Challenge Cup holding more talent than ever

Challenge Cup

As rugby in the northern hemisphere grows stronger, so does the EPCR Challenge Cup. The 2019/20 season is on the eve of beginning a brand new year, holding more talent than ever.

20 of the leading teams across Europe, prepare to ‘challenge’ for superiority. Robert Rees takes a look at the main contenders ahead of this year’s competition.

Worcester Warriors

Pool 1: Dragons, Castres, Enisei-STM Krasnoyarsk.

Premiership form: 8th, won two/lost two.

Key players: Duncan Weir, Ashley Beck, Ted Hill.

Opinion: In a group they should feel comfortable in topping Worcester have a great opportunity to go far in this year’s Challenge Cup.

Opening their account, Russian side Enisei-STM should be a relatively easy 10 points and no issues, even if Worcester go with a slightly depleted side. Over the 2019/20 season, Worcester have to build some strong depth, and from the looks of it, their awesome backline should be able to score them plenty of tries.

Castres currently lie 11th in the Top14, and we all know the history of French sides prioritizing their league over the Challenge Cup.

The Dragons struggle away and despite some good results in the Pro14 this season, still lack that power upfront to truly trouble the Warriors.

A long run could well depend on who they get in a knockout stage but, they know what it takes to win games in this competition.

London Irish

Pool 2: Bayonne, Scarlets, Toulon.

League form: 7th, won two/lost two.

Key players: Blair Cowan, Stephen Myler, Allan Dell.

Opinion: Despite being drawn into perhaps the toughest pool to call, Irish have enough firepower to qualify for the knockout stages and do some damage if they get there.

With the likes of Sekope Kepu, Adam Coleman and Steve Mafi (see below image) still to be introduced to the Madejski Stadium crowd, they should be able to rotate between their Premiership duties and their Challenge Cup games.

A solid start to their return season means they can afford to attack Europe more than perhaps they’d have thought which leaves them as a very dangerous weapon.

If they can get some points on the road then they’ll be good enough for a knockout spot.

Pool 2 key opponent – Scarlets

League form: 2nd, won five/lost one.

Key players: Rob Evans, Josh Macleod, Johnny McNicholl.

Opinion: A strong start to their domestic campaign, blemished only by a loss to Edinburgh, leaves Brad Mooar’s men in a strong position ahead of the first bout of European fixtures.

With a strong attacking game plan to their name, the Scarlets should find themselves at home in a pool stage against a Toulon side who should be preoccupied with Top14 duties, as will Bayonne.

London Irish will be their rivals to the top of the pool but, Scarlets might be able to qualify for the pool stages if they ‘give it their all’. Injuries in key areas may leave them short on depth and without big names, however the Welsh side could have enough to give it a go.


Pool 3: Agen, Bordeaux Bégles, Edinburgh.

Premiership form: 11th, won one/lost three.

Key players: Matteo Minozzi, Zach Kibirige, Nizaam Carr.

Opinion: Despite a lackluster start to their Premiership campaign, Wasps can feel comfortable in their Challenge Cup surroundings.

A talented squad with plenty of flair and talent in their backline, should provide plenty of points providing the pack can deliver enough ball. That’s not been an issue for them so far this season, and if they can hold their discipline together they’ll be contenders.

They haven’t graced the Challenge Cup fields since 2013/14 but, with a strong squad and plenty of depth, Dai Young could expect nothing less than knockout rugby from his men.

Bristol Bears

Pool 4: Brive, Stade Francais, Zebre.

Premiership form: 1st, won three/lost one.

Key players: Chris Vui, Callum Sheedy, Alapati Leiua.

Opinion: Sitting on top of the Premiership pile was not something many expected from Bristol, heading into the first of the European encounters. With a strong pack led by the likes of John Afoa and Nathan Hughes this group will deliver plenty of opportunities to score points.

Zebre have enjoyed shipping points this season [sic] and should prove no match for the on-form Bears.

French opponents Stade lie on the bottom of the Top14 and will undoubtedly prioritize staying up in their league. As will Brive, who lie just two places above them. With their focus on home matters expected, that being said when Bristol travel away to Stade Amédée-Domenech on November 22, Pat Lam will need his side to be ‘on point’ in mind and spirit.

Cardiff Blues

Pool 5: Leicester Tigers, Pau, Rugby Calvisano.

League form: 6th, won two/lost four.

Key players: Willis Halaholo, Dimitri Arhip, Jarrod Evans.

Opinion: Another team that can utilize the Challenge Cup to elevate their season. Defence has been an issue and John Mulvihill and his group will have to tidy that up – with some dangerous backlines coming their way, from Leicester and Pau.


Calvisano are out of the Italian Top12, and should prove little resistance to the Blues’ hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages, in the opening round fixture.

Leicester has won only once this season and so the Blues should be confident in getting one over on their English counterparts. Whilst Pau, who lie in third in the Top14, will prove a physical test for Mulvihill’s side.



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