Massive stakes as SA teams eye European quarter-final spots

Massive stakes as SA teams eye European quarter-final spots

It’s do or die for the five South African franchises this weekend as they take the field in the Round of 16 of the Investec Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, where they will all be battling it out for quarter-final places.


Three of the teams will have the luxury of home ground advantage, with the Vodacom Bulls hosting Lyon in Pretoria and the DHL Stormers welcoming defending champions Stade Rochelais to Cape Town in the Investec Champions Cup on Saturday, while the Hollywoodbets Sharks will meet Zebre Parma in the EPCR Challenge Cup in Durban on Sunday.


In the other two EPCR playoffs, which will both take place on Saturday, the Toyota Cheetahs meet Clermont Auvergne in France, and the Emirates Lions take on Benetton in Italy.


While the DHL Stormers, Hollywoodbets Sharks and Emirates Lions will enter their knock-out matches well aware of what it takes to advance to the quarter-final after featuring in the top eight last season, the disappointment of losing out last year is expected to be a big driving force for the Vodacom Bulls and Toyota Cheetahs.


The Vodacom Bulls will enter their match against Lyon with confidence as they remain unbeaten at home this season in both the Investec Champions Cup and Vodacom United Rugby Championship, while they will also draw inspiration from the fact that they finished the pool stages ranked second after winning three of their four pool matches, one spot in front of their French rivals, who were third on the table.


Adding to this, the Pretoria outfit have had a strong Vodacom URC season, winning nine of their 13 matches, while Lyon have battled to make their presence felt in the French Top 14, where they are currently ranked third-last on the log after nine victories in 20 matches so far this season.


Lyon, however, will draw motivation from the fact that they edged the Pretoria outfit 29-28 in France in what marked the Vodacom Bulls’ only defeat in the Investec Champions Cup this season, and the close nature of that match combined with the high stakes will set the scene for a humdinger of a clash.


The DHL Stormers find themselves in a similar situation to the Vodacom Bulls, with the team also holding a 100% home win record this season, while they also boast three wins in the competition to Stade Rochelais’ two.


While the Capetonians will be wary of the fact that they will be facing the two-time defending champions, they will have the extra motivation of knowing that they beat the French outfit in the pool stages.


It was, however, a hard grind of a match with the Capetonians winning 21-20, and with a place in the quarter-final at stake this weekend, this encounter could prove to be another tight affair, especially as Stade Rochelais will have a third consecutive title in their sights.


The French giants have arrived in Cape Town in fifth place on the Top 14 standings, only one point behind third-placed Racing 92, while the DHL Stormers have won their last two Vodacom URC encounters, both at home.


In the EPCR Challenge Cup, the Hollywoodbets Sharks will have their sights set on a third win in a row in the competition and their third victory at home in as many weeks after bagging two morale boosting Vodacom URC wins and will look to continue this winning form when they host Zebre Parma on Sunday.


The Durbanites will also enter the match with a mental boost after finishing the league stages of the EPCR Challenge Cup as the top ranked side in their pool – three positions above Zebre Parma who finished in fourth place, and with a seven-point lead after securing bonus points for tries in all their matches, and a losing bonus point in their only defeat of the competition, against the Toyota Cheetahs.


However, the Hollywoodbets Sharks can’t afford to write off Zebre Parma, who won two of their four pool matches. Both teams have struggled to make their presence felt in the Vodacom URC, with the KwaZulu-Natalians winning three matches and the Italians only one in 13 outings, but that was against their opponents on Sunday in the fourth round in November.


Clermont Auvergne, meanwhile, will try to make the most of their home ground advantage when they host the Toyota Cheetahs at Stade Marcel-Michelin as they go in search of their third successive win in the competition.


The French club will have noticed that the Free Staters toppled the Hollywoodbets Sharks and registered a convincing 33-15 victory against Zebre Parma in Italy in the pool stages. Adding to this, they also won their first two SA Cup matches in the last two weeks by big margins.


With Clermont currently ranked fourth last on the Top 14 log, where they have won only eight of their 20 matches so far this season, and both teams entering the match with the mindset that they will have nothing to lose, it should be an entertaining encounter.


The Emirates Lions will look to secure back-to-back EPCR Challenge Cup quarter-final spots when they line up against Benetton in Treviso on Saturday, but they will have to dig deep in what will mark their third away game in a row after being on the road in their last two Vodacom URC games.


This will be the second time the teams meet at Stadio Monigo this season after crossing paths in the Vodacom URC, where the Johannesburgers went down 15-10 – a defeat they will want to avenge on Saturday.


The Gautengers can expect a massive challenge from Benetton, who are currently in sixth place on the Vodacom URC log and who come off an encouraging home win against Connacht, but they will also be wary of the fact that they suffered only one more defeat in the EPCR Challenge Cup than Benetton, which should spice up the clash.


Match information – Investec Champions Cup Round of 16:


Vodacom Bulls v Lyon

Date: Saturday, 6 April

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

SA Time: 13h30

Referee: Luke Pearce


DHL Stormers v Stade Rochelais

Date: Saturday, 6 April

Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town

SA Time: 16h00

Referee: Matthew Carley


Match Information – EPCR Challenge Cup Round of 16:


Clermont Auvergne v Toyota Cheetahs

Date: Saturday, 6 April

Venue: Stade Marcel-Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand

SA Time: 13h30

Referee: Sam Grove-White


Benetton v Emirates Lions

Date: Saturday, 6 April

Venue: Stadio Monigo, Treviso

SA Time: 18h30

Referee: Christophe Ridley


Hollywoodbets Sharks v Zebre Parma

Date: Sunday, 7 April

Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban

SA Time: 16h00

Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe


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