European Challenge Cup preview: Three Friday clashes, with Newcastle facing Connacht
Connacht looks to extend their lead at the top of Pool One at home against Newcastle Falcons: 19:45 kick-off
Cardiff Blues faces Montpellier with Rhys Patchell back at fly-half: 19:30 kick-off
La Rochelle welcome Zebre to Stade Marcel-Deflandre: 19:00 kick-off
CONNACHT V NEWCASTLE FALCONS
Friday 19:45, The Sportsground
Connacht will be without no fewer than 18 players, who are all unavailable with injuries, as they look to extend their lead at the top of Pool One against Newcastle Falcons on Friday night.
Ireland prop Nathan White though does returns in one of ten changes made by head coach Pat Lam, while Sean O’Brien makes his debut at flanker.
Newcastle make 11 changes to the team which lost 38-3 to Saracens in their last Premiership fixture last Sunday.
Tonga scrum-half Tane Takulua, who joined in the summer from Super Rugby side the Blues, is given a first start by the Falcons, with Mauritz Botha and England U20 lock Will Witty recalled to the second row.
Connacht lead the way in Pool 1 with two wins from two while the Falcons occupy second ahead of Brive by just one point while Russian side Enisei-STM are yet to get off the mark following two consecutive defeats.
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)
CARDIFF BLUES V MONTPELLIER
Friday 19:30, Cardiff Arms Park
Rhys Patchell returns at fly-half for Cardiff Blues in Friday’s Challenge Cup clash against Montpellier at Cardiff Arms Park.
The hosts though are without Sam Warburton, Cory Allen, Gareth Anscombe, Ellis Jenkins and Blaine Scully, who have all been ruled out through injury while Matthew Rees is suspended.
Prop Gethin Jenkins also drops to the bench after leading Blues to a morale-boosting Pro12 win over Connacht while Josh Navidi is back after injury at open-side flanker and Kristian Dacey returns at hooker to oppose South Africa’s legendary number 2 Bismarck du Plessis.
Benoit Paillaugue and Ben Lucas form a nuggety half-back combination for the visitors while Robert Ebersohn and Anthony Tuitavke are named in midfield. The attacking threat wide for Montpellier comes from wings Julien Malzieu and Timoci Nagusa while Benjamin Fall is at full-back.
Blues and Montpellier are locked level in Pool 3 on five points while unbeaten Harlequins lead the way, and winless Calvisano are bottom.
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)
LA ROCHELLE V ZEBRE
Friday 19:00, Stade Marcel Deflandre
Zebre will be looking for their second win from three games in the Challenge Cup when they face La Rochelle at Stade Marcel Deflandre.
Following their 27-8 win against Worcester, the Italians are in a promising position ahead of this fixture in France and will be looking to secure a good result ahead of the reverse game against the same opposition next week.
The hosts currently are placed bottom of Pool 4 and simply have to win while Zebre finds themselves in second but nine points behind runaway leaders Gloucester who overcame Worcester 34-20 on Thursday night.
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)