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We'll rise to Challenge: Ackermann



Main men: Head coach Johan Ackermann (left) with Director of Rugby David Humphreys

Main men: Head coach Johan Ackermann (left) with Director of Rugby David Humphreys

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Main men: Head coach Johan Ackermann (left) with Director of Rugby David Humphreys

Johan Ackermann has predicted "a great final" when Gloucester and Cardiff Blues bid for European Challenge Cup glory in Bilbao tonight.

Gloucester will contest their third Challenge Cup final in four seasons, while they won the tournament in 2006 and 2015.

And the Blues, who are without captain Gethin Jenkins and his fellow Wales international Alex Cuthbert through injuries, are looking to recapture a trophy they last won eight years ago.

Gloucester, who have strong Ulster links in Director of Rugby David Humphreys and props Paddy McAllister and John Afoa, ended their Aviva Premiership campaign with successive comprehensive defeats against Bath and Saracens, and head coach Ackermann said: "Obviously we've had two disappointments in the past two weeks.

"But if you look at the Challenge Cup in isolation, we've played well, except against Pau, and got into the quarter-finals, which was a game that stood out for me because the guys did well to give us that home semi-final.

"We've overcome that hurdle and given ourselves a chance in the final, and hopefully the players will embrace this and put in a good performance to give ourselves an opportunity to lift the trophy and make everybody proud of the season.

"Cardiff are deservedly in the final. They are a team with a lot of threats, a very good loose (forward) trio and a very good back-line.

"They are a side who will fight for everything, and I think it will be a great final between two sides that play a decent brand of rugby."

Lock Ed Slater captains a Gloucester side showing one change from the team beaten by Bath, with Ruan Ackermann - Johan's son - starting at number eight instead of former England international Ben Morgan.

Flanker Ellis Jenkins, who will be Wales co-captain for Tests against South Africa and Argentina next month, leads the Blues in Gethin Jenkins' absence.

Rhys Gill takes over from Jenkins at loosehead prop, with wing Blaine Scully replacing Cuthbert and tighthead Taufa'ao Filise also gaining a start.

"It has been a great achievement to reach this stage, but we will now settle for nothing less than winning," said Blues head coach Danny Wilson.

"Gloucester will be highly motivated for a European final, will be well prepared and emotionally in a place that they will be bouncing to try to turn us over, but that will be no different to ourselves.

"It is great that we have already secured Champions Cup rugby for next season, and to win this competition would be the icing on the cake, but we are under no illusions that we will have to be at our best to beat Gloucester," he added.

Belfast Telegraph