European Rugby Challenge Cup: Permutations Central

Challenge Cup for once looks exciting!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that this competition grates on me for many reasons. However, the tournament’s pool phase concludes next weekend with several decisions still up in the air. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on where we are and tries to predict what may unfold.

Who will make the quarter finals?

Top Eight (After Round 5)

The only side who are guaranteed a home quarter final is the top seed ASM Clermont Auvergne. The French side secured top spot in their pool with an exciting 48-40 win over Northampton Saints. After that, it is a mess with several sides still in contention for a late quarter final playoff.

Looking at the fixture list next weekend, La Rochelle if serious about this competition should account for Zebre Rugby on the road; anything else and they could be sensationally knocked out of the competition. Sale Sharks host a hapless Perpignan who have not won in a while; expecting a bonus point try win early from the Manchester based club.

Worcester Warriors have won the pool and are at home to Stade Francais who may play a second string squad for the fixture who have a remote chance of making the final playoff berth. Worcester Warriors have been methodological and should do the job based on good set piece and superior work rate.

Harlequins travel to Agen on Friday night. Agen will be delighted to see the back of this tournament; they perennially despise this competition and they will be popping the champagne corks after the final whistle. Their focus is and always will be Top 14 survival. Quins if they perform should secure a bonus point try win here with ease.

Bristol Bears and Northampton Saints have routine home fixtures against Enisei-STM and Timisoara Saracens respective. BP try wins beckon and passage to the last eight. The only team who look vulnerable and I say this because Bordeaux-Begles have played well in the tourney in recent weeks is Connacht Rugby.

The Irish province had a superb 20-18 win over Sale Sharks last weekend. Bordeaux-Begles may decide to call upon several first team stars and their abrasive pack may mean that this game is in the melting point until the third quarter. Cool nerves are required from Connacht Rugby. If Connacht Rugby were to lose, then Benetton Rugby would be main benefactor.

The two vulnerable teams for me on this final weekend are La Rochelle and Connacht Rugby but I think they are playing sufficiently well enough to get results on the road.

Playoff Verdict:

ASM Clermont Auvergne (1) vs. Connacht Rugby (8)

La Rochelle (2) vs. Northampton Saints (7)

Sale Sharks (3) vs. Bristol Bears (6)

Worcester Warriors (4) vs. Harlequins (5)