We are getting down to the pointy end of the European Rugby Challenge Cup group stages. This is where some teams start taking the competition seriously as they can see quarter final qualification in sight. Also it’s the only or best chance of silverware for many of these sides.
On a side note, I noticed that French sides have won this competition in three out of the last four years. Perhaps it’s time to lost the stereotype that we have of French sides not caring about European competitions. There are still sides that don’t care but it’s not all sides.
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Stade Francais v Zebre Rugby Club – Stade Francais by 5
Two sides with only one win each and are out of the competition. Stade though have found some form recently in the Top14. They have 2 wins and a draw form their last three games. That’s momentum that they’ll want to keep going, especially at home. Zebre on the other hand have nothing to play for.
Castres v Dragons – Castres by 5
This is not a game that you would have picked out before the tournament started. However it’s looking like a really interesting contest as both sides look to top the Pool. Dragons are much improved under Dean Ryan and got the win whilst not playing great last weekend.
A trip to France though is very different from playing Ospreys. Castres are one fo those typical French sides that are decent at home and poor away. Lucky for them they are at home this weekend.
Agen v Wasps – Wasps by 5
At the top I talked about not stereotyping French sides. Well we can with Agen, they have really thrown the towel in this season. The only side to have conceded more points is the semipro side Calvisano.
I know that I have only gone for a relatively small winning margin but Wasps haven’t been great this season either. The bonus points at the weekend in the Premiership will have been a nice tonic but still they are struggling to fire. Lots of great pieces that just don’t want to fit together. Still they should get a moral boosting win this weekend.
Bayonne v London Irish – Bayonne by 3
Two more sides that are out of the competition already. Also two sides that will be worrying about relegation in their domestic competition more than this game. Who’ll select the stronger side? Probably Bayonne as they are at home.
Calvisano v Pau – Pau by 10
A lot of what I said about the previous game applies here too. The only difference is that as the fully professional side Pau should have too much skill for Calvisano to cope with.
Bordeaux Begles v Edinburgh – Bordeaux Begles by 7
This is one of the games to catch this weekend (if it’s available on TV and you can hear how the Attacking Scrum and I would fix Europe). Both sides are going aiming to top the pool and this game will go a long way to deciding that.
For Bordeaux the Top 14 is their priority as they are topping it at the moment. However I still think that they will put out a strong enough side to sin at home. Edinburgh are improving how the travel but still have someway to go.
Worcester Warriors v Enisei-STM – Worcester Warriors by 20
Enisei, like Calvisano, are simply an easy TBP win for the professional sides. The mystique of the Russian sides has gone now and teams know how to deal with them.
Bristol v Brive – Bristol by 20
Bristol have really been taking this tournament by storm. Currently they are the top seed and they will want to retain that position. Getting home advantage once we are in the knockout stages helps with recovery and all of that sort of stuff. Bristol have only missed out on the TBP once in four games and I don’t think it will happen again here.
Scarlets v Toulon – Scarlets by 3
This is clash of the round and looks more like a Heineken Champions Cup tie than a Challenge Cup one. Two sides that are real chances to win this competition. This is really a must win game for Scarlets to give them a chance of topping the pool.
There’s a little less pressure on Toulon as they will be going through whatever the result is this weekend. A real cracker and I’m backing home advantage plus more desperation.
Leicester Tigers v Cardiff Blues – Leicester Tigers by 3
Tigers might have the worst record in the Premiership but somehow are perfect in Europe! Cardiff are looking like they are on an upward trajectory but it’s from a fairly low point. They pushed Scarlets close at the weekend but didn’t get the result. I think they’ll do something similar with Tigers this coming weekend.
33 from 40 or 83% correct so far. Perhaps this isn’t such a lottery competition after all 🙂
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