The European season really kicks into overdrive tonight when the Challenge Cup kicks of with Pau and Gloucester starting it all. This weekend sees the start of the European Challenge and Champions Cup.
It’s a much-changed Gloucester starting line-up for Thursday’s Challenge Cup opener away at Pau, with a couple of youngsters making their first European appearances for the club.
Only half a dozen players remain from the starting line-up from last Saturday’s 29-24 victory over Northampton – Tom Savage, Jacob Rowan, Owen Williams, David Halaifonua, Billy Twelvetrees and Henry Purdy. Savage will skipper the side.
There is a full debut for flanker Jake Polledri, while Tom Hudson will make his first European appearance for the club.
However, there is still an experienced spine to the side and a strong group of replacements which sees Australian international hooker James Hanson named in the first team squad for the first time.
Gloucester head coach Johan Ackermann admitted that European competition is a bit of a step into the unknown for him personally but one that he is looking forward to.
“I obviously don’t know much about the competition, but I watched it last year with Gloucester going all the way to the final,” he said.
“I know we’ve got a good record in the competition. But I’m excited as it’s bringing a new challenge and going to new places that you haven’t seen.
“We will have a lot of good spirit and positive energy after Saturday, as well as confidence I hope. As I say, it’s a new challenge for me personally as I haven’t coached in France before, and we’re also looking to change a few players but we’ll go with a positive mindset.
“It’s up to us. We have to recover well after Saturday, travel down there and play to our standards and look after ourselves before we worry about them too much.
“They’re a big side but also have some quality internationals, the likes of Conrad Smith etc. We may change some personnel but we have to get better in the style we play. Having analysed Saturday, there are still areas where we can improve.”
Meanwhile, home side Pau have also made several alterations to their run-on side after beating Oyonnax in the Top 14 at the weekend. Scrum-half Thibault Daubagna retains his position in the starting line-up and he will form a half-back combination with Colin Slade, who replaces fellow New Zealander Tom Taylor at fly-half.
Julien Fumat and Benson Stanley take over from Conrad Smith and Jale Vatubua as the starting centres while Romain Buros replaces Charly Malie at full-back.
Bastien Pourailly shifts from the right wing to the other flank, where he is preferred to Watisoni Votu while Frank Halai comes into the side to wear the number 14 jersey.
In the forwards, Paddy Butler shifts from openside flank to number eight, where he comes in for Steffon Armitage, while Ben Mowen takes over from Butler in the number seven jersey and Daniel Ramsay moves from lock to the blindside flank where he replaces Pierrick Gunther.
Ramsay’s spot in the second row is taken by Masalosalo Tutaia and he packs down alongside Dave Foley, who takes over from Fabrice Metz.
There’s also a brand new front row with Lourens Adriaanse and Geoffrey Moise taking over from Malik Hamadache and Thomas Domingo as the starting props, while Lucas Rey comes in for Quentin Lespiaucq at hooker.
Pau: 15 Romain Buros, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Julien Fumat, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Bastien Pourailly, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Thibault Daubagna, 8 Paddy Butler, 7 Ben Mowen, 6 Daniel Ramsay, 5 Masalosalo Tutaia, 4 Dave Foley, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Lucas Rey, 1 Geoffrey Moise
Replacements: 16 Laurent Bouchet, 17 Jérémy Hurou, 18 Malik Hamadache, 19 Fabrice Metz, 20 Sean Dougall, 21 Clovis Lebail, 22 Brandon Fajardo, 23 Florian Nicot
Gloucester: 15 Tom Hudson, 14 Henry Purdy, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 David Halaifonua, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Freddie Clarke, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Jake Polledri, 5 Tom Denton, 4 Tom Savage (c), 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Paddy McAllister
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Henry Trinder