I always think of this one and the Anglo Welsh Cup (LV=Cup) as being the lottery leagues. We don’t know how seriously different teams will take it and we will see lots of rotation. With that in mind here are my round 1 predictions.
First here is a link to my tournament preview where I run through all the pools.
This season I’ll be doing short 1 Line Predictions videos on Twitter & YouTube and using these posts to give you the full reasons behind my picks.
Harlequins v Stade Francais
The round starts with the biggest game. Both these sides are more used being in the Champions Cup than the Challenge Cup and will go in as early favourites. Quins made the final last year and so clearly have the depth to go deep into this competition. I think that both these sides will qualify out of their pool. In this encounter though I think that Quins will want to start with a statement to show they can back up their win over Saints last weekend. Stade as with most French sides will probably rest a couple of players for the overseas trip and come up short.
Harlequins by 7
Ospreys v Newcastle Falcons
This is a really intriguing encounter. Both these sides have started their domestic campaigns well and that will give them the confidence going into this competition. With their win over Cardiff last weekend Ospreys showed that it wasn’t just an easy schedule leading to their good results. Falcons are a team that like their home comforts and only recently broke a long away losing streak in the Premiership. So whilst I think both these teams can go well in this tournament I ‘m backing the home win.
Ospreys by 7
Grenoble v Lyon
2 sides that will see this competition as nothing more than a distraction from their Top14 campaigns. With that in mind I’m using the tradition French picking formula and backing the side who don’t want to let their home fans down.
Grenoble by 5
Newport Gwent Dragons v Brive
Dragons are going to have a long old season but this could be 1 of the highlights for them. Brive are sat in mid table in the To14 but that form doesn’t always carry across to Europe and it’s going to totally depend on the squad they send over. I’m expecting a fully reserve side so backing Dragons to pull off a victory. As Pro12 does’t have relegation they should throw all their eggs into this competition. If Brive do take it seriously though I would expect them to win.
Newport Gwent Dragons by 3
Bristol v Cardiff Blues
Bristol have had a horrid schedule and run of results so far this season. This 2 week break will be an opportunity for them to regroup. Hosting 1 of the form teams from the Pro12 though it’s what the doctor ordered. Cardiff did slip up last weekend away to the Ospreys but if they target this competition they should have the quality to go well. I think Cardiff will have too much class for Bristol.
Cardiff Blues by 15
Benetton Treviso v La Rochelle
La Rochelle have been the standout story in the Top14 this season and are in the top group. However I think that this will be a tournament that they totally ignore as they push domestically. Treviso like Drgaons, can throw all their efforts into this competition and should do so. With that in mind I’m backing what would otherwise look like an upset win.
Benetton Treviso by 10
Enisei-STM v Worcester Warriors
This is Enisei’s second season in the Challenge Cup and last season they inflicted a couple of bloody noses. Warriors are going to have to travel to somewhere that’s colder than they have even been before. Connacht did come away with a win last season but they were riding high in the Pro12. Worcester have had a decent if not great start to the season but do sit eleventh in the Aviva Premiership. I think this has all the ingredients of an upset home win by a team from a smaller rugby nation.
Enisei-STM by 5
Timișoara Saracens v Edinburgh
Timișoara I think are going to have a tough old time in this competition. I don’t know if Edinburgh have ever been to Romania before but it’s not as far to travel as is it to Enisei. Edinburgh don’t normally travel well but this is 1 that they should win.
Edinburgh by 7
Bayonne v Gloucester Rugby
French sides at home are always though to beat even if Bayonne do sit last in the Top14. They will send very weak teams to their away games but won’t dare do that in front of their own fans. Gloucester have gone well in this competition over the last could of seasons. But this season don’t seem to be belt o play the full 80 minutes. So I’m going for the home victory as pride wins out over skill.
Bayonne by 3
Pau v Bath
Pau are also near the bottom of the Top14 table and so will see this as a distraction. Again though they will have to put out a strong side in front of their own fans. Bath have kicked off this season in fine form sitting third in the Aviva Premiership with just 1 loss. They might be a little flattered by their schedule but you still have to win the games. I think that they will bring a lot of confidence into this game and get the away victory.
Bath by 10
Please do join in with my prediction league on SuperBru.
Don’t miss a post or video by signing up for the new weekly DrivingMaul newsletter.