Preview: Challenge Cup, Friday

Date published: December 10 2015

Three games take place in the Challenge Cup on Friday, with Cardiff Blues versus Montpellier and Connacht hosting Newcastle standing out.

La Rochelle vs Zebre

Zebre will be looking for their second win from three games in the Challenge Cup when they face La Rochelle at Stade Marcel Deflandre.

After beating Worcester 27-8 they are in a promising position ahead of this fixture in France and an away win would do their confidence a power of good ahead of the reverse game against the same opposition next week.

The Italian outfit have subsequently named their strongest side as Kayle van Zyl, who scored two tries against the Ospreys in the PRO12 last week, lines up alongside Mils Muliaina and Michele Visentin in the back-three.

Meanwhile, La Rochelle enter the game on a back of a home win over Grenoble in the Top 14 but because of their poor start to the European campaign they have chosen to rest several players for this Challenge Cup match.

Gabriel Lacroix, Charles Bouldoire, Levani Botia, Alex Northam and Zach Holmes have all dropped out from last week's back-line while forwards Kevin Gourdon, Afa Amosa, Jason Eaton and Vincent Pelo also get a rest.

The teams:

La Rochelle: 15 Benjamin Lapeyre, 14 Lancelot Luteau, 13 Elliot Roudil, 12 Malietoa Hingano, 11 Kini Murimurivalu, 10 Fabien Fortassin, 9 Jules Lebail, 8 Jone Qovu Nailiko, 7 Zeno Kieft, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Leo Cedaro, 4 Damien Lagrange, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Maxime Gau, 1 Thomas Synaeghel.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Geledan, 17 Jordan Seneca, 18 Gagi Bazadze, 19 Romana Graham, 20 Benoit Guyot, 21 Ricky Januarie, 22 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 23 Kamilieni Raivono.

Zebre: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Kayle Van Zyl, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Michele Visentin, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Paul Derbyshire, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Filippo Ferrarini, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Valerio Bernabo, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Victor Emiliano Coria Marchetti, 1 Andrea de Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Filippo Cristiano, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Giiulio Toniolatti, 23 Carlo Canna.

Venue: Stade Marcel Deflandre
Kick-off: 20:00 local (19:00 GMT)
Referee: Tom Foley (England)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Small (England), Roger Baileff (England)

Cardiff Blues vs Montpellier

Hard-working back-row Josh Navidi returns for Cardiff Blues as they face Montpellier in the Challenge Cup at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday.

Fit-again forward Navidi is one of five changes made by head coach Danny Wilson as the team aims for a crucial victory in the first part of a big Pool 3 doubler-header with the French side over the next seven days.

A new-look front-row means prop Sam Hobbs and hooker Kristian Dacey will pack down alongside Taufa'ao Filise.

Lock James Down is paired with New Zealander Jarrad Hoeata in the second-row, with Lou Reed ruled out of the game as he continues return to play protocols.

Navidi's comeback game sees the versatile Josh Turnbull move to number eight, with a leg injury forcing Manoa Vosawai out of the European encounter.

Lloyd Williams is handed the captaincy and will play alongside Rhys Patchell who moves to fly-half with Dan Fish returning at full-back in the final change.

Sam Warburton, Cory Allen, Gareth Anscombe, Ellis Jenkins and Blaine Scully are ruled out through injury and Matthew Rees is suspended.

For Montpellier, hooker Bismarck du Plessis will make his starting debut for the French side and is joined in the front-row by Jamie Mackintosh and Pat Cilliers.

Benoit Paillaugue and Ben Lucas form a nuggety half-back combination while Robert Ebersohn and Anthony Tuitavke are named in midfield. The attacking threat wide out comes from wings Julien Malzieu and Timoci Nagusa while Benjamin Fall is at full-back.

The teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Tom James, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 James Down, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Tau Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Scott Andrews, 20 Cam Dolan, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Garyn Smith.

Montpellier: 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Anthony Tuitavke, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Benjamin Lucas, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Akapusi Qera, 7 Antoine Battut, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Jacques Du Plessis, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Bismarck Du Plessis, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Charles Geli, 17 Mikheil Nariashvili, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Robins Tchale Watchou, 20 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Demetri Catrakilis, 23 Anthony Floch.

Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Kick-off: 19:30 GMT
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)

Connacht vs Newcastle

Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made ten changes from last week as his side take on Newcastle Falcons in Round 3 of the Challenge Cup.

Jack Carty is retained at fly-half while 21-year-old Caolin Blade is handed the number nine shirt for his first start this season, having made an appearance from the bench in Krasnoyarsk last month.

There is a new midfield partnership with Academy duo Rory Parata and Peter Robb named to start. Niyi Adeolokun is promoted to the right wing while Matt Healy, on the left, gets his first taste of European action this season.

Galway man Tiernan O’Halloran will captain the side from full-back.

In the pack, there are just two players remaining from last week – Aly Muldowney and James Connolly, who, this week, was one of three Academy players to sign a senior contract for next season.

Prop Finlay Bealham, now the only player to have been involved in every game this season, starts in a new front-row with Jason Harris-Wright and Ireland international Nathan White.

Ultan Dillane returns to the second-row to partner Muldowney while Galway man Sean O'Brien earns his first ever senior start coming into a back-row with Connolly and the experienced George Naoupu at number eight.

Meanwhile, Simon Hammersley is one of eleven changes to the Falcons' starting line-up for their trip to Ireland, as Dean Richards's men turn their focus to a top of the pool clash.

Having taken a losing bonus point in round one, followed by a full five point win against Enisei in week two, a trip to face an Irish side who are two from two provides a mouth-watering fixture for Hammersley to make a welcome return from injury to the club's senior side.

All but one of his backline colleagues are Academy graduates as Chris Harris and Tom Penny continue as a centre pairing, after impressing in the opening two weekends, while Zach Kibirige and Dan Marshall are the wings.

Having performed well against Brive at full-back and conducting the clubs A team from fly-half, Craig Willis steps into the ten shirt, while Tongan international Tane Takulua makes his first start for the club since returning from Rugby World Cup duty earlier this season.

In the pack, England U20s lock Will Witty makes his second start for the club as he continues his injury comeback and will be hoping to repeat his powerful performance on his debut start in last year's competition.

Witty is joined in the second-row by England international Mouritz Botha, the pair lining up behind last weekend's replacement front row; of Alex Rogers, Scotland hooker Scott Lawson and Tongan tight head Taione Vea.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Rory Parata, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 George Naoupu, 7 James Connolly, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Nathan White, 2 Jason Harris Wright, 1 Finlay Bealham.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Conan O'Donnell, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Danny Qualter, 20 David Heffernan, 21 Ian Porter, 22 Shane O'Leary, 23 Danie Poolman.

Newcastle: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Dan Marshall, 13 Tom Penny, 12 Chris Harris, 11 Zach Kibirige, 10 Criag Willis, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Daniel Temm, 6 Richard Mayhew (c), 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Will Witty, 3 Taione Vea, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Alex Rogers.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Andrew Foster, 19 Calum Green, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Ruaridh Dawson, 22 Juan Pablo Socino, 23 Marcus Watson.

Venue: The Sportsground
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Thomas Charabas (France)
Assistant Referees: David Rosich (France), Laurent Amic (France)