Intriguing round 1 clashes in EPCR Challenge Cup

Intriguing round 1 clashes in EPCR Challenge Cup

The EPCR Challenge Cup gets underway on Friday, featuring nine ties across six countries and including some intriguing clashes on early-season form.

ASM Clermont Auvergne’s clash with Edinburgh Rugby kicks the tournament off at the Stade Marcel-Michelin, a match between two clubs with realistic title aspirations.

Saturday opens with Georgian debutants Black Lion hosting Gloucester Rugby, before the exotic visits of Toyota Cheetahs to Zebre Parma and TOP 14 pacesetters Section Paloise to Durban to face the Hollywoodbet Sharks.

Scarlets travel to Castres Olympique prior to a double-header in Wales, with Oyonnax visiting Newport to encounter Dragons RFC and Benetton Rugby taking on Ospreys in Swansea in an all-United Rugby Championship tie.

On Sunday, Emirates Lions will be guests at USAP’s Stade Aime-Giral. That will be followed by perhaps the most interesting matchup of the round at Kingston Park, where two clubs enduring thoroughly different sorts of crises go head-to-head when Newcastle Falcons entertain Montpellier Hérault Rugby.

Newcastle Falcons prop up the Gallagher Premiership, with a visibly emotional head coach Alex Codling questioning the direction of the club’s owners after a heavy defeat to Leicester Tigers last week, saying that the club “has decisions to make” on where it wants to go.

Montpellier Hérault Rugby owner Mohed Altrad cannot be criticised for not having made decisions recently. The ousting of Richard Cockerill and installation of Patrice Collazo as head coach, a number of other new coaches and the appointment of Bernard Laporte as director of rugby have ensured that the soap opera nature of one of France’s biggest clubs continues.

But the team, like Newcastle Falcons, sit bottom of their domestic competition, well adrift of a non-relegation position and with only one win in the bank all season. Both teams will hope that the EPCR Challenge Cup can be a springboard for their respective campaigns.

Gloucester Rugby are another team in crisis mode after recent defeats in West Country derbies to Bath Rugby – with Finn Russell famously shushing the Shed – and a 50-point shellacking at Bristol Bears last weekend left CEO Alex Brown writing an open letter to fans apologising for the poor run but defending under-fire director of rugby George Skivington.

Skivington himself hinted at a lack of strategic direction on the pitch when he said “we’ve lost some of our ferocity and we are looking like a bit of everything” after the defeat at Bristol.

There’s enough talent in the team to turn the season around, but Skivington is starting to look isolated despite the mitigation of injuries – in particular to England international No.8 Zach Mercer – and Brown’s support.

So, the last thing the Cherry-and-Whites probably need is a schlepp across time zones to face an ultra-motivated and international-stuffed Black Lion team in Tblisi. On form, a famous home win is on the cards for the EPCR newcomers on Saturday afternoon.

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