Challenge Cup Round 5 Weekend Preview

Joe Leavey
10 January 2019

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As the Challenge Cup group stages approach their conclusion, the five Guinness PRO14 outfits involved have just a couple more chances to put themselves in the reckoning for the knockout stages.

Ospreys, Connacht, Zebre and Benetton Rugby are all well in the mix to advance, while Dragons will look to build up some momentum for their league campaign having already been eliminated.

With just a single matchday left after this weekend’s action, the quartet will look give themselves the best chance of qualification the following week.

FRIDAY

La Rochelle v Zebre

19:00

Stade Marcel Deflandre

Back to back wins over Enisei-STM have put Zebre firmly in the frame for the quarter-finals.

They sit a point shy of La Rochelle ahead of their crunch-time trip to the pool leaders on Friday night.

It’s the first of what will be back-to-back clashes between the sides, which will likely dictate who claims top spot and automatic qualification to the knockouts.

Despite three wins from four in the Challenge Cup, Zebre have been struggling for form in the Guinness PRO14 of late, losing their trio of matches since they crushed Enisei 58-14.

They will have to be at their best to beat a side that sits third in the Top 14 on home soil, with a defeat putting them at peril of being overtaken by third-place Bristol Bears.

Dragons v Timisoara Saracens

19:30

Rodney Parade

With the Dragons already out of the picture in a tough Pool 1 that features Top 14 leaders Clermont Auvergne running away with things at the top, they will nevertheless see this as a chance to save face.

Ceri Jones’ side will be buoyed by their hard-fought festive win over rivals Ospreys as they look to build up a head of steam with Munster the next to visit Rodney Parade when the Guinness PRO14 returns in a fortnight’s time.

An emphatic 54-17 win in the reverse fixture in Romania will have the Welsh outfit keen to fill their boots for a second time this European season.

SATURDAY

Benetton Rugby v Agen

14:00

Stadio Comunale di Monigo

It’s all to play for in Pool 5, and Benetton can’t afford to give an inch if they are to prevail in their quest for the knockouts.

Just two points separate Harlequins in first from Agen in fourth, as Benetton split the difference in second-place with 10 points.

The winner of this one, therefore, will likely cast the defeated off from the pack heading into the final round of competition next weekend.

But Benetton come into this one in red-hot form, winning four on the bounce – including a 20-17 triumph over high-flying Glasgow Warriors last time out – and have won both of their home fixtures in the Challenge Cup so far this season.

A clean-sweep third should set things up nicely for a final-day showdown against Grenoble on 18 January.

Connacht v Sale Sharks

15:00

The Sportsground

This one is all set for a ding-dong top-of-the-pool clash as Connacht welcome first-place Sale to the Sportsground on Saturday afternoon.

Three points back from their opponents at start of the play, the winner of this one will be heavy favourites to win the group outright, while a defeat for Connacht would leave them crunching the numbers in hopes of a best runner-up qualification berth.

On home soil, however, the Irish outfit have to back themselves, having won both of their matches at the Galway ground in the competition this season.

After a tough defeat to Munster last weekend in the Guinness PRO14, Connacht will be desperate to put things right on Saturday afternoon.


Ospreys v Worcester Warriors

15:00

Liberty Stadium

This one is similarly set as a first-versus-second match-up, and another instance where the Guinness PRO14 side will look to overhaul their opponents at the summit when Ospreys welcome Worcester Warriors to the Liberty.

Just two points behind their opponents, a win would see them leapfrog the Warriors into pole position, with a trip to Pau to navigate in the final round of fixtures.

A disappointing defeat to bottom side Stade Francais in the last round stunted Ospreys’ run, but they have the chance to make a statement when the Warriors come to town.

Allen Clarke’s side have won their last four on home soil in all competitions, and will look to make that magic number five on Saturday.

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