Harlequins announce team to play Agen in Challenge Cup opener
Winger Gabriel Ibitoye will make his first start of the season for Harlequins against Agen at The Stoop in the Challenge Cup on Saturday (kick-off: 15:00).
Ibitoye, who has scored four tries in the Premiership Rugby Shield this season, is part of a back line that includes Ben Tapuai – returning at inside centre – and Joe Marchant, who scored the Gallagher Premiership’s try of the week against Saracens last Saturday, at outside centre.
Elsewhere Fiji international Semi Kunatani makes his first start for the Club at flanker while George Merrick and Charlie Mulchrone start for the first time this season too. Alex Dombrandt makes the match 23 for his first appearance and Francis Saili makes a welcome return from injury as he is named among the Game Changers.
Head of Rugby Paul Gustard said: “Gabriel Ibitoye has earned his place in the starting XV against Agen this weekend through his attitude to commit to extra work to improve aspects of his game allied to some excellent performances in the Shield this season.
“I am also looking forward to seeing the contribution Semi Kunatani will make on his first start for the club and I am delighted that Francis Saili makes the match 23 for the first time this season. His return is testament to his professionalism, positive attitude and the excellent work from our medical and strength conditioning team headed up by Gareth Tong and Andy Reynolds.
“I am also excited about the introduction of Alex Dombrandt who has impressed all in pre-season and makes his first appearance for the club he supported as a boy.
“Agen have been one of the strongest clubs in France over the years which we respect but we have a rich history in the Challenge Cup and we want to do well in the competition by starting strongly tomorrow. This is also an opportunity for us to build on recent performances and move the team and the Club forward.
“We took pride in our resilient performance against Saracens last week and we have been pleased to see the improvements in our defence and scrum. Now we want to see our attack become more threatening and that is something we have focused on this week.
“This is a squad that will never give up and is united in what it is trying to achieve, which I believe the supporters can recognise and relate to. The atmosphere at The Stoop last week was the best I have experienced at a club ground in five years and the noise that was reverberating around the ground helped drive the team forward.”
Harlequins XV to play Agen (kick-off: 15:00)
15 Mike Brown (300)
14 Gabriel Ibitoye (7)
13 Joe Marchant (62)
12 Ben Tapuai (5)
11 Nathan Earle (6)
10 Marcus Smith (34)
9 Charlie Mulchrone (23)
1 Joe Marler (173)
2 Max Crumpton (4)
3 Kyle Sinckler (125)
4 George Merrick (81)
5 Matt Symons (6)
6 Renaldo Bothma (12)
7 Semi Kunatani (2)
8 James Chisholm (61) (Captain)
16 Elia Elia (19)
17 Lewis Boyce (17)
18 Will Collier (131)
19 Stan South (22)
20 Alex Dombrandt (-)
21 Dave Lewis (17)
22 Demetri Catrakilis (6)
23 Francis Saili (5)
Not considered for selection