Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Hook eyes quarter-final spot

James Hook wants Gloucester to kick on from recent domestic successes and book a place in this season's European Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

Victory over Kingsholm visitors Oyonnax on Saturday would secure a last-eight spot one game inside the distance.

And after starting the year with successive Aviva Premiership wins against Exeter and Saracens - the latter success secured by Hook's long-range penalty in injury time - Gloucester are raring to go again.

"We have been given a huge confidence boost," Wales international Hook said. " We beat a good side in Exeter, and we beat a champion side in Saracens.

"We have to build from those results. The atmosphere was brilliant against Saracens - I have never known an atmosphere like it at Kingsholm - and we now move back to European competition.

"We have to try and get a home quarter-final, and we know Oyonnax are a tough team, but we need to go again."

Gloucester rugby director David Humphreys' team selection reflects the importance of Saturday's Pool Five game, with Hook - who moves from fly-half to full-back - being joined by fellow internationals like Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May, Greig Laidlaw, Richard Hibbard and John Afoa, while Gareth Evans replaces injured England number eight Ben Morgan.

Humphreys said: "The two recent wins have given some real self-belief to the squad, and Europe has brought the best out of the team so far this season.

"For us now, it's about making sure we are as well prepared for Oyonnax as we were for Saracens last week.

"Training has gone well, and we're looking forward to hopefully getting the win which would ensure that we win the pool."

London Irish, now under the guidance of interim head coach Glenn Delaney following rugby director Brian Smith's departure earlier this week, will keep the heat on Pool One rivals Cardiff Blues if they beat Madejski Stadium visitors Grenoble on Saturday.

Irish show two changes from the side that beat Exeter five days ago, with Jebb Sinclair starting in the second-row and centre Eamonn Sheridan replacing Eoin Griffin.

In Pool Three, Newcastle will overtake Saturday's Kingston Park visitors Newport Gwent Dragons as group leaders with victory on Tyneside, but the Welsh side are likely to provide testing opposition.

"I made it to the semi-final of the Heineken Cup as a player with Gloucester and the quarter-finals with Sale, and the pool stages were the hardest parts," Dragons head coach Kingsley Jones said.

"I have been to Newcastle many times as a player and a coach, and it's a tough place to go, but I am sure we will rise to the challenge."

Edinburgh, meanwhile, will remain top of Pool Four if they defeat Lyon on Saturday, with Sunday's action taking Pool Two leaders Exeter to Galway for a clash against their closest group rivals Connacht.


From Belfast Telegraph