Ruddock rests two for French test

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The Independent Online

European rugby starts at Sixways tonight, with Worcester playing host to Montpellier in the opening match of the Amlin Challenge Cup, as the second-tier competition is now called. "We go into our European challenge buoyed by a reasonable start," Mike Ruddock, Worcester's director of rugby, said yesterday, after naming a starting XV from which centres Alex Grove and Sam Tuitupou have been afforded a rest.

With 10 points in the bag, Ruddock's Warriors have been in better shape on the domestic league front than their closest geographical rivals. Down the M5 at Kingsholm, Gloucester have been getting ready for tomorrow night's opener in the top-tier Heineken Cup – a Pool Two fixture at home to Newport-Gwent Dragons with a run of indiscipline and inauspicious form.

On Monday, the Cherry and Whites lost the services of Olivier Azam for the next 12 weeks, the French hooker being banned for kicking England captain Steve Borthwick. Lock Adam Eustace was banned for three weeks for stamping in the same match. With the season barely started, Gloucester have had four players banned, had six sent to the sin bin, and have conceded 72 penalties in five games.

"I am expecting the lads to show their mental toughness and character," Gareth Delve, the club's co-captain, said by way of a rallying call yesterday. The Dragons have hardly had a trouble-free preparation either. The region's defence coach, Colin Charvis, has been charged with drink driving after being stopped on Sunday night.

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