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Challenge Cup, Quarterfinals - Teams and Predictions

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY PREVIEW: Sharks Director of Rugby Neil Powell says his team does not deserve the favourites tag for the Challenge Cup title even if they are successful in their quarterfinal this weekend.

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The Sharks will host Sean Everitt’s Edinburgh in Durban on Saturday and a win will see them move closer to some silverware in a challenging season.

With a poor showing in this season’s United Rugby Championship, the Challenge Cup has become probity No.1 for the Sharks and it could also be their gateway into next season’s Champions Cup.

The Sharks are riding a wave of momentum right now with three wins in a row and with several World Cup winners in the squad, they are seen as a good bet to claim this year’s title.

“I still think there are some very competitive teams left in this EPCR Challenge Cup,” said Powell.

“When you go into the play-off stages, especially in the latter stages in terms of the semifinal and the Final, obviously everyone wants to be successful and win competitions and there are still a lot of strong teams left.

“Ulster are still in the competition and they are a really strong team.

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“They are sitting in fourth or fifth on the URC log, so I don’t think we can see ourselves as the favourites if we get a win over Edinburgh this weekend.”

The preview continues below…

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The Sharks recorded a 23-13 win over Edinburgh in the URC two weeks ago, but Saturday’s play-off presents a whole new challenge for the home side.

Edinburgh will be out to right the wrongs after that defeat and they will also test the Sharks with their own contingent of internationals.

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One area that could be key once again is the breakdowns and with Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson in the Edinburgh back row, the Sharks could be in for a tough afternoon.

“We looked at the game that we played against them two weeks ago and we identified areas that we want to be better at,” said Powell.

“We also know the threats that they posed when we played against them two weeks ago and tomorrow [Saturday] as well.

“It [breakdowns] is one of the areas that we focussed on to make sure that we are good enough in that area.

“They [Ritchie and Watson] are definitely quality players. They are both international players that played quite a few Tests for Scotland and we know exactly what they are capable of.

“There are obviously other areas in their game that we identified as well and it’s important for us to have a holistic approach when we look at the opposition and when we analyse them.”

The preview continues below…

Meanwhile, Edinburgh welcomes the return of Scotland star Pierre Schoeman for Saturday’s match.

The club centurion – who missed out on last weekend’s Round of 16 win after suffering a concussion in training – returns at loosehead prop having completed graduated return-to-play protocols.

His inclusion is the only change to the starting XV that claimed victory against Bayonne.

Lock Grant Gilchrist – who once again co-captains the capital side – makes his 200th appearance for the club, becoming only the fourth player in Edinburgh history to reach double-centurion status.

“I’d firstly like to congratulate Grant [Gilchrist] on reaching 200 appearances for the club,” Everitt said in an interview on the club’s website.

“It’s a fantastic achievement for a top professional who truly bleeds Edinburgh. This is his club and I know how much it means to represent this city and our supporters week in, week out

“After arriving in Durban earlier this week, we’ve continued to prepare well for what is a massive fixture for the club. We’ve spoken all week about the collective belief needed to win on the road in tough conditions. We’ve done it before and will need those same levels of energy and commitment once again.

“It’s great to welcome Pierre [Schoeman] back to the starting line-up. He’s a quality player with a huge amount of experience at the very top level of rugby. His return only strengthens our pack.”

Everitt continued: “We’ve taken a lot of belief from last weekend’s knockout win against Bayonne. That second half set the standard of how we want to perform moving forward into the crucial business end of the campaign.”

*In Saturday’s other quarterfinal, Clermont Auvergne will be up against Ulster in France.

After initially being doubtful for the encounter due to an ankle issue, Springbok prop Steven Kitshoff starts in the No.1 jersey again.

Captain and lock Iain Henderson has also been cleared to face the French side after he recovered from his foot injury.

The weekend’s final quarterfinal will take place on Sunday with Benetton at home against Connacht.

There are four changes to the Connacht side that beat Pau last week – with three of them due to injuries since that game.

Andrew Smith comes in on the wing instead of Shayne Bolton, while JJ Hanrahan will start at flyhalf to replace Jack Carty who misses out with a hamstring strain.

Caolin Blade will captain the side from scrumhalf.

There are two changes in the forwards, with Darragh Murray and Paul Boyle coming in for Niall Murray and Jarrad Butler who is undergoing graduated return-to-play protocols.

See below for Saturday and Sunday’s teams and predictions!

Saturday, April 13

Clermont Auvergne v Ulster
(Stade Marcel-Michelin, Clermont – Kick-off: 13.30; 12.30 UK & Ireland time; 11.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ulster by three points.

Teams:

Clermont: 15 Alex Newsome, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Leon Darricarrere, 12 Julien Heriteau, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Baptiste Jauneau (captain), 8 Pita-Gus Sowakula, 7 Peceli Yato, 6 Killian Tixeront, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Thibault Lanen, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Yohan Beheregaray, 1 Giorgi Beria.
Replacements: 16 Etienne Fourcade, 17 Daniel Bibi Biziwu, 18 Giorgi Dzmanashvili, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Alexandre Fischer, 21 Sebastien Bezy, 22 Theo Giral, 23 Joris Jurand.

Ulster: 15 Stewart Moore, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Mike Lowry, 10 Nathan Doak, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 David McCann, 6 Harry Sheridan, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Cormac Izuchukwu, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Jake Flannery, 22 Ethan Mcilroy, 23 Marcus Rea.

Referee: Christophe Ridley (England)
Assistant referees: Joe James (England), Hamish Smales (England)
TMO: Dean Richards (England)

Sharks v Edinburgh
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 13.30; 12.30 UK & Ireland time; 11.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Sharks by 11 points.

Teams:

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13. Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Ethan Hooker, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 James Venter, 5 Emile van Heerden, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Corne Rahl, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Francois Venter.

Edinburgh: 15 Wes Goosen, 14 Jacob Henry, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Currie, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Ben Vellacott, 8 Bill Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist (captain), 4 Sam Skinner, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ewan Ashman, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Dave Cherry, 17 Boan Venter, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Jamie Hodgson, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Ali Price, 22 James Lang, 23 Chris Dean.

Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe (England), Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Ian Tempest (England)

Sunday, April 14:

Benetton v Connacht
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 13.30; 12.30 UK & Ireland time; 11.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Benetton by six points.

Teams:

Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Ignacio Mendy, 13 Tommaso Menoncello, 12 Juan Ignacio Brex, 11 Onisi Ratave, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Alessandro Garbisi, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolo Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: 16 Bautista Bernasconi, 17 Mirco Spagnolo, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Alessandro Izekor, 21 Lorenzo Cannone, 22 Andy Uren, 23 Jacob Umaga.

Connacht Rugby: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Andrew Smith, 13 David Hawkshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Shane Jennings, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Caolin Blade (captain), 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Darragh Murray, 4 Joe Joyce, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Eoin de Buitlear, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Niall Murray, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Matthew Devine, 22 Cathal Forde, 23 Tom Farrell.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Ruairidh Campbell (Scotland), Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TMO: Hollie Davidson (Scotland)

@rugby365com

Additional reporting: @EdinburghRugby, @connachtrugby & @ChallengeCup_

Main photo: @SharksRugby

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