Harlequins kick off European Challenge Cup season aiming to bounce back


Harlequins kick off the 2016-17 European Challenge Cup season on Thursday and will be aiming to reach the Murrayfield finale as they seek to make up for last season's disappointment.

Having suffered a 26-19 defeat to Montpellier in the previous campaign's final in Lyon, Quins, the competition's most successful club, are among the front-runners to lift the trophy.

The Premiership side get their challenge underway by entertaining Stade Francais at Twickenham Stoop, and director of rugby John Kingston is excited to begin the latest bid for silverware.

He said: "For the third year in a row, Harlequins will kick-off the European season and the squad is hugely excited to return to The Stoop as we park the Premiership for a couple of weeks.

"Stade are a team we know very well, our previous meetings have made for some mouth-watering battles and tomorrow's match will be another great occasion under the lights at The Stoop."

Quins have been drawn in Pool 5, where, along with Stade Francais, they will come up against 2015 runners-up Edinburgh and Romanian qualifiers Timisoara Saracens.

The likes of England internationals Mike Brown, Marland Yarde, Chris Robshaw and Danny Care will no doubt prove key to their ambitions.

However, Bath have impressed since the appointment of Todd Blackadder and will be keen to make a mark in Europe after a disappointing 2015-16 season.

With a wealth of talent in the squad and the mercurial George Ford at fly-half, Bath will be confident in Pool 4 alongside Bristol, Pau and Cardiff Blues.

Along with Stade, Brive and La Rochelle are the Top 14 sides hoping to put a dent in the Premiership pair's respective quests for glory.

Nicolas Godignon's Brive side have started the season inconsistently but will fancy their chances of progressing, having been drawn alongside Worcester Warriors, Newport Gwent Dragons and Russian outfit Enisei-STM in Pool 3.

La Rochelle, who sit second in the Top 14 table after eight matches, meanwhile, will expect to qualify from a group that includes 2015 champions Gloucester, Bayonne and Benetton Treviso.

Australian fly-half Brock James, who recently surpassed the 2,500-point mark in the French top flight, will be important to their bid.

The other pool pits Ospreys, Grenoble, Newcastle Falcons and Lyon against one another.