I have covered the daddy competition now it’s the turnoff the baby one, here are how things stand in the European Rugby Challenge Cup and who I see qualifying for the quarterfinals.
Fri 16 Cardiff Blues v Rovigo
Fri 16 London Irish v Grenoble
Fri 23 Grenoble v Cardiff Blues
Fri 23 Rovigo v London Irish
Irish saw a return of some of their early season form against Cardiff and they will be needing more of that over the next two rounds. As Irish have Grenoble at home they have the easier draw that matched with better record against Cardiff should see them top the group.
Cardiff should also pick up two wins and if they get more bonus points could pip Irish but I think they will just come up short. Two wins should be enough to see them qualify as a best second place.
Grenoble are challenging for the upper reaches of the Top14 but their only wins in Europe have been against Rovigo. It’s clear that Grenoble are putting all their efforts into the Top14 and so I can’t see them having anymore success in this tournament.
Rovigo were always going to find it hard and another two losses are on the cards. I just hope that they are enjoying their chances to play top opposition.
Fri 16 Bayonne v La Rochelle
Fri 16 Connacht v Exeter Chiefs
Fri 23 La Rochelle v Connacht
Fri 23 Exeter Chiefs v Bayonne
Chiefs are one of the form teams in Europe at the moment, can they keep this going the next rounds in the new year? The next game will decide who goes through as pool winner and I think Exeter will win in Ireland. Then revenge against Bayonne.
Connacht are having a good season both domestically and in Europe. I think they will lose to Exeter, then go away and win in France. 18 to 20 points should be enough to go through as one of the best second places.
Bayonne and La Rochelle are both more interested in the relegation battle fem the Top14. This is just a distraction from that and so they won’t be disappointed to not qualify.
Fri 16 Stade Français v Bucureşti
Fri 16 Newcastle Falcons v Dragons
Fri 23 Bucureşti v Newcastle Falcons
Fri 23 Dragons v Stade Français
Dragons really have surprised me in this tournament, winning away in Paris was a massive achievement. How ever from here on they have the hardest set of fixtures. First up away to Newcastle and then having to host Stade. I think they will lost to Falcons but then beat Stade who have not travelled well.
Newcastle have the easiest run in and should pick up two wins leaving them on 23-25 points and winning the group.
Stade have been poor and you can see that they really don’t care about this competition. They could still qualify if they win their last two games. The first one the will and should get the TBP. That sets up a great game against Dragons but I feel they will come up short as they aren’t travelling well.
Bucureşti were never going to trouble this group and I hope they have enjoyed playing against some of the top teams in Europe. Their trip to Paris will be a great occasion and they should make sure they soak up the experience.
Fri 16 Bordeaux Begles v London Welsh
Fri 16 Lyon v Edinburgh
Fri 23 Edinburgh v Bordeaux Begles
Fri 23 London Welsh v Lyon
Edinburgh are one of two teams with a perfect record but a lack of bonus points might see them drop way down the seedings. They could come unstuck against Lyon which would leave a very tasty last game at home. But I think the French teams will be so focused on domestic matters that Edinburgh will have an easy ride to top the group.
Bordeaux as hoping for Lyon to do them a favour and then reverse their away form. Well that’s if they want to qualify which is very doubtful. Clearly they should win against Welsh but will probably lose away in Scotland.
Lyon could seek the group if results go their way, but it’s highly unlikely that they will even put the effort in to get their own results. A loss and a win to finish, as they rest players for the Top14 games.
Welsh will also be resting players for Premiership games and will probably finish with anther two losses. The last game against Lyon might be about who doesn’t want to win the most.
Fri 16 Zebre v Brive
Fri 16 Gloucester Rugby v Oyonnax
Fri 23 Brive v Gloucester Rugby
Fri 23 Oyonnax v Zebre
Gloucester should pick up the top seeding after winning all their games and picking up 3 TBPs so far. They should have too much for Oyonnax at home and an away trip to Brive shouldn’t hold any concerns.
Oyonnax’s lack of bonus points means that they are probably out of it now. In theory they can win the group but it’s not going to happen. Being just above the relegation scrap in the Top14 means that domestic matters will be more important but they should still get a win over Zebre for their home supporters.
Zebre are clearly only playing for pride but two wins over French opposition will be a good result for them. They should beat Brive at home but a trip to Oyonnax will probably be too much.
Brive have really ignored this competition and I can’t see that changing.
So how does that leave the quarter finalists looking?
Pool winners: London Irish Exeter Chiefs Newcastle Falcons Edinburgh Rugby Gloucester Rugby Best 2nd places: Cardiff Blues Connacht Dragons
In my tournament preview I predicted the below teams making it to the quarter finals:
London Irish Grenoble Exeter Chiefs Stade Francais Paris Newcastle Falcons Bordeaux Begles Edinburgh Rugby Gloucester Rugby
I really under estimated how much the French sides were going to treat this a a total distraction from what matters. It’s a shame that they have done so and does put the future of the tournament into question, at least it’s format if not existence.
Here is a link to my Champions Cup sitrep.