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Oyonnax will prove tough nut to crack
WITH Top 14 victories over European powerhouses Toulon, Clermont Auvergne and Biarritz already under their belts this term, newly-promoted Oyonnax are clearly no push-overs.
Warriors’ Amlin Challenge Cup opener in the foothills of the Jura Mountains will be nothing like previous trips to European rugby out-posts such as Bucharest Wolves, Olympus Rugby de Madrid or Crociati Parma.
The French top-flight newcomers had already claimed the impressive scalps of Clermont, Castres and Biarritz before toppling a star-studded mega-money Toulon side 25-22 at their Charles-Mathon Stadium to pull off the shock of the season so far across the Channel.
Worcester centre Alex Grove, who will make his first start of the season after recovering from a troublesome groin problem, is expecting a tough contest, especially as all French sides tend to raise their game when on home soil.
Grove said: “Oyonnax won’t be the same easy challenge that Gernika were last year.
“They have rolled over Clermont and Toulon this season, so they are clearly making an impact in the Top 14 and we will have to put out a decent side and try to compete — it won’t be the case of a 40 or 50-point win.
“I think there will be a couple of guys rested and challenges given to younger, fresher-faced guys.”
Oyonnax is about an hour’s drive from Geneva and has a population of 25,000.
The team plays at the 6,000-capacity Stade Charles-Mathon and are currently 12th in the Top 14 having won promotion in April.
Grove is happy to be back playing after a frustrating time with injuries in the early stages of this season.
He said: “I’ve had to be patient and fortunately I’ve not been injured before — these have been the first games I’ve missed through injury, which is unusual in the modern game.
“I’ve been very lucky and to miss the first four games isn’t too bad when you see people having season-long injuries.
“I had a bit of tendonitis in my groin last year, so had an operation in the off-season and was recovering well over the summer when we were training over at Malvern, but then I tore it again at the end of July, which put me out for eight or nine weeks.
“It is not necessarily the results that have been frustrating, but more the performances as a whole.
“The fans realise we are fully capable of beating Newcastle and London Irish, for example, at home and everything is in place for us to do that, but it is us who have not delivered.”