Challenge Cup Quarter Finals Taking Shape

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From Last Word on Rugby, James Barker

It was an interesting round five in the European Challenge Cup, with disappointing match cancellations and thrilling last minute victories. Gloucester overcame a last minute venue switch to Treviso’s training ground to triumph 41-0. Meanwhile, Brive and Cardiff Blues snatched dramatic victories to strengthen their chances of qualifying for the Challenge Cup quarter finals.

Round six takes place from Friday to Sunday and with only two sides already qualified, it is all to play for. Here is how Last Word on Rugby sees the quarter finals panning out.

Ospreys vs Stade Francais

The Welsh region have a perfect record so far and look set to make it six wins from six. They have scored 38 tries in five games and are showing that they should be in the Champions Cup, as they always have been before this season. A trip to Newcastle will be tricky, but the prize of number one seeds should be motivation enough.

A contentious choice for the eighth seeds, but Stade Francais have two winnable games to take the final spot. Their match against Timisoara Saracens was cancelled so they may be awarded the four or five points that they would’ve expected to collect anyway. Then, a home game against a Harlequins side with only one away win in all competitions is a golden opportunity. The form book is in Stade’s favour, so it will be down to the old French conundrum of whether they fancy it on the day.

Gloucester vs Cardiff Blues

After La Rochelle’s failure to get a bonus point, Gloucester have regained control of Pool One.  A professional performance in testing circumstances out in Italy suggests the Cherry and Whites can finish the job by seeing off bottom club Bayonne.

Cardiff have a winnable home game against Bristol that should see them through as runners up behind Bath. Bristol have used the Challenge Cup to build motivation and a winning run, but must now focus on Premiership survival.  A Severn derby at Kingsholm will be a marketable prospect for this under-appreciated tournament.

Edinburgh vs La Rochelle

The Scots became the first side to win at Harlequins this season and will probably be rewarded with a home quarter. They have performed well in this competition in recent years and hope to go one better than losing finalists in 2015.

Surprise Top 14 package La Rochelle have bucked the French trend by competing strongly in the Challenge Cup. However, their failure to get a bonus point in Bayonne looks to have pushed them into an away tie. This may not matter. On average, one away side wins in European quarter finals and this could be where the away win comes. Les Rochelais have a monster pack and vast Champions Cup experience in the form of Brock James.

Bath vs Brive

Finally, Bath should easily overcome winless Pau in round six to finish as the fourth best group winner. They are likely to face the fifth best winner Brive who can ensure a group winner from each of the three major leagues. Whether they will be fully interested in April when Top 14 matters come to head remains to be seen. Equally, Bath may be fighting for a play-off place at that time. As previously examined by Last Word on Rugby, Bath have the quality to progress regardless of interest.


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