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European Challenge Cup Round Five Preview, Team News and Predictions

  • Newport Gwent Dragons can end Castres’ Challenge Cup hopes
  • Cardiff Blues need to shock Harlequins to keep hopes alive
  • Connacht travel to Brive with the pool leadership on the line

    Friday 15th January
    Edinburgh Rugby v Agen
    Newport Gwent Dragons v Castres
    Pau v Sale Sharks
    Saturday 16th January
    Enisei-ST v Newcastle Falcons
    Rugby Calvisano v Montpellier
    Gloucester Rugby v  La Rochelle
    Worcester Warriors v Zebre Rugby
    London Irish v Grenoble
    Brive v Connacht Rugby
    Sunday 17th January
    Harlequins v Cardiff Blues

    Edinburgh Rugby v Agen

    Edinburgh Rugby will need to pick up the pace at BT Murrayfield and try to pile on the points and the tries against Agen if they are to progress to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

    Last season’s runners-up are currently in a three-way tussle for the top spot in Pool 5 and need to bag a bonus point at home to try to bridge the two-point gap on table-topping Grenoble.

    Agen, who were promoted back into the Top 14 last season, have been the whipping boys in Pool 5 and have yet to secure a win in their four matches.

    Ruck Prediction: Edinburgh should have enough quality to win this one by a comfortable margin, picking up a much needed bonus point in the process. Edinburgh by 20

    Edinburgh: 15 Jack Cuthbert, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Michael Allen, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Will Helu, 10 Greig Tonks, 9 Sean Kennedy, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Alex Toolis, 3 John Andress, 2 Stuart McInally (c), 1 Rory Sutherland
    Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Anton Bresler, 20 Mike Coman, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Chris Dean, 23 Dougie Fife

    Agen: 15 Benoit Sicart, 14 François Tardieu, 13 Vincent Roux, 12 Pierre Fouyssac, 11 Filipo Nakosi, 10 François Bouvier, 9 Paul Abadie,  8 Marc Baget, 7 Denis Marchois, 6 Sione Tau, 5 Corentin Braendlin, 4 Léo Bastien, 3 Nicolas Chocou, 2 Marc Barthomeuf, 1 Quentin Bethune
    Replacements: 16 Florian Dufour, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 , 19 Felicien Vergnon, 20 Nicolas Gal, 21 Baptiste Cadiou, 22 Clement Darbo, 23 Alban Conduche


     Newport Gwent Dragons v Castres

    Newport Gwent Dragons can end Castres’ Challenge Cup campaign and strengthen their own position at the top of Pool 2 with a victory at Rodney Parade.

    Castres are the only team to have beaten the East Wales region in this season’s competition when they edged their way to a 32-29 triumph in France. The losing bonus-point the Dragons claimed that day has helped them keep two points between them and second-placed Sale Sharks.

    The Top14 side claimed a 30-21 triumph at Pau in their re-arranged round one fixture to keep themselves alive, but they would need to beat the Dragons and Pau in their final two games to advance. That could be a big ask, with Lyn Jones preparing to recall Wales star Hallam Amos.

    Ruck Prediction: It is a game that could go either way, with both teams about to leave everything on the field to keep their hopes of progressing alive, but home field advantage should be enough here for Newport to secure the win. Newport by 12

    Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Adam Hughes, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Lewis Evans, Rynard Landman (c), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Phil Price
    Replacements: 16 Thomas Rhys Thomas, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Ed Jackson, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Nick Scott

    Castres: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Romain Cabannes, 11 David Smith, 10 Francois Fontaine, 9 Julien Seron, 8 Mathieu Babillot, 7 Ibrahim Diarra, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Benjamin Desroche, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Lucas Martinez, 2 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 1 Saimone Taumoepeau
    Replacements: 16 Julien Beziat, 17 Karena Wihongi, 18 Eric Sione, 19 Alexandre Bias, 20 Theo Hannoyer, 21 Rudi Wulf, 22 Rémi Lamerat, 23 Benjamin Urdapilleta


    Pau v Sale Sharks

    Sale Sharks are hoping to turn up the heat on the Newport Gwent Dragons at the top of Challenge Cup Pool 2 by piling more misery on Pau. The Aviva Premiership side have won three consecutive matches since their opening round defeat at the Newport Gwent Dragons. Home and away victories over Castres and a triumph over Pau has put the Sharks right back in contention to seal a spot in the last eight.

    Pau have endured a nightmare pool stage and go into round five without a single point. Usually so strong at home, they have suffered defeats to Newport Gwent Dragons and Castres at Stade du Hameau in the last two weeks.

    Ruck Prediction: Despite normally having good home form, Pau comes into this game as underdogs looking to pick up their first point of the season in the competition. However, they will not be picking up a win here, as Sale will prove to be too strong, increasing the pressure on Newport. Sale by 10

    Pau: 15 Charly Malie, 14 Marika Vunibaka, 13 Julien Fumat, 12 Pierre Dupouy, 11 Mathieu Acebes, 10 Brandon Fajardo, 9 Samuel Marques, 8 Brice Monzeglio, 7 Josefa Ulago Domolailai, 6 Giovanni Habel Kuffner, 5 Claude Dry, 4 Cameron Pierce, 3 Giorgi Natsarashvili, 2 Thomas Bianchin, 1 Geoffrey Moise
    Replacements: 16 Mehdi Boundjema, 17 Julien Jacquot, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Sean Dougall, 20 Loic Bernad, 21 Thierry Lacrampe, 22 Watisoni Votu, 23 Romain Buros

    Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Tom Arscott, 13 Will Addison, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Nev Edwards, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 Josh Beaumont (c), 7 Magnus Lund, 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Vadim Cobbles, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ross Harrison
    Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 James Flynn, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Jonathan Mills, 20 Mark Easter, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mark Jennings


    Enisei-ST v Newcastle Falcons

    Newcastle Falcons head to the Olympic city of Sochi looking to take the top spot on the Pool One podium. Falcons blew the group wide open with their victory in the previous round against leaders Connacht.

    With the Irish province travelling to Brive, Dean Richards’ side have the chance to put themselves within one game of the quarter-finals. On the other hand, Enisei-STM are on the hunt for consecutive wins on home soil in the Challenge Cup after beating Brive 10-7 in their last home match.

    Ruck Prediction: It will be a close affair in the Pool One of the Challenge Cup, with both teams coming into the game off the back of some good results, but the Falcons will take this one by the narrowest of margins. Newcastle by 5

    Rugby Calvisano v Montpellier

    Montpellier currently sits third in the pool with two wins from four games but know back-to-back wins in their final fixtures could yet to enough to get them through to the quarter-finals.

    A five-point haul against their Italian opponents will complete the first part of the equation ahead of the final pool fixture against leaders Harlequins on home turf next weekend.

    Rugby Calvisano have won three and drawn one match in their 28-game Challenge Cup career, and all of those positive results came on home soil.

    Ruck Prediction: The home side have been pushovers in the Pool so far, losing all four games and things will not change here, with Montpellier taking the spoils here, keeping their knockout hopes alive. Montpellier by 13

    Gloucester Rugby v La Rochelle

    Only two teams have won in the Challenge Cup at Kingsholm since the inaugural season in 1996/97, and La Rochelle will be hoping history repeats itself. There may be no chance of the Top 14 side going through to the quarter-finals, but they could emulate their 24-18 win in the west country from the 2010/11 campaign when they became the last team to beat Gloucester at home in a pool match in the tournament.

    Gloucester picked up a 33-20 win in La Rochelle, with skipper Greig Laidlaw plundering 14 points with his boot, and will be seeking a 14th straight victory in the tournament and a seventh in a row at home. Unbeaten in their four games to date, the key for them is to pick up a home draw in the quarter-finals.

    Ruck Prediction: History will not be repeating itself here. Gloucester are too strong for La Rochelle and impress in front of their home fans winning in comfortable fashion to make in five from five in the pool. Gloucester by 15

    Worcester Warriors v Zebre Rugby

    Zebre could win three games in a single Challenge Cup campaign for their first time in their history if they can get the better of Pool 4 bottom side Worcester Warriors. The Italian side beat the Warriors 27-8 at a rainswept Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi at the end of November and will be hoping to repeat the feat to secure a club-record third win.

    Aviva Premiership side Warriors have had a campaign to forget as they concentrate on survival in their domestic competition. After opening their campaign with a solid 19-3 win over La Rochelle at Sixways they’ve suffered three consecutive defeats to leave them rooted to the bottom of pool four with just four points.

    Ruck Prediction: There is history in the making for Zebre, who could be set for their third win in a single campaign. Worcester’s priorities seem to lie elsewhere, and victory is there for the taking for the travelling side. Zebre by 7 

    London Irish v Grenoble

    London Irish are sitting second in the standings after winning two of their four games to date and are well in the hunt for a quarter-final berth. However, one of the Aviva Premiership side’s defeats came at the hands of pool leaders Grenoble when a heartbreaking score from an overthrown Exiles line-out allowed the Frenchman to snatch the victory from the last play of the game and change the complexion of the pool.

    Grenoble have won two of their three matches against London Irish though all three of those games were decided by a margin of 10 or fewer points.

    Ruck Prediction: This could prove to be the tightest game of the round, with either team staking a good claim the win the match, but London Irish will walk away with the victory, by a couple of points. Moving out of the relegation zone will have a positive effect on the team and should be enough to help see off the challenge of Grenoble. London Irish by 5

    Brive v Connacht Rugby

    Brive host Connacht Rugby in what could be the decisive fixture in Pool 1 with three sides still in with a chance of topping the group. Current leaders Connacht have a two-point gap over second-placed Newcastle and third-place Brive, who have both won two and lost two of their opening four fixtures. A win for the Irish province would put them in pole position to win the pool as they host Enisei-STM in the final round of fixtures.

    Brive have won two of their last three matches against Connacht Rugby, though never has either team scored more than 22 points in any of those matches.

    Ruck Prediction: Connacht have been impressing in the Guinness Pro 12 this season, and they will take that form into the Challenge Cup and claim a imperative victory on their travels to Brive in round five. Connacht by 5

    Harlequins v Cardiff Blues

    Cardiff Blues know they must pull off a shock victory over pool three leaders Harlequins if they are to reach the knock-out stages of this year’s Challenge Cup. Danny Wilson takes his Blues side to the Twickenham Stoop on Sunday hoping to end a run of six games without a loss for the star-studded Aviva Premiership side.

    Quins are yet to lose at home this season in any competition but the Blues, second in pool three with 11 points, must cause an upset if they are to progress to the quarter-finals of the competition they won in 2010.

    Ruck Prediction: Harlequins will end the hopes of Cardiff Blues for another year when they pick up a win in front of their own fans. They will prove to be too tough despite the best efforts of the Welshmen. Harlequins by 12

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