We are back to European rugby as an appetiser for the 6 Nations. The important christmas block of games is behind us and it’s cup rugby time. Here are my predictions for round 5 of the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
If you want to remind yourself where we are here is a link to my review of how things stood after the last round.
Cardiff Blues v Rugby Rovigo
Rovigo have lost all of their games so far and I can’t see that changing this weekend. Cardiff are fighting it out with London Irish to top the group so they will be going all guns for a TBP win to apply the pressure. As long as they remember that you have to build a win and not throw the ball around too early it should be a regulation win.
Cardiff Blues win
Bordeaux Begles v London Welsh
London Welsh have also lost all their games but haven’t even picked up a bonus point. So again I’m backing a regulation home win. The margin of victory though will depend on how seriously Bordeaux are taking this competition. Their chances of progression are slim and they are fighting it out for the playoff spots in the Top14 so will probably rest a lot of players.
Bordeaux Begles win
London Irish v Grenoble
Grenoble are only 2 points behind Bordeaux, so even though they could still top the group with 2 TBP wins and not allowing Irish or Cardiff to get a LBP. I can’t see them sending a full strength side to England. Irish are coming off the back of a moral boosting win over Exeter and don’t have to worry about relegation so can throw everything at this competition. I’m predicting a home win but they will want to improve their kicking at goal.
London Irish win
Stade Francais v Bucharest Wolves
Wolves are another team with only a bonus point so far. I hope that they enjoy their trip to the French capital and getting to face some big names but I can’t see them leaving with any points. Stade have been up and down in this competition but they should take 5 points from this however much they are concentrating on Top14 home field advantage.
Stade Francais win
Gloucester Rugby v US Oyonnax
Gloucester are one of only 2 unbeaten sides in this year’s competition. A win here will guarantee them qualification for the quarter finals. Also Oyonnax are only 2 points clear of the relegation places and so will be sending over a weakened side. This one have home win written all over it.
Gloucester Rugby win
Newcastle Falcons v Newport Gwent Dragons
So far the games have been fairly easy to call with perhaps only Irish v Grenoble having any chance of being close. This one on the other hand should be an enthralling encounter. Top two in their group with neither having any chance of silverware domestically, this is their chance. I’m think it will be close with home field advantage giving Falcons the win.
Newcastle Falcons win
Zebre v Brive
This is another one that is hard to call but for the opposite reasons. Zebre are bottom of the Pro12 having lost home and away to Treviso recently. Those are Treviso’s only wins this season. Brive have lost all their games in this competition and are down the bottom of the Top14. I think Brive will rest all their players and so I’m going for the home win.
Bayonne v La Rochelle
Both these teams aren’t going to qualify from the group and are embroiled in the Top14 relegation scrap. When they met in La Rochelle at the end of November it was a draw and again I think it will be close. I have gone with Bayonne seconds to beat La Rochelle seconds as French teams never like to lose at home.
Lyon v Edinburgh
Edinburgh are the other team that has won all their games in this competition so far even if they have not picked up any TBPs. With Lyon at the wrong end of the Top14 table it should be easy to call. But Lyon have won their last three home games including beating the top 2 Top14 teams in Clermont and Stade France. So I’m going for an upset in this one with Lyon taking a close win.
Connacht Rugby v Exeter Chiefs
It was only after I had made all my picks that I realise this is the only away win that I have predicted. Being a Chiefs fan have I been ruled by my heart rather than my head? Exeter have been flying high in the premiership but have lost their last 4 games. Connacht are going well in the Pro12 but also have lost 3 out of their last 4 games. Both sides will probably say domestic matters are the most important, as they aim for the Champions Cup next season. Maybe I have gone with my heart more than head but I think Chiefs have the quality to get the away win.
Exeter Chiefs win