Challenge Cup Preview: All to play for as European action returns

Andy Baber
09 January 2020

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The Challenge Cup returns to the fore once again this weekend and five Guinness PRO14 sides continue their European journeys.

Dragons, Zebre, Scarlets, Edinburgh and Cardiff Blues are all in action and there is plenty to play for in the penultimate set of pool stage fixtures.

Four of those sides are involved in top-two clashes in their pools in what promises to be a vital weekend in the race to qualify for the knockout stages.

SATURDAY

Bordeux Begles v Edinburgh

12:45

Stade Chaban-Delmas

The weekend’s opening game pits two sides separated by the barest of margins against each other in what could be a decisive clash.

A single point sees Bordeux lead Edinburgh in Pool 3 ahead of kick-off and neither side has suffered a loss in the Challenge Cup so far this term.

The two sides’ previous encounter provides yet more evidence of how little there is to choose between them after they played out a 16-16 draw.

Edinburgh will take confidence from a positive run of form which has seen them shoot to the top of the Guinness PRO14 Conference B table, claiming a commanding 61-13 victory over Southern Kings in their last game.

Castres v Dragons

14:00

Stade Pierre-Fabre

Dragons travel to France looking to rubberstamp their place at the summit of Pool 1.

The Welsh side enjoy a two-point gap over their closest rivals and know a victory would be enough to guarantee top spot with a game to spare, providing Castres don’t pick up a bonus point.

They will hope to repeat the 31-17 victory they enjoyed over Castres when the sides met in November.

That loss was the solitary defeat suffered by Castres in Europe so far this term, while Dragons have also been on the losing side just once in the Challenge Cup in 2019/20.

Castres have struggled to match their European form on the domestic scene and sit 12th in the Top 14 having won five of their 13 games.

It could well be a case of defence against attack, with the 62 points conceded by Castres so far this season the fewest in Pool 1.

Stade Francais v Zebre

14:00

Stade de France

Zebre will look to record their second Challenge Cup win of the season when they face Stade Francais.

Their opponents are bottom of Pool 5 after a run of one win in four games but would leapfrog Zebre if they emerge as winners in front of their home fans.

Zebre are a point better off ahead of kick-off by virtue of picking up one more bonus point than Stade Francais.

Just two wins from their 10 league games this term has left Zebre sixth in the PRO14 Conference A table, although one of their wins was the superb bonus-point victory over Toyota Cheetahs last time out.

Scarlets v Toulon

20:00

Parc y Scarlets

Scarlets face perhaps the toughest task of the sides in action this weekend as they take on Toulon.

Their opponents have been unstoppable in Europe so far this season, winning all four of their games so far and picking up 18 points in the process.

While a record of four wins from four is impressive, it does not tell the whole story and Scarlets were only just beaten 17-16 when the sides played earlier this season.

Toulon have a four-point cushion over Scarlets heading into the game and the Welsh side must win if they are to top Pool 2.

SUNDAY

Leicester Tigers v Cardiff Blues

15:15

Welford Road Stadium

A weekend full of potentially pivotal contests comes to a close in a fitting manner as Cardiff Blues make the journey to Leicester.

The Blues will attempt to be the first side to beat Tigers in Europe this season and in doing so look to keep slim hopes of bridging a five-point gap and winning Pool 5 alive.

A narrow 14-11 defeat the last time the two sides met will provide somewhat of a blueprint for the Blues to go on when they look to tame the Tigers.

Leicester’s unbeaten run in Europe belies their overall showings this season and they would be bottom of the Premiership table but for the point deduction awarded to Saracens.

They have won only two league games this season and are firmly embroiled in the relegation conversation.

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