Harlequins and Stade Francais get ready to renew rivalry
Harlequins and Stade Francais will renew an intense rivalry on Thursday when this season's European Challenge Cup kicks off at the Twickenham Stoop.
It will be their fifth European meeting, with Quins having won the last two, including lifting the trophy following a dramatic 19-18 triumph in Cardiff five years ago.
And the Aviva Premiership club have added motivation as they return to European action following last season's Challenge Cup final defeat against Montpellier in Lyon that thwarted hopes of a fourth tournament victory.
"We want to go one better than last season," Quins rugby director John Kingston said.
"We were very proud to reach the final, but ultimately hugely disappointed, because we are not used to losing finals.
"We have a strong history with Stade Francais, so it is a wonderful fixture to start the tournament with and should provide a great night of European rugby at the Stoop.
"Stade are a team we know very well. Our previous meetings have made for some mouthwatering battles, and Thursday's match will be another great occasion under the lights."
Kingston has made three changes from the side that accounted for Premiership opponents Northampton last weekend.
Props Mark Lambert and Kyle Sinckler are both sidelined due to concussion, but England loosehead Joe Marler returns after suffering a back spasm and Will Collier packs down at tighthead prop.
Fly-half Nick Evans, meanwhile, has not recovered from a calf muscle injury suffered during the Saints game, so Tim Swiel deputises in a team that also features international stars Mike Brown, Jamie Roberts, Tim Visser and Chris Robshaw.
Stade, who currently line ninth in the French Top 14 with just three wins from eight starts, have reached two Challenge Cup finals and lost both.
But they have made their intent clear from the start in this season's 20-team tournament by naming a side that includes internationals Sergio Parisse, Jules Plisson, Paul Williams and Pascal Pape, while South African back-row forward Willem Alberts is on replacement duty.
"We do not need to look for motivation to address this challenge," skipper Pape said.
"Harlequins are a team that used to play in the European Champions Cup, so it is a strong challenge to start."