After six rounds of frenetic Guinness PRO14 action, domestic affairs take a backseat this week as the European competitions kick into gear.
There are five Guinness PRO14 sides getting their European Challenge Cup campaigns up and running over the weekend – we take a look at what they can expect.
Cardiff Blues v Lyon
Venue: BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park
First up on Friday is Cardiff Blues against Lyon in Pool Two, which looks likely to be the Challenge Cup’s pool of death with a resurgent Sale Sharks and French giants Toulouse the other teams in the mix.
Danny Wilson has shuffled the pack ahead of the game against the current Top 14 leaders, as he makes ten changes from the 43-29 win over Dragons last Friday.
Matthew Morgan comes in at full-back after his impressive, two-try performance in that match whilst wing Blaine Scully makes his first Arms Park appearance of the season.
Garyn Smith replaces Willis Halaholo in the centres, Tomos Williams is in at fly-half and it’s all change in the front row with Corey Domachowski, Matthew Rees and Dillon Lewis all named.
— Cardiff Blues (@cardiff_blues) October 12, 2017
Blues will have their work cut out against Lyon, who are on a four-match winning run – head coach Pierre Mignoni has named former England star Delon Armitage at full-back, with Piero Dominguez at fly-half and Baptiste Couilloud at scrum-half.
Agen v Zebre
Venue: Stade Armandie
Friday also sees Zebre, sitting fourth in Conference A in the Guinness PRO14, travel to French side Agen in confident mood.
The Italians ended Ulster Rugby’s unbeaten run a fortnight ago and were a whisker away from beating Edinburgh last weekend – they’ve named flying Italy winger Giovanbattista Venditti in the starting lineup.
Jacopo Sarto captains the side from blindside flanker and he’s joined in the back-row by Johan Meyer at openside and Derick Minnie at No.8
TEAM NEWS: Peruse through all of the team line-ups for our four Friday fixtures.
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) October 12, 2017
Agen, coached by rugby legend Phillipe Sella and newly-promoted to the Top 14 this season, are on a five-game losing streak and will be keen to start their campaign with a bang.
Newcastle Falcons v Dragons
Venue: Kingston Park
Dragons head to the north east of England on Saturday afternoon to take on an in-form Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.
Bernard Jackman’s side gave a spirited performance against Cardiff Blues at Arms Park last weekend with tries for Adam Warren, Elliot Dee, George Gasson and Lloyd Fairbrother.
Dragons led 21-10 at the interval but were undone by a second-half fightback from the home side and will want to replicate their first period form in Newcastle.
Saturday’s opponents have faced each other eight times over the years, with Newcastle coming out on top on six occasions – Jackman will hope that his unfortunate injury crisis eases in time for the game.
— Dragons Rugby (@dragonsrugby) October 9, 2017
London Irish v Edinburgh
Venue: Madejski Stadium
This game promises to be a real cracker with both sides buoyant following late drama in both their fixtures last week.
London Irish secured their first point in the Aviva Premiership since the opening day of the season with Alex Lewington’s late try against Leicester – whilst Duncan Weir kicked Edinburgh to a nervy 16-15 win over Zebre at Myreside.
The Scottish side lost out 19-13 to Gloucester in the 2015 Challenge Cup final and will look to make a strong first impression in a tournament they’ve done well in in recent years.
Richard Cockerill’s side have three wins and three losses from the opening six rounds of Guinness PRO14 rugby, but could be without young full-back Blair Kinghorn after he suffered a substantial cut from a stray boot against Zebre.
🗣️ | Head coach Richard Cockerill addressed the media ahead of Saturday’s European Challenge Cup clash against London Irish. pic.twitter.com/Nm4fArZ2Ca
— Edinburgh Rugby (@EdinburghRugby) October 11, 2017
Oyonnax v Connacht
Venue: Stade Charles-Mathon
Connacht will be looking forward to this one after a tough start to their 2017/18 Guinness PRO14 season.
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) October 11, 2017
The Galway-based side travel to Geneva having won just one of their six fixtures so far, a 32-10 victory over the Southern Kings back in round two.
Oyannax are also struggling in the French Top 14, sitting 12th in the table, and the game could provide just the kickstart Kieran Keane’s side need.
The West-Ireland province performed well against Ulster last week, eventually losing 16-8, and there were plenty of positives a fortnight ago in the 36-27 loss to Scarlets, with tries for Cian Kelleher, Tiernan O’Halloran and Jack Carty.
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