ahead of facing the group leaders at Kingsholm next weekend.
Ed Slater leads the side which has ten changes to the one that lost to Northampton Saints last week with Ross Moriarty set to make just his second start of the campaign.
In the pack, Cameron Orr, Motu Matu’u and Fraser Balmain are the front row with Thrush alongside Slater in the engine room and Jake Polledri and Freddie Clarke alongside Moriarty.
We in South West France 🇫🇷 gearing up for tonight’s clash with Agen
We’ll have live updates from the Stade Armandie, and again great to see @BBCGlos making the trip out to provide commentary to everyone at home.
No TV, so the best way to follow the action! pic.twitter.com/2sPUGsaSoy
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) January 12, 2018
Sale Sharks v Lyon
Sale may sit at the foot of the Pool Two table but they have conceded just six tries this season so far, the joint fewest of any side in the competition, and are in contention.
A win against Lyon though is a must if they’re to climb up an extremely packed pool before travelling to French giants Toulouse in Round Six.
The Sharks have made eight changes with Dave Seymour getting his first club start of the season at flanker alongside Cameron Neild and Jono Ross.
Mike Haley, Marland Yarde and Will Cliff all come into a much-changed backline for the match on Saturday at the AJ Bell Stadium.
London Irish v Krasny Yar
David Paice and Tommy Bell both return to the Irish starting XV for the visit of the Russian side to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Bell has already surpassed 100 points this season and starts at full-back with Ben Ransom and Ben Loader completing the back three.
📢| TEAM NEWS: @_TommyBell and @david_paice return for tomorrow’s Round 5 @ERChallengeCup clash with Krasny Yar at the Madejski Stadium (kick-off 3pm) 👉https://t.co/coT6f5brUH #LIvKRA pic.twitter.com/sy0voLQ61L
— London Irish (@LiRFC) January 12, 2018
Isaac Curtis-Harris makes his debut in the back row alongside Max Northcote-Green and Ireland Under-20 international Jack Cooke.
Irish have lost their last three games at the Madejski Stadium, their worst run at home in the Challenge Cup, and must win on Saturday if they’re to overhaul defending champions Stade Francais in Pool Four.
Worcester Warriors v Connacht Rugby
The Warriors are on a four-game winning streak at Sixways in the Challenge Cup, without conceding a losing bonus point, but Connacht have won four from four this season to date.
The Warriors will need to end Connacht’s best run in the Challenge Cup since winning seven in a row on their way to the semi-final in 2009/10.
Head coach Carl Hogg makes six changes to the Warriors’ line-up with Perry Humphreys, Dean Hammond, Jamie Shillcock, Simon Kerrod, Darren Barry and Pierce Phillips all included.
🎥 “He’s unbelievable – we need to give him more credit.”@SimonJKerrod praises the work of Mefin Davies ahead of Saturday’s game at Sixways…
— Worcester Warriors 🏉 (@WorcsWarriors) January 11, 2018
Aviva Premiership Rugby’s Player of the Month Josh Adams moves to full-back with Perry Humphreys and Dean Hammond on the wings.
Newcastle Falcons v Enisei-STM
The Falcons are a perfect four from four in the Challenge Cup to date and victory over Enisei-STM would secure their spot in the quarter-finals with a week to spare.
It is the first time since 2005/06 that Newcastle have won their opening quartet of fixtures, they won seven on the bounce in that year and reached the semi-finals.
— The RPA (@theRPA) January 12, 2018
Simon Uzokwe will make his European debut for the club alongside Mark Wilson and Ryan Burrows in the back row with club captain Will Welch out injured.
Toby Flood starts at inside centre with Joel Hodgson at fly-half with Adam Radwan, who signed a new contract earlier this week, on the left wing.