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Todd Blackadder welcomes return of Bath-Bristol rivalry

Todd Blackadder has welcomed a renewal of the rivalry between Bath and Bristol going into Thursday's European Challenge Cup west country derby.

The clubs, who first played each other 128 years ago, have not met since 2009 due to Bristol's relegation from English rugby's top flight.

But with Bristol now back in the Aviva Premiership, Thursday's Recreation Ground clash is the first of four meetings this season - two on a domestic stage and two in Europe.

"The whole team is really excited about renewing the rivalry with Bristol," Bath rugby director Blackadder said.

"It's going to be a cracking atmosphere at The Rec, and we can't wait to get out there."

Blackadder has called up the likes of wing Jeff Williams, hooker Michael van Vuuren and back-row forward Zach Mercer following last Saturday's 25-22 Pool Four victory in Pau.

Despite a short turnaround between fixtures, though, Bath have retained several of the side on duty in south-west France, including centres Jonathan Joseph and Matt Banahan, plus fly-half Rhys Priestland, who this week missed out on a place in Wales' autumn Test squad.

"We've made a few changes to the starting line-up, bringing in the likes of Zach Mercer, Jeff Williams and Michael van Vuuren, who have been going well in training, but have kept largely the same squad who beat Pau last weekend," Blackadder added.

"We were pleased with the result out in France, but we know there are key areas that we need to improve, and while we've had a modified training week due to the short turnaround, we've been working hard on those things."

Bristol, beaten at home by Cardiff Blues in their European opener last Friday, hand 20-year-old Billy Searle his first start at fly-half as rugby director Andy Robinson returns to his former club with a team showing 11 changes following that 33-20 reversal.

Among those returning are scrum-half Will Cliff, prop Anthony Perenise and number eight Jordan Crane as Bristol bid for a first victory this season in all competitions at the eighth attempt.

Elsewhere in the Challenge Cup on Thursday, Stade Francais will expect to bounce back from a heavy opening Pool Five defeat against Harlequins when they host Romanian side Timisoara Saracens, while La Rochelle entertain Pool One opponents Bayonne.

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