Friday, January 17, 2020

European Rugby - Last Rites for 28 Clubs

Champions and Challenge Cups

EPCR Pool Play - Round 6 Preview

The European Professional Club Rugby tournament group stages conclude Friday through Sunday with 16 clubs advancing into the knockout frame first weekend in April between the brace of Cups, Champions and Challenge. And that means 28 will have naught to do that first weekend in April as there’s sure to be no happy ending for those XVs this year on The Continent. Six teams from each tournament qualify for extra time with numbers one and two at their respective tables earning a bye first round.
In Champions Cup heading into the weekend, only Group 3 is contendible yet as Clermont and Ulster are three table points apart with Clermont ahead, so a win by the French club takes the pool; Auvergne are on the trot at Twickers v Quins so no foregone conclusion there as Ulster host a thus far listless Bath (0-5-0) at Ravenhill.
Of Groups already won: Leinster (24 table points), Exeter, Racing and Toulouse (all on 22 tps), are in the market for a rest first round of playoffs. Clermont, too theoretically, but that would require near wholesale loss by the aforementioned group winners for that to happen.   
One pair of numbers 2s from the groups will advance with Clermont/Ulster most likely going and Sarries or Gloucester or Saints, currently all on 14 pts, providing the final knockouteer. Glasgow Warriors, on 12 points now, got a shot at the knocks, but that’ll be Chicken Little Days should that unlikely event occur.
Nine clubs after six post-season slots and the devil take those in the rear.

Upcomes Round 6

                Saturday, 1.18:

                                Benetton Treviso (6) v (24) Leinster at Stadio Comunale di Monigo: wrapping up the group;

                                Lyon (7) v (14) Northampton Saints at the Matmut: travelers need the bonus-point to remain in contention for a match seven in April;

                                Harlequins (9) v (20) Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham: travelers need this to close the group in their favor;

                                Ulster (17) v (4) Bath in Kingspan at Ravenhill: homeys’ll want the win plus one for extra time come April;

                                Exeter (22) v (10) La Rochelle at Sandy Park: closing the group but Chiefs are yet in contention for a rest first weekend of playoffs so they’d like the bonus-point win here and now;

                                Sale Sharks (7) v (12) Glasgow Warriors in AJ Bell at Salford City: pretty much for Queen, country and contract;
                Sunday, 1.19:

                                Munster (11) v (2) Ospreys at Thomond Park: Q, c&c and homeys won’t like that;

                                Saracens (14) v (22) Racing 92 at Allianz: must win large, Corsairs! Racing chasing the respite;

                                Montpellier (8) v (5) Connacht in GGL at the Altrad: see Sharks v Warriors;

                                Toulouse (22) v (14) Gloucester at Ernest Wallon: crucial for the extended life of travelers and equally so for homeboys who’d like the rest first round;

Challenge Cup
The undercard, as it were, has four groups also won, with excitement in Group 1 as three clubs could win the pool this weekend. Castres (18 tps), Dragons (15) and Worcester (15) all have a shot at taking the group. Castres are at Worcester, so bang-bang-bang there and the winner likely moving on, unless Dragons, who host luckless Enisei STM, count a thousand points which may not be as far-fetched a thought as it might initially seem.
Bristol, who lead the tournament in table points at 24, need victory on the trot at Zebre to earn the bye while Toulon can do the same with a five-pointer against Bayonne at the Mayol... that’s a likely the way Le Toulonnais are rocking the shop with old (not really) Eben Etzebeth onboard these days.
For the remaining two slots, that contentious G1 may provide a supplemental while Edinburgh (16 tps hosting Agen so it could be a fiver); Section Paloise, on 15 tps now but they host hot-hot Leicester who’re yet seeking a rest first round of knockouts should either Bristol or Toulon falter, so that's an explosion waiting to happen.

Upcomes Round 6

                Friday, 1.17.20:

                                Dragons (15) v (0) Enisei STM at Rodney Parade: got to count as many points as possible, home side!

                                Worcester Warriors (15) v (18) Castres Olympique at Sixways: outcome could result in a Dragons ascension; a draw here might short the sheets;

                Saturday, 1.18.20:

                                Cardiff Blues (13) v (1) Cammi Calvisano at the Arms Park: should be a bunch for the home side;

                                Section Paloise (15) v (22) Leicester Tigers at Stade du Hameau: homeys need it, big;

                                Brive (4) v (6) Stade Français at the Amédée-Domenech: for Q, c&c:

                                Zebre (11) v (24) Bristol Bears at Lanfranchi: home side looking good of late, but Bears could earn the 1st playoffs round respite with victory; monkey wrench? Actually homeys gotta a shot at extra time should the four in front of them lose, and the last time Zebre were in a position to make the post-season was... never!

                                Edinburgh (16) v (0) Agen at Murrayfield: homeys gotta win big and pray for help;

                                Wasps (11) v (22) Bordeaux-Bègles at the Ricoh: visitors need all points;
                                London Irish (7) v (14) Scarlets at Madejski: visitors will want the bonus-point, which may not be sufficient to earn an extra-time berth, yet that’s what they’ll be seeking;
                                Toulon  (23) v (7) Bayonne at the Felix Mayol: home team has an outside shot at a rest 1st playoffs weekend, but that’ll require a 5-pointer here and either Leinster or Bristol to fail.

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