Wasps’ director of rugby Dai Young has named his side to take on Italian visitors Zebre, at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday.
Joe Launchbury captains the side from the second row, starting alongside James Gaskell. Tom Cruse makes his second start for the club following a strong debut against Saracens. Tommy Taylor is named on the bench, after sickness ruled him out of last Sunday’s match.
Matt Mullan and Jake Cooper-Woolley start in the front row, with reinforcements on the bench coming in the form of Tom Bristow and Phil Swainston. Simon McIntyre is ruled out through an ankle injury while Marty Moore is forced to sit out due to a neck spasm.
Wasps’ side features the same back row as last week, with Guy Thompson returning from a groin strain to take a place on the bench.
In the back line, Kyle Eastmond makes his first start for Wasps and Frank Halai comes onto the right wing in place of Christian Wade, who misses out due to an oblique injury. Jimmy Gopperth is named on the bench having played every minute of every game so far this season.
Also on the bench is the welcome sight of Samoan international Alapati Leiua, who will perhaps receive the biggest cheer of the day if he comes on, having battled back to full fitness from two ACL reconstructions.
Ahead of the opening round, Dai Young said: “It’s always exciting to play in Europe’s top competition – you spend ten months working your socks off to get into it, so when it starts you really want to make the most of it. The best way to enjoy it is to get off to a good start and to do yourselves justice.
“We did well last year and probably exceeded everyone’s expectations by qualifying from the dreaded pool of death and progressing to the semi-final. However, last year is last year. It counts for nothing this year. We must start afresh and put all our focus on trying to qualify from the group.
“We need to start with a really big performance on Saturday at home to Zebre. They are a proud team with plenty of Italian internationals in their squad and I expect them to come to the Ricoh Arena feeling they have nothing to lose.
“It will be great to welcome back Carlo Festuccia. Carlo’s a fantastic guy who keeps in touch with the boys here. He’s a quality player who was outstanding for us at Wasps and I’m sure he will play his socks off for Zebre. As much as we will enjoy catching up with him after the game, we need to make sure he doesn’t go home with too much of a smile on his face!”
Meanwhile, Kayle Van Zyl moves to full-back for Zebre, with Gabriele di Giulio named on the wing. Tommaso Boni and Matteo Pratichetti form a new centre partnership, while Edoardo Padovani comes in at fly-half for Carlo Canna.
Derick Minnie and Jacopo Sarto are named on the flanks with captain George Biagi joined once again in the second row by Joshua Furno.
Dario Chistolini, former Wasps hooker Carlo Festuccia and Bruno Postiglioni make up a new front row.
Form: The clubs have never met previously in Europe. Wasps will be the third English side Zebre have faced in Europe's top flight. (Harlequins and Saracens). Zebre lost all four previous games against English opposition in the tournament by an average margin of 45 points while Wasps have won 10 of 11 against Italian opposition, those wins coming by an average of 29 points. Wasps have lost just two of their last 24 home games in the top flight, winning three of their four home games last season. Zebre are searching for their first win in the Champions Cup (L12), however, the Italian outfit won three of their six games in the Challenge Cup last season. Wasps gained 491 metres per game last season on average, more than any other side, while they also beat a competition-high 24 defenders per game.
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Alapati Leiua
Zebre: 15 Kayle Van Zyl, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Giambattista Venditti, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Dries van Schalkwyk, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jacopo Sarto, 5 George Biagi (c), 4 Josh Furno, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Bruno Postiglioni
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Andrea de Marchi, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Marcello Violi, 22 Tommy Castello, 23 Carlo Canna
Date: Saturday, October 15
Venue: Ricoh Arena, Coventry
Kick-off: 13:00 local (12:00 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Eddie Hogan O'Connell (Ireland), Jonathan Peak (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)