Preview: Gloucester v Stade Français – 12/05/2017

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – MAY 11: The ERC Challenge Cup trophy is displayed ahead of the ERC Challenge Cup final between Gloucester and Stade Francais at Murrayfield Stadium on May 11, 2017 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The European finals weekend gets underway on Friday as Gloucester and Stade Français fight to be crowned Challenge Cup champions.

Murrayfield is the setting for the match, with the Cherry and Whites slight underdogs with the bookies in a game that could go either way.

Domestically it’s been a poor season for both as they finished ninth and seventh respectively, thus missing out on the play-offs. But this is an opportunity for Gloucester to put some gloss on a campaign that has seen plenty of ups and downs, one positive being their semi-final win.

Speaking of ups and downs, it has arguably been worse for Stade Français particularly with the off-field goings on that saw a merger with Racing 92 confirmed and then scrapped. Again though, their passage to this final was one to savour as they edged Bath in a strong display.

In team news, Gloucester boss David Humphreys has made six changes to the line-up that started against Exeter Chiefs last weekend.

There are three tweaks to the backline and three in the pack as Gloucester seek to win the trophy they last won back in 2015 and qualify for the play-offs for the final spot in next season’s Champions Cup.

In the backs, Billy Burns and Tom Marshall both return from injury and Willi Heinz replaces Greig Laidlaw at scrum-half and will skipper the side. Meanwhile, Matt Scott will return to Murrayfield, a stadium he knows well, having represented both Edinburgh and Scotland there.

Up front, Josh Hohneck comes in for Paddy McAllister and Jeremy Thrush replaces Mariano Galarza. Finally, Ross Moriarty returns in the back row having sat out the Exeter game and will line up alongside Lewis Ludlow and Ben Morgan.

Stade Français meanwhile have stuck with the same backline that started against Bath in that thrilling semi-final victory but up front there are tweaks to the starting XV, as Heinke van der Merwe and Remi Bonfils replace Zurabi Zhvania and Laurent Panis in the front-row.

The final change to that side sees Jonathan Ross come in for Raphael Lakafia on the flank, with the latter hoping to make an impact off the bench alongside the likes of Willem Alberts, Julien Dupuy, and Morné Steyn.

Form: The final will be the fourth match between the clubs. Stade Français have won all three previous meetings, two European Cup pool stage games in 2004/05 and a Challenge Cup quarter-final in 1998. Gloucester are appearing in the Challenge Cup final for the third time, and are also looking for a third title having won their two previous appearances (v London Irish 2006 and v Edinburgh 2015). This will be Stade’s fifth European final but they are still striving for their first trophy, losing two European Cup finals (v Leicester 2001 and v Toulouse 2005) and two Challenge Cup finals (v Harlequins 2011 and v Leinster 2013). The Cherry and Whites have won 10 of their last 11 games against Top 14 opposition in the Challenge Cup, their only loss in the run coming against La Rochelle in Round 4 this season. This will be the eighth Anglo-French final in the Challenge Cup, with Premiership clubs winning five of the previous seven.

The teams:

Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (c), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Josh Hohneck
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Paddy McAllister, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Freddie Clarke, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Henry Trinder

Stade Français: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Waisea Vuidarvuwalu, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Djibril Camara, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Jonathan Ross, 6 Antoine Burban, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Remi Bonfils, 1 Heinke van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Laurent Panis, 17 Zurabi Zhvania, 18 Paul Alo Emile, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Raphael Lakafia, 21 Julien Dupuy, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Jérémy Sinzelle

Date: Friday, May 12
Venue: Murrayfield
Kick-off: 20:00 BST (19:00 GMT)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)


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