Pau takes on Castres in their Challenge Cup Pool 2 opener tonight: 19:45 kick-off
It will be the hosts first European game in nine years
Pau won the competition back in 2000
Pau will make their return to European rugby after a nine-year absence when they host Castres in their Challenge Cup Pool 2 opener tomorrow.
The French side have added two-time World Cup winner Conrad Smith and fellow New Zealander Colin Slade as they look to make an impact both on the domestic and continental stage.
Pau were winners of this competition in 2000, beating this weekend’s opponents in the final, the only-ever meeting between these two sides in this competition, while the two sides also met at the semi-final stage of the Shield tournament in 2003, with Castres coming out on top over two legs 12 years ago.
The home side currently sits just above the Top 14 relegation zone after taking three wins from their first eight games, while Castres sit two places and two points above them.
But Pau will be looking for an improvement on their last outing where they came close to squandering a healthy lead in a 33-31 win over fellow strugglers Agen last time out.
Meanwhile, Castres picked up a hugely impressive win last time out, thrashing in-form Racing 34-8 in one of the shocks of the season. That victory ended a run of three straight Top 14 defeats.
Castres have lost their last two away from home in Europe, but have never lost three away games in a row in this competition. But Pau have impressively won 20 of their 22 home games in the Challenge Cup, including all six at home against French opposition. If that record counts for anything, expect a hard-earned home win. Pau by 10.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Pau: Julien Fumat
The 28-year-old has been an ever-present for Pau this season, playing in all eight of their domestic games this year, and he has been in good form, bagging two tries amongst a string of steely performances during the early weeks of the 2015/16 season. The Frenchman, the hosts’ captain on Sunday, helped his side to promotion last year and will be relishing the chance to pit his wits against some of Europe’s best teams and will be looking to nail down his place in the team on their European adventure.
Castres: Romain Cabannes
The former Pau man is a storming centre who will captain Castres this weekend. Aged 31, he is arguably playing some of the best rugby of his career and is one of the Midi-Pyrénées outfit’s longest-serving players having joined the club from Biarritz in 2009 and will be hoping to build further on his 65 points in 144 appearances this year.
Pau: 15 Charly Malie, 14 Sereli Bobo, 13 Julien Fumat (c), 12 Jale Vatubua,11 Elijah Niko, 10 Damien Traille, 9 Thibault Daubagna, 1 Chris King, 2 Quentin Lespiaucq Brettes, 3 Giorgi Natsarashvili, 4 Claude Dry, 5 Daniel Ramsay, 6 Loic Bernad, 7 Josefa Ulago Domolailai, 8 James Coughlan.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bianchin, 17 Jérémy Hurou, 18 Sylvain Charlet, 19 Brice Monzeglio, 20 Cameron Pierce, 21 Samuel Marques, 22 Watisoni Votu, 23 Marika Vunibaka.
Castres: 15 Julien Dumora, 14 Romain Martial, 13 Florian Vialelle, 12 Romain Cabannes (c), 11 Remi Grosso, 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9 Antoine Dupont, 1 Saimone Taumoepeau, 2 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 3 Lucas Martinez, 4 Christophe Samson, 5 Victor Moreaux, 6 Piula Faasalele, 7 Mathieu Babillot, 8 Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements: 16 Mathieu Bonello, 17 Eric Sione, 18 Mihaita Lazar, 19 Anthony Jelonch, 20 Theo Hannoyer, 21 Thomas Combezou, 22Louis Decrop, 23Julien Seron.