Back in the Challenge Cup

So it turns out the other results went in our favour on the last weekend of the URC so all we needed was that elusive bonus point win against Leinster. In any case unless we won the league we were headed to exactly where we are now – the Challenge Cup.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s where we belong for the moment.

There is the usual lack of confirmation from EPCR of anything beyond the shape of the ball but we can probably work on the assumption that the format will be much the same as this season, with two invitational teams making three pools of six. Like in the Champions Cup there will be one team that we don’t play, which will be a URC team, but since two of the pools will have to have three URC teams, there is a good chance that we will play one of the other seven.

Unofficially Black Lion appear to be in again as the only Super Cup team so we can probably assume Cheetahs are back in as well. Gloucester and Newcastle will again be the only English representatives, while the French contingent has yet to be finalised pending the last weekend of the Top 14 and the Pro D2 final and promotion play-off.

Lyon and Bayonne are the only French teams definitely confirmed, along with the lowest two of Racing/Perpignan/Castres/Pau/Clermont and the better two of Vannes/Grenoble/Montpellier. We will play two French teams, probably one home and one away, though that is not guaranteed, for example this season Treviso played two French teams at home while Zebre went there twice.

Our other two opponents will be some combination of an English team, an invitational team and a URC team.

In the final shake-up in France there are some interesting encounters. Pau play Perpignan, with a win putting Perpignan through to the Champions Cup (and maybe the play-offs) while a Pau win would give them a chance. Clermont should win at home to Montpellier, who have nothing to play for and that would put them in the running for the top eight. Castres travel to Bayonne, who also have nothing on the line and a win would see them off our radar, whereas Racing travel to La Rochelle needing a win to secure a barrage spot. They will probably be in the Champions Cup regardless (Top 14 uses head-to-head results as the first tie-breaker and it’s too complicated to look it all up) but a losing bonus would secure it.

Personally I would like to avoid Racing and Clermont. Both their stadiums are on the bucket list but I’d prefer to face them in a Champions Cup sometime. This trophy is winnable so let’s avoid the heavyweights for now. So best if Clermont win and Racing get the LBP. I’d prefer to have Castres and Perpignan in, so best if they lose on the road. In the Pro D2, Vannes is the one we want in the final, with the loser beating Montpellier in the play-off.

Last season the draw was unseeded, with only rules about leagues and countries, but we’ll see what the EPCR come up with.

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