Preview: Challenge Cup Final

Date published: April 30 2015

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Kicking off a weekend of European finals, Edinburgh and Gloucester will face off at The Stoop on Friday in the Challenge Cup.

Throughout this year’s competition there has been no shortage of ambition or skill from the Pro12 and Premiership clubs, who recorded impressive semi-final victories over the Dragons and Exeter Chiefs to make it to this stage.

Edinburgh’s fortunes since they reached the Heineken Cup semi-finals in 2012 haven’t been anything to write home about. It’s taken time for Alan Solomons’ message to really sink in, but now the results are starting to come in the Scottish capital .

Criticised for recruiting a high number of South African imports on his arrival, what has been so exciting about Edinburgh in recent months has been the development of their young Scottish talent.

That group of players have been spearheaded of course by Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. The young scrum-half completely stole the show in the semi-final at Murrayfield with his elusive running and creativity, not to mention his kicking prowess off the tee much like his predecessor in the Edinburgh scrum-half slot, Greig Laidlaw. Those two are the top two points scorers in this year's competition.

Combining the potential of the likes of Hidalgo-Clyne, Jack Cuthbert and Tom Heathcote with the grit of foreign signings like Anton Bresler, WP Nel and captain Mike Coman is starting to get Solomons the wins he’s long been after and arguably has needed when his job has been under pressure.

Friday isn’t just a landmark moment for Edinburgh but also Scottish rugby, as a Scottish side makes it into a European final for the first time.

Gloucester on the other hand actually won this competition on the very same ground back in 2006, in a victory after extra-time over London Irish.

Their semi-final triumph over Exeter was about just ticking all the boxes and getting the job done, typified by their hard-working Man of the Match in the second row, Tom Savage.

When given a sniff however Gloucester will attack from anywhere, as you'd expect from a team with Jonny May and Charlie Sharples on the wings.

This season domestically hasn’t matched the expectations that grew with the signings of Richard Hibbard, John Afoa, the aforementioned Laidlaw and James Hook, but a trophy to take into next season would give David Humphreys and Laurie Fisher something to build on as the club look to work their way back to the summit of English rugby.

What’s more, in case they needed any extra belief, last week’s stunning 42-40 win over Newcastle at Kingsholm will have left the squad buzzing full of enthusiasm ahead of their journey to London.

The road back to the top is an arduous one, as Gloucester fans now well know. Victory on Friday however could prove to be a crucial first brick in the wall.

In team news, Gloucester make several changes to the side that started against Newcastle Falcons last Saturday with a new-look front five and Ross Moriarty taking over from Sione Kalamafoni in the back row.

Laidlaw and Hook take over at half-back from Dan Robson and Billy Burns while Bill Meakes returns in the Gloucester midfield.

Solomons has made three changes – one positional – to the team which overcame Zebre in last Friday’s PRO12 fixture.

Building on the momentum of a side which has remained largely unchanged over recent weeks, Greig Tonks returns from injury to take the 15 jersey with the rest of the backs unchanged.

In the pack, captain Mike Coman switches to blindside from number eight to accommodate Cornell Du Preez, who moves up from the bench, two weeks after returning from serious injury.

"Players won't get a lot of opportunities to play in a European final, so you can sense the excitement and the expectation in the squad. We're coming into what is the biggest game of the season for us," said Gloucester boss David Humphreys.

"We probably didn't expect to get to this stage this year, but we know the quality that is within this group and, on its day, this team can compete with anybody. Being involved in the final is great, but we want to win the final.

"We're evolving and are better than we were. But Alan Solomons has done a similar job at Edinburgh. They're competing in the Pro 12 and for a Champions Cup spot, as well as making the final like us."

Prediction: If the rain keeps away in Twickenham then we could be in for a very entertaining final with both sides cutting loose when possible. It'll be tight, but we sense Gloucester might sneak home. Gloucester by three!

The teams:

Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks; 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Tim Visser; 10 Phil Burleigh, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell Du Preez, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Mike Coman (c), 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 John Andress, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Tom Brown.

Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples, 14 Jonny May, 13 Bill Meakes, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Henry Purdy; 10 James Hook, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Jacob Rowan, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Steve McColl.

Date: Friday, May 1
Venue: The Stoop, London
Kick-off: 19:45 BST (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzere, Mathieu Raynal
TMO: Eric Gauzins

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