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Club Rugby

Bath determined to maintain Challenge Cup record


Bath will aim to maintain a proud Amlin Challenge Cup record when they tackle quarter-final opponents Stade Français at the Recreation Ground today.

The 2008 tournament winners have secured at least a semi-final place in their four previous Challenge Cup campaigns, and the penultimate knockout stage again awaits if they make home advantage count.

“You look around this weekend, and a lot of clubs have got nothing, but we are here and preparing for a European quarter-final against one of the biggest clubs in Europe over the years,” the Bath captain, Stuart Hooper, said.

“Everyone is really excited about it and itching to get out there in front of the home support, which should be awesome. I am sure for a quarter-final of this magnitude there will be a bumper crowd there and it will be pretty noisy, too.”

Bath, beaten Challenge Cup finalists in 2003 and 2007, will switch wing Horacio Agulla to inside centre instead of an injured Matt Banahan, with Nick Abendanon and Tom Biggs filling the wing slots and young prospect Ollie Devoto continuing at full-back.

Former Stade Français player Simon Taylor, meanwhile, makes his first appearance since suffering a knee injury in December, packing down in the back-row alongside Francois Louw and Ben Skirving.

And the back-row battle is likely to prove key, with Stade boasting a powerful unit of Pierre Rabadan, David Lyons and Sergio Parisse, while a strong bench should feature Julien Dupuy, Julian Arias and Paul Warwick.

“I’ve tried to tell the players that the occasion is for other people,” Hooper added. “You will look back and, hopefully, enjoy it if you win, but the occasion is a result of how you perform.

“So we will look at trying to get our individual roles right, and then the magnitude of the occasion will take care of itself.”

Bath’s former Ireland and Munster scrum-half Peter Stringer will make his 97th European appearance, and he remains an integral performer 15 years after a Munster Heineken Cup debut against Perpignan.

“Stade Français will be an extremely tough challenge, but we have to make sure we come up with a plan to counter what they do and carry on in Europe,” he said.

“The reason I came over to Bath in the first place was to prove to myself and to others that I could still play at the highest level, and European rugby is exactly that. “I am not happy to be sitting at home on the fringes. I am at my happiest playing, and I still have that ambition.

“I think my time at Bath has gone really well so far, and this is another step up again against Stade Français, who are a quality side. These types of big games are the reason that I came away from friends and family in the first place, and I hope it continues and we get the right result.”