Preview: Challenge Cup, Thursday

Date published: December 9 2015

Two games are scheduled in the Challenge Cup on Thursday, with Worcester Warriors hosting Gloucester while Agen take on Grenoble.

Worcester v Gloucester

Andy Symons is set for his first Worcester appearance since April in Thursday's clash against Gloucester at Sixways.

The centre enjoyed a fine 2014/15 campaign but has spent the last eight months on the sidelines with a knee injury. 

Head coach Carl Hogg makes four changes to the side which started Warriors' last European match at Zebre with Charlie Mulchrone skippering from scrum-half.

Tom Biggs starts on the wing, Matt Cox gets the nod at blindside flanker while Symons comes into the centre.

Ben Howard will look to build on his promising performances at full-back with Dean Hammond completing the back three.

Alex Grove starts at 13 while Ryan Lamb will look to press his claims for an Aviva Premiership start at fly-half.

The pack sees Ryan Bower partner Jaba Bregvadze and Gareth Milasinovich in the front-row with Darren O'Shea and Dan Sanderson in the second-row.

Cox is joined by Carl Kirwan and Marco Mama in the back-row.

Tiff Eden is named on the bench and could make his first appearance since helping Warriors to British and Irish Cup Final glory in April when he slotted 15 points.

Hogg said: "We've got one or two returning from injury which is great and it's an opportunity for those who haven't had a huge amount of Aviva Premiership gametime to stick their hands up.

"We want to create healthy competition across the squad.

"Symons has had a very intensive rehab programme and he's looking fit and sharp so we're looking forward to seeing him out there again on Thursday night.

"We know we have to win our home games and Gloucester travel well and will be confident. But we know the challenge in front of us and it's one we're relishing."

Meanwhile, Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw returns to skipper Gloucester in the Challenge Cup clash.

Laidlaw will lead a side that sees only Sione Kalamafoni retained in the starting line-up from the team that defeated Sale Sharks at Kingsholm last Friday. The Scotland international scrum-half will partner Billy Burns at half-back.

Meanwhile Henry Trinder, who has started two A League games and featured as a replacement twice for the first team in recent weeks, will start a game for the first time since February. He lines up outside Mark Atkinson in the Gloucester midfield.

Completing the backline are wingers David Halaifonua and Henry Purdy and full-back Steve McColl, who has already scored two tries in the tournament.

Up front, Nick Wood makes his first start of the season having appeared as a replacement against Sale and he will pack down alongside Tom Lindsay and Paul Doran-Jones.

In the second-row, Elliott Stooke is named along with Mariano Galarza who signed a new contract with the club this week while the back-row consists of Kalamafoni, Jacob Rowan and Lewis Ludlow.

Gloucester lead the pool with two wins from two matches, while the Warriors were defeated by Zebre in Parma.

The teams:

Worcester: 15 Ben Howard, 14 Dean Hammond, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Andy Symons, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Charlie Mulchrone (c), 8 Marco Mama, 7 Carl Kirwan, 6 Matt Cox, 5 Darren O'Shea, 4 Dan Sanderson, 3 Gareth Milasinovich, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Ryan Bower.
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Mike Daniels, 19 Darren Barry, 20 Sam Betty, 21 Jonny Arr, 22 Tiff Eden, 23 Max Stelling.

Gloucester: 15 Steve McColl, 14 David Halaifonua, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Greig Laidlaw (capt), 8 Lewis Ludlow, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Paul Doran-Jones, 2 Tom Lindsay, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Nicky Thomas, 19 Tom Hicks, 20 Dan Thomas, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Rob Cook.

Venue: Sixways
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Assistant Referees: Salem Attalah (France), Mathieu Noirot (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)

Agen vs Grenoble

The Pool Five fixture between these two French rivals will see Agen look to pick up their first victory of this season's Challenge Cup.

Defeats to London Irish and Edinburgh mean they sit rooted to the foot of the standings while Grenoble have one victory to their name.

Agen have made several changes to the side that lost heavily at Toulon in the Top 14 last week as Burton Francis and Johan Sadie are two players given the week off from the backline while Luke Hamilton also drops out of the squad. Dave Ryan is moved to the bench and replaced by Canadian Jason Marshall at tighthead prop.

Grenoble have also opted to rest key players as Gio Aplon, Jonathan Wisniewski, Rory Grice and Peter Kimlin are not named in their 23 ahead of these back-to-back matches between the sides.

The teams:

Agen: 15 Benoit Sicart, 14 François Tardieu, 13 Vincent Roux, 12 Pierre Fouyssac, 11 Marius Deguilhem, 10 Bautista Guemes, 9 Paul Abadie, 8 Marc Baget, 7 Antoine Miquel, 6 Nicolas Gal, 5 Léo Bastien, 4 Jean-Baptiste Roidot, 3 Jason Marshall, 2 Jalil Narjissi, 1 Quentin Bethune.
Replacements: 16 Marc Barthomeuf, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Dave Ryan, 19 Denis Marchois, 20 Corentin Braendlin, 21 Baptiste Cadiou, 22 François Bouvier, 23 Julien Heriteau.

Grenoble: 15 Armand Batlle, 14 Daniel Kilioni, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Xavier Mignot, 10 Gilles Bosch, 9 Christophe Loustalot, 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Fabien Alexandre, 6 Henry Vanderglas, 5 Mathias Marie, 4 Jonathan Best, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Laurent Bouchet, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Loick Jammes, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Walter Desmaison, 19 Ben Hand, 20 Mahamadou Diaby, 21 Lilian Saseras, 22 Clement Gelin, 23 Nigel Hunt.

Venue: Stade Armandie
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Martyn Lewis (Wales)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)