With the international games out-of-the-way we are back into European rugby. Here are my predictions for this weekend’s rugby challenge cup games.
It’s been over a month so if you want to remind yourself what happened in the last round, here’s a link to my review.
So just as a reminder we have 2 weeks of european rugby before heading back to domestic matters over Christmas. These two rounds are home and away against the same opposition and really can make or break a campaign.
La Rochelle v Exeter Chiefs
La Rochelle are struggling at the bottom of a packed Top 14 table, only 4 points cover the bottom 5 teams. So clearly this won’t be a priority for them. Exeter are the opposite riding high in 3rd place in the Premiership and so again this won’t be a priority. so there will be squad rotation for both sides. I wrongly backed the Chiefs on their last trip to France but I’m going to risk it again as they are on a roll at the moment.
Exeter Chiefs win
Grenoble v Rugby Rovigo
Both these teams lost their opening two games and so this competition is probably over for them both. Rovigo though will be making the most of this as they don’t get to play the top european clubs that often.
Grenoble are going well in the Top 14 and even though this competition will be way down their list of priorities, I think that in front of their home supporters they will have too much for the men from Italy.
Brive v US Oyonnax
An all French battle that I feel could go either way. Brive are having a harder season and have already lost their opening two games but are at home. Oyonnax are sat just above the congested bottom of the Top 14 table and already have a win to their name. I’m going to go with the old cliche of French teams not trying as hard away and back the home team.
Newcastle Falcons v Stade Francais
Stade are flying high in the Top 14 and will field a quality side who ever they put out. Falcons are on a good run of form and currently lead the group. I see this as Falcons best chance of silverware and now that they are safe in the Premiership could really give this a go. Stade just don’t seem to care about Europe and having already lost at home to Dragons, I’m going out on a limb and backing Newcastle.
Newcastle Falcons win
Bucharest Wolves v Newport Gwent Dragons
The Romanians will be making the most of these few games they get against the bigger sides in Europe. Whilst Dragons don’t have the same aura as Stade it will still be a big game for Wolves. Dragons are having a torrid time but I think their greater level of professionalism and experience will carry them through.
Newport Gwent Dragons win
Cardiff Blues v London Irish
Blues and Irish both took two wins from the first two games so this double header really is going to decide the group. Both sides are having a tough season and will see this as an opportunity to shine. With the Blues having only won against Italian opposition in the Pro 12 I’m going to back Irish to build some momentum from this competition.
London Irish win
Connacht Rugby v Bayonne
Connacht have always been the little region from Ireland but this season they are going well. Still behind the other three Irish regions but in the top half of the Pro 12. Bayonne are just at the top of the relegation group in the Top 14. So I think Bayonne will rest the more players for this away trip to the far side of Ireland.
Connacht Rugby win
Bordeaux Begles v Lyon
Bordeaux have lost three on the bounce in the Top 14 but are still sitting comfortably in mid-table. Lyon on the other hand are part of the relegation scrap even if they had a good win last weekend against Montpellier. When these two sides met at the start of the season Bordeaux won 18-9 and I’m going for the home team again.
Bordeaux Begles win
Edinburgh v London Welsh
Edinburgh are having a middling season so far, getting enough wins to keep them mid-table but losing to most of the top teams. Add to that a loss against Zebre last timeout and Welsh might be thinking they are in with a chance of their first win of the season. However the Welsh coaches have already said that Premiership points are more important. So considering that and with Edinburgh knowing that two wins will go a long way to winning the group this is an Edinburgh win.
Gloucester Rugby v Zebre
Zebre picked up a much needed win over Edinburgh last weekend but that has been one of the few highlights of the season. Gloucester are looking like being mid-table in the Premiership so this could be their best chance of silverware. With two wins already in the bank, a double here would put them clear at the top of their group. So I can see Gloucester putting come effort into this competition and picking up the win.
Gloucester Rugby win
Here is a link to my round 3 Champions Cup Predictions.
I can see Gloucester beating Zebre at home. Maybe. And even by a fair margin. (Maybe). But it’s also not impossible that Zebre win. I’m going for a Zebre win against Gloucester the week after in Parma, anyway!
Thats a big call, I see Gloucester as one if the favorits for winning this.
Gloucester are one of the favourites, sure. But all that’s still missing for Zebre is a bit of consistency. They’ve beaten Ulster and Edinburgh at home and….in the Challenge Cup, Brive away (after stumbling at home to Oyonnax!?). If things fall into place for them on the day, I can see them doing it against Gloucester!
Brive really would rather not be in this competition though. It’s interesting that last season I was saying that Treviso had improved and were no longer pushovers but they really have regressed. Zebre has now taken up that mantel and in this competition especially it’s about who gets selected as so many players get rested. So yes they could pick up a win but I think I’ll be backing Gloucester.