"Portugal and Pontypridd" 6 Forgotten Challenge Cup Teams - Ruck

“Portugal and Pontypridd” 6 Forgotten Challenge Cup Teams

Since the competition’s origins in 1996 as the ‘European Shield’, there have been 27th seasons of European club rugby’s secondary division. Today, the tournament is known globally as the EPCR Challenge Cup, and this hotly contested piece of silverware is currently held by RC Toulon.

Montpellier Captain’s Run, Twickenham, London, England 20/5/2021 A view of the Challenge Cup Trophy Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan/PPAUK

In a historic move, the upcoming 2023/24 EPCR Challenge Cup season will see the first ever inclusion of a Georgian club side. Black Lion are one of two invited teams for this year’s competition, along with returning South African outfit the Toyota Cheetahs.

This is a monumental season for Georgian rugby, as the Tbilisi based side will break new ground, and put Georgia on the map for the first time in a European club competition. Black Lion have been drawn into Pool 3, with their opening match taking place in the Georgian capital against Premiership side Gloucester Rugby.

The Georgians will leave it all on the line in their inaugural competition, with hopes of being invited back for the 2024/25 season, or better yet, progressing into the Heineken Champions Cup. Black Lion will hope to avoid the fate of previous Challenge Cup sides, that have since disappeared from European competition.

Lets take a look back at six forgotten Challenge Cup sides throughout history.

1. Portugal XV and Spain XV

Last November’s meeting between Rugby World Cup newcomers Chile and United Rugby Championship powerhouses Leinster, reminded rugby fans on the exciting novelty of watching a national team take on domestic club sides. Back in the 1998/99 European Challenge Cup, English and Scottish clubs withdrew from the competition, which in result saw the tournament expand it’s reach.

This list starts out with a double header, as in 1998, A Spain XV and Portugal XV were included for the Challenge Cup. However, due to the scarce competition records (and photos), it is unclear as to whether these sides were recognised as official national teams, or an invitational side akin to the ‘New Zealand XV’ which took on the Barbarians last year.

Spain XV went into Pool 1 and Portugal XV were drawn into Pool 3 for the re-constructed European Challenge Cup. The competition’s third iteration saw three expanded pools of seven teams, with Portugal XV suffering six consecutive defeats in a row. Some of the defeats were rather emphatic, as Portugal XV lost their opening match to French side Brive 85-7.

The remainder of Portugal XV’s campaign saw them well beaten by an additional trio of French sides; Biarritz (62-11), Pau (78-0) and Agen (81-13), as well as a high-scoring loss to Welsh club Bridgend (45-24) and a narrow defeat to Romanian side Dinamo-București (23-18).

Spain XV also lost six straight matches, in what is was a failed venture to branch European club rugby to the Iberian Peninsula. The Spaniards suffered similarly dramatic defeats to the French quartet of Bourgoin (55-10), Castres (61-15), Montferrand (88-13) and Dax (41-0), as well as closer losses to Italians Roma (25-21) and Welsh club Aberavon (18-6).