by James Dodd
European Challenge Cup: Ospreys v Castres
Date: Saturday, December 12th, 2020
Kick Off: 20:00
Venue: Liberty Stadium
OSPREYS start their European Challenge Cup campaign as they welcome Castres to the Liberty Stadium.
George North, Justin Tipuric and Sam Parry all start after featuring in Wales’ Autumn Nations Cup win over Italy a week ago, whilst Nicky Smith is on the bench.
Alun Wyn Jones is out and will likely miss Ospreys’ remaining matches in 2020 after sustaining a knee injury in the Italian match.
Ospreys: D Evans, G North, T Thomas-Wheeler, K Williams, M Protheroe, S Myler, S Venter; G Thomas, S Parry, M Fia, L Ashley, R Davies, W Griffiths, Tipuric (captain), D Lydiate.
Replacements: I Phillips, N Smith, T Botha, A Beard, M Morris, M Aubrey, S Williams, L Morgan.
Castres: C Clavières, B Guillemin, F Vialelle, V Botitu, A Batlle, T Fortunel, J Fernandez; K Kornath, M Vaipulu (captain), S Onambele, H Nkinsi, RPieterse, D Kotze, K Firmin, J Nostadt.
Replacements: P Colonna, W De Benedittis, S Dube, F Vanverberghe, D Clerc, B Bourgier, L Le Brun, A Amans.
After an incredibly frustrating season last year, there will be more hope going into Europe after their league start. They currently sit 3rd on 13 points in conference A.
Their recent history in Europe has been nothing to cheer about, with six defeats from six in the European Champions Cup last season. However, their opponents were in fact Saracens, Munster and Racing 92.
A 21-25 defeat to Stade Francais at the Principality Stadium in 2017 was the Swansea based sides last knock out game.
A brilliant performance from captain Justin Tipuric will certainly give the Welsh team a boost in the back row, especially with the experience of Dan Lydiate at the back of the scrum.
The attacking ability of Dan Evans, Keiran Williams and Mat Protheroe will also excite Toby Booth if given enough space.
— Ospreys (@ospreys) December 12, 2020
The visitors make the trip to Wales sitting 12th in the top 14, after only winning three encounters out of their first nine.
The team from southern France managed to top their Challenge Cup group last season. However, their quarter final away to Leicester Tigers was cancelled and the Tigers were given a bye due to a number of positive covid tests in the camp.
Just like any French team, Castres will look to try and dominate upfront, utilising the scrum and maul.
They also have some flair out in the backs, including Fijian inside centre Vilimoni Botitu.
It’s the first time these sides have met in this competition, with every other meeting taking place in the Champions Cup. Historically, French teams don’t travel that well and don’t tend to prioritise this competition over the Top 14 back at home.
There might be problems upfront at times, but I believe the experience of captain Tipuric and Lydiate, as well as the likes of North will get the home side the start in this competition they want. Ospreys by 10.