SA sides have all to play for in final pool rounds in Europe

SA sides have all to play for in final pool rounds in Europe

The South African sides will have everything to play for this weekend as they embark on the final round of matches in the Investec Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, where four of the five teams will be playing for places in the Rounds of 16.

The Emirates Lions – one of the three teams participating in the EPCR Challenge Cup – have already sealed their spot in the first playoff round.

The other four SA teams – the Vodacom Bulls, DHL Stormers (Investec Champions Cup), Hollywoodbets Sharks and Toyota Cheetahs (EPCR Challenge Cup) – will all have one last throw of the dice to ensure that they are among the teams that advance to the playoffs.

In the Investec Champions Cup, the Vodacom Bulls will host Bordeaux Begles in Pretoria and the DHL Stormers will line up against Stade Francais in Paris on Saturday.

In the EPCR Challenge Cup, the Toyota Cheetahs will take on Oyonnax in France on Saturday, while two matches will play out on Sunday, between the Emirates Lions and Ospreys in Johannesburg, and the Hollywoodbets Sharks and Dragons in Newport.

The Vodacom Bulls will face tough competition against Bordeaux, who are unbeaten in the competition and currently top their pool, having already booked their place in the playoffs along with Lyon, but with the hosts coming off a morale-boosting away win against the Bristol Bears in England, they will enter the match with confidence.

They will also draw inspiration from their passionate home crowd and the vastly different weather conditions in South Africa, while they will take comfort from the fact that they may only need one point from the match to make it through to the playoff stages.

Both teams have been in fair form this season with the Vodacom Bulls on five victories in eight matches in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, while Bordeaux boast eight wins in 12 matches in the Top 14, setting the scene for a humdinger of a match.

The DHL Stormers, in turn, will be determined to register a victory against Stade Francais at Stade Jean Bouin in the French capital, where they will be hunting their third victory in a row in the competition against the winless Parisian outfit.

With three of the other main contenders for a playoff spot in their pool – Leicester Tigers facing log-leaders Leinster – who have already qualified for the round of 16 – and Stade Rochelais lining up against the Sale Sharks, the Capetonians could still make it through even if they suffer a defeat, as they only require two points from the match to guarantee a playoff spot, although they will undoubtedly look to register a victory.

The DHL Stormers will draw inspiration from the fact that they come off back-to-back victories in the showpiece, the latest being a bonus-point victory against Sale, but they will be wary of the fact that Stade Francais have been one of the top performers in the Top 14 with seven wins in 12 matches, meaning it could prove to be a tough match.

In the EPCR Challenge Cup, the Toyota Cheetahs will be desperate to bounce back from their first defeat in the tournament last week when they take on Oyonnax at Stade Charles Mathon. They will take some comfort from the fact that two of the pool contenders, Section Paloise and Zebre Parma, who are both on eight log points, will face one another this weekend, which should strengthen the Free Staters’ chances of advancing to the playoffs.

Much like the DHL Stormers, however, a victory will be first prize to cement a spot in the round of 16 and ensure that they build winning momentum as the playoffs draw nearer.

They will, however, be wary of the fact that Oyonnax will be desperate to register their first win in the EPCR Challenge Cup this season especially in front of their home crowd and build on their last positive result on their home patch against Section Paloise in December.

The Emirates Lions will also have their sights set firmly on a victory against Ospreys at Emirates Airline Park following their defeat against Montpellier last week. The Gauteng team have the peace of mind that they have already qualified for the Round of 16, but winning momentum will be vital to give them a handy nudge going into the playoff stages.

With both teams tied on nine log points with two victories in their three matches, and Ospreys having won only one match more than the Emirates Lions in the Vodacom URC, it could be a spectacle.

The hosts, however, boast a better attacking record in the Vodacom URC than Ospreys, which is something they will want to take advantage of on Sunday.

The Hollywoodbets Sharks, who are currently at the top of their pool in the EPCR Challenge Cup, will have the luxury of entering their match against the Dragons at Rodney Parade knowing exactly what they need to do to book their place in the Round of 16 as their match marks the last fixture of the weekend.

They will also have the comfort of knowing that the worst-case scenario to advance to the playoffs will be to earn one point.

The Durbanites have won only one more match than the opposition in the EPCR Challenge Cup, while the Dragons have one more win in the Vodacom URC. However, the Welsh side will enter the match knowing that a victory could nudge them into the Round of 16 if either Zebre Parma or Section Paloise suffer a defeat, which will fuel their determination.


Match information – Investec Champions Cup:


Vodacom Bulls v Bordeaux Begles

Date: Saturday, 20 January

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

SA Time: 15h00

Referee: Karl Dickson


Stade Francais v DHL Stormers

Date: Saturday, 20 January

Venue: Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

SA Time: 19h30

Referee: Luke Pearce


Match Information – EPCR Challenge Cup:


Oyonnax v Toyota Cheetahs

Date: Saturday, 20 January

Venue: Stade Charles Mathon, Oyonnax

SA Time: 17h15

Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe


Emirates Lions v Ospreys

Date: Sunday, 21 January

Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

SA Time: 15h00

Referee: Jeremy Rozier


Dragons v Hollywoodbets Sharks

Date: Sunday, 21 January

Venue: Rodney Parade, Newport

SA Time: 19h30

Referee: Adrien Marbot

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