European Challenge Cup Final Preview

By Jerome Butcher

Northampton and Bourgoin meet in the final of the European Challenge Cup, kick off Friday 22 May 2009 7.45 BST

The game has been moved from Gloucester’s ground, Kingsholm, to the Stoop, home of Harlequins, in Twickenham. Concerns were raised by Bourgoin and the French club’s governing body, Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR). Fans were subsequently consulted after their semi final win over Worcester Warriors and hence the LNR requested to the ERC to change the location of the final.

“Even though we began the process of finding a suitable venue for this season’s final way back in January, and formally announced Kingsholm as the venue last Sunday, we have been open to the arguments put forward by Bourgoin who are delighted to reach this European final. To their credit Northampton Saints were very understanding and agreed to a switch as a gesture to the French club. ERC chief executive Derek McGrath said.

“With the day before the final being a Bank Holiday in France it was felt this might put pressure on their travelling fans. It was therefore agreed across the board that a switch to a London venue would be beneficial to the Bourgoin fans.”

McGrath added: “ERC would like to acknowledge the magnanimous gesture by Northampton and the understanding and support of Gloucester Rugby with whom we have been preparing to stage the final. All our efforts now turn to the Twickenham Stoop, which has hosted two previous European Challenge Cup finals, and we know we can look forward to another great occasion at this fine venue”.

French international, Sebastien Chabal’s ex-club Bourgoin, booked their place in the final with a 22-11 victory over Worcester Warriors. The French scrum-half Morgan Parra kicked 17 points coupled with Coenraad Basson’s second half try they put an end to any possibility of an all-English final.

The 1997 champions, Bourgoin, caused a huge upset by defeating tournament favourites and Guinness Premiership finalists, London Irish. They thoroughly deserve their place in the final and will be aiming to reach the Heineken Cup by beating Northampton tonight. Their best ever Heineken Cup campaign came during the 2002/3 season when they finished second in their pool but still missed out on the finals.

Northampton narrowly beat Saracens in the other semi-final when Steve Myler kicked a late drop-goal to thwart a second half fightback from Sarries and see out the match 16-13. Skipper Bruce Reihana will lead Northampton who have never won European Challenge Cup but now have a chance at silverware and a place in the Heineken cup next season, having tasted victory in that competition a decade ago.

There should be a fantastic atmosphere this Friday in, what is, a very good stadium. Expect a close game but with Northampton edging it and probably a more boisterous ‘home’ crowd behind them- despite the ground change- it’s still in England, not France.

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