Fixture: Section Paloise v London Irish
Competition: EPCR Challenge Cup, Pool C
Date: Saturday 11th December 2021
Stadium: Stade du Hameau
London Irish embark on their European Rugby Challenge Cup journey this Saturday, with a visit to Béarn to take on Pool C opponents Section Paloise at the Stade du Hameau.
Irish have lost just once in their last eight games and are unbeaten since October 30th, with a six-try, bonus-point win over Newcastle Falcons last weekend confirming their fourth successive victory in all competitions.
The Exiles have won five of their last six encounters against Section Paloise, also known as Pau, the last of which came in last season’s truncated edition of the tournament in a 26-17 win at the Brentford Community Stadium.
Pau have reached the knockout stages of the tournament once in their last six attempts, where they were eliminated at the semi-final stages by Cardiff Blues in 2018.
Pau, who won the Challenge Cup in the 1999/00 season and were finalists in 2005, currently sit ninth in the Top 14, having lost only one of their last four league outings.
Their most recent result against Toulon ended 16 points apiece, with Beka Gorgadze’s converted try two minutes from time earning two points against their 10th-placed rivals.
Saturday’s hosts boast former World Rugby Junior Player of the Year Jordan Joseph in their set-up this season, with the back-row forward on loan from Racing 92.
The boss – Sébastien Piqueronies
43-year-old Sébastien Piqueronies arrived at the Stade du Hameau back in May of this year, for his first major managaerial role.
Piqueronies worked his way through the French national team ranks in a span of four years, coaching the U17s and U19s at the Marcoussis Rugby Centre, before eventually taking over the U20s side.
He led the French U20s team to their first-ever World Junior Championship titles in 2018 and 2019, before taking up his post in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine over the summer.
As a player, Piqueronies had to retire at the tender age of 25 due to injuries and never made it to a professional level. Nonetheless, he worked nurturing talents such as current French half-back pairing Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack in one of his first coaching jobs at the Toulouse Hope Centre.
One to Watch – Antoine Hastoy
Pau’s first-choice 10 Antoine Hastoy converted the extras to Beka Gorgadze’s try to seal an important two points at home to Toulon last weekend, with the clutch kick keeping his side above their visitors in the Top 14 standings in ninth.
Hastoy has notched five double-figure points returns in 10 appearances this season; including two 20+ point games in wins against Lyon, where the fly-half kicked all 21 points against Pierre Magnoni’s side, and also a ‘full house’ against Biarritz, with at least one try, conversion, penalty and drop goal in his personal haul.
The Bayonne-born star, who will depart at the end of this season, made his debut for Pau in the 2015/16 season, making 93 appearances at just 24-years-old, whilst picking up his first international cap for France against Australia in July.
His overall 100-point haul in the league this year puts him joint-fourth alongside Montpellier’s Paolo Garbisi in points scored in the Top 14, with Hastoy endeavoring to match his achievement as last year's regular season top points scorer in the division.
Sébastien Piqueronies praised the character of his side to snatch a late draw at home to Toulon last weekend, despite believing there was more to take from the affair for his side.
“The result may be logical, but my disappointment takes precedence,” Piqueronies stated.
“The goal was not to earn only two points – this draw is the strength of character of this group, which is able to react strongly.
“This is the strength of the Section, not to give up anything, against all odds, against certain decisions that cost us dearly.”
(Preview compiled by Ryan Fitzgerald Nolan)