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Bath give Burgess centre stage

Sam Burgess will make his full debut for Bath on Friday night accompanied by a ringing endorsement from the Aviva Premiership club's coaching staff.

Former rugby league star Burgess features at inside centre against Recreation Ground visitors Montpellier in the European Champions Cup.

Burgess' previous two Bath appearances were off the bench following his recovery from a fractured cheekbone injury suffered during Australia's NRL grand final in early October.

The 25-year-old will be partnered in midfield by Jonathan Joseph as Bath look to complete a quickfire Pool Four double over Montpellier after beating them 30-5 in France six days ago.

Burgess' competitive rugby union career so far totals around 50 minutes, but he is already being touted as a contender for England in this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship.

A week before the Six Nations starts, England Saxons will face the Irish Wolfhounds in Cork, and it is thought Burgess is likely to make the Saxons squad for that January 30 encounter.

"Sam getting more game-time is a massive bonus for us," Bath head coach Mike Ford said.

"He is going to be our enforcer, with the way he defends. We're pleased where he is.

"It's a bit disappointing that it has been raining in both games he came on in (against Harlequins and Montpellier) because we didn't have much chance to use him. But what he has done, he's done well so far."

And Ford's coaching colleague Toby Booth added: "The best way for Sam to learn is by getting out there. But it is not just about Sam, it is about what is best for Bath.

"We know from last week that he will bring plenty of physicality, and it will be good for our game-plan to have that.

"It's a strategic decision to get him out there for more minutes."

Elsewhere in the Bath line-up, South Africa flanker Francois Louw makes his first appearance of the season after being injured on international duty in September, with forwards Paul James, David Wilson and Dave Attwood also starting following bench appearances last week.

Bath put themselves back in the Pool Four mix by crushing Montpellier last time out, but they realistically need a bonus point triumph on Friday to ensure they keep pressure on group leaders Toulouse and second-placed Glasgow.

If that happens - and Bath beat Toulouse away and Glasgow at home next month - then they could secure a quarter-final place despite losing their first two group games in October.

Montpellier, meanwhile, are already out of the last-eight running following three successive defeats, while speculation remains that their head coach - former France scrum-half Fabien Galthie - could be on borrowed time in the hotseat.

In the European Challenge Cup on Friday, Newport Gwent Dragons can maintain their quarter-final hopes in Pool Three by beating Rodney Parade visitors Bucharest, but Newcastle remain group favourites.

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