Staff writer

Worcester Warriors travel to French side Bourgoin tonight in the European Challenge Cup where centre Sam Tuitupou will be a significant absentee.

 The All Black has been allowed to return to New Zealand owing to a family illness. He departed this week but director of rugby Mike Ruddock is confident he will be back to face Bristol and Newcastle in the Guinness Premiership.

 Ruddock said: “It’s better that he goes now and returns next week, when we have to take jet-lag into account.”

Tuitupou’s absence will do little to scotch rumours the All Black has struggled to settle in Worcester.

 Ruddock says he knows nothing of that and expects him back on time.

 He said: “It’s the first I’ve heard about him being unsettled. It’s a family illness, nothing more sinister than that. I spoke to Sammy only the other day about the possibility of extending his contract and he seemed very keen on the idea.”

 By the time Tuitupou returns, Warriors should have progressed in the Challenge Cup, although Ruddock is taking nothing for granted. He said: “You never know quite what you’re going to get with the French. They’re a big side with a big lineout and they still like to use a driving lineout as well. They’ve also got some useful backs, so it’s going to be difficult.”

 More than 500 Warriors supporters are expected to travel to France and Ruddock is determined to give them plenty to cheer about – especially after last Sunday’s 23-6 defeat to Saracens.He said: “We expected a bit of a backlash from Saracens after they’d lost their last couple of games. We might need to have a backlash of our own in France. We fell way below our own standards last Sunday and I’m expecting a statement of intent against Bourgoin.”

 Warriors’s return match against the Frenchmen is at Sixways a week tomorrow and Ruddock expects to rotate his squad for the games, insisting injuries had dictated some those decisions.

  He is unlikely to make many changes up front, although Welsh prop Chris Horsman comes in.

 Rico Gear is set to feature, following his appearence for the Barbarians this week, and will link up with the side in London on their way out.

 Outside half Loki Crichton, who missed full training this week, is expected to play tonight but at full back in place of injured Chris Pennell who damaged his ankle against Saracens. That will enable Joe Carlisle to keep the No?10 shirt.