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Champions Cup, Round of 16 - teams and predictions

PREVIEW: Stormers Director of Rugby John Dobson readily accepted the ‘underdog’ tag as his team faces what he describes as “one of the best team teams in the world.”

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The Stormers host two-time defending champions Stade Rochelais in a Champions Cup Round of 16 face-off in Cape Town on Saturday.

Dobson said just hosting a Round of 16 match for the second year running is already a significant achievement, adding that his team is preparing for a “Test match” in terms of the quality of the opposition.

It is also a rematch of the Pool Four game in December – decided by a hotly-contested call against Stade Rochelais prop Joel Sclavi, who was deemed to have made head contact in a tackle, thus negating a potential game-winning try.

Sclavi was sent to the sin-bin for his indiscretion and moments later the Stormers clinched the match with a try from Andre-Hugo Venter and a clutch touchline conversion from Springbok flyhalf Manie Libbok.

On the flip side, the visitors have had some patchy form – both in terms of their domestic (Top 14) record and in Europe.

Stade Rochelais only has a 50 percent win record in the Top 14 and Champions Cup this season, but has shown flashes of the form that carried them to EPCR glory the past two seasons – dismantling Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks in the last two pool matches in January to ensure Round of 16 qualifications.

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More recently, they crushed Top 14 leaders Stade Français 23-3 and showed both sides of their game last week in a 40-21 win over Oyonnax – racing out to a 28-0 lead, but losing the rest of the game 12-21 and being put under pressure for long periods.

“We feel like we lost,” lock Ultan Dillane said in his post-match reaction.

The Stormers have been in better form, especially at home, where they are unbeaten this season.

They will likely be fresher after multiple game-free weeks during the Six Nations Championship, when several Stade Rochelais players were on international and team duty.

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However, Jonathan Danty returns from his suspension to take his place at centre.

Dobson, speaking in the build-up to Saturday’s encounter, said it would be a very different French team that arrived in the Mother City this week.

“The odds are against us,” the Stormers boss boldly proclaimed, adding: “Getting out of the ‘pool of death’ [which also featured Leinster, Leicester Tigers, Sale Sharks and Stade Francais] is something special.

“I do feel this is another beast, in terms of the quality of the opposition,” he said, describing it as the Stormers’ ultimate test.

“I don’t think the Stormers have played a stronger team before.”

Having to deal with that monstrous set of forwards will require one set of tactics but it will be a very different Stade Rochelais to the one that ran out at the Greenpoint-based stadium back in December.

Dobson said December’s pool game was not a live or death game, but now that it is the knock-out stages they will certainly up the ante.

“They wouldn’t have known the Stormers,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “Everything was novel.

“It is a knock-out [game] and they have an amazing knock-out history.

“They were beaten finalists [in 2021] and won it the last two years, so they have won 11 of their last 12 games in the knock-out stages.

“They will be taking us a lot more seriously and they were smarting after that defeat [in December].”

The Stormers Director of Rugby described Stade Rochelais captain and No.8 Grégory Alldritt as one of the best forwards anywhere in the world.

“I expect some more anger from then and to take it more seriously,” he added.

The Stormers boss said they will have to “play the game at tempo” from the outset in an attempt to run them ragged.

“That wasn’t the game when we played them in December, but we want to move it around.

“We are not scared of them physically, we just think that’s the way to play against these guys.

“On a hard field, the [best] way is to play them fast.”

Dobson said he hopes the referee doesn’t allow too many delaying tactics from the visitors and allows the game to flow.

“High tempo and high ball in play suits our plan.

“The ideal is to play a typical Stormers game and see how they handle it,” he added.

(John Dobson previews Stormers versus Stade Rochelais ….)

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* The other South African team in Europe’s top tier, the Bulls, will be favourites when they host an even more erratic French team in Lyon Olympique Universitaire.

These two teams have provided three memorable encounters in the past two campaigns – in Round Two this term at Matmut Stadíum de Gerland (won by Lyon by the odd point in 57), as well as the home and away games in the pool stage last season.

The standout clash was the thrilling 42-36 win by the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, in which the home side scorched out to a 35-12 lead early in the second half before Lyon cut loose and almost nicked it at the death.

The Bulls have raced into commanding leads in several games, only to allow the opposition back into the game.

This includes Lyon, Saracens and Bordeaux.

Director of Rugby Jake White said those ‘second-half slumps’ are not intentional.

“It is the calibre of the teams you play against in this competition,” he said of Europe’s premier event.

“You have so many internationals in every team,” he said, adding: “The chances of an easy run when you have the lead is non-existent.

“EPCR stands for European Professional Club Rugby.

“They are all professionals, with lots of experience and plenty of international players.”

Neither team comes into the game in glittering form.

The Bulls were given a hiding in Dublin by Leinster last Friday – although the first half was extremely tight – and head coach Jake White is hoping that his team can quickly assimilate the way the Irish province took them to task in the second half.

Lyon beat Union Bordeaux-Bègles 26-10 at home last weekend, a confidence-boosting result on the back of a disappointing 13-22 reverse at Stade Français Paris the week before.

Like many French teams, Lyon are weaker on the road, but they have also been fallible at home this season.

In a condensed Top 14 table, they are only a nose ahead of the relegation play-off place – but also just a decent run of form away from qualification for next season’s Champions Cup places.

* It’s been a quirk of this season’s Champions Cup that the Round of 16 has conjured up five rematches of pool games.

Leinster will bid to fight past Leicester Tigers, despite injuries to several first-team players.

The Irish province is the No.2 ranked team in the knockouts and is heavily tipped to go all the way to the Final, but they may find themselves pushed closer than they would like by Leicester Tigers, who may be buoyed by the potential injury issues of their rivals.

* Munster stuttered to a home defeat against Northampton Saints in Round Four, they will be rubbing their hands in anticipation of revenge at Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday.

Throw into the mix that Munster coach Graham Rowntree was once a mainstay of Northampton Saints’ local rivals, Leicester Tigers, and you’ve got all sorts of reasons for the United Rugby Championship team to be up for any and every challenge this weekend.

* “A whiff of revenge in the air” was how French rugby newspaper Midi-Olympique previewed Saturday’s tie between Bordeaux-Bègles and Saracens at Stade Chaban-Delmas.

Basic stats show that the last time Saracens headed into France’s wine capital, in a Round Three Pool One tie in January, they were crushed 55-15.

That is not even the full story.

England’s flagship team, usually so proud of their unrelenting defence, were sliced, diced, seasoned and flash-fried by some cooking Union Bordeaux-Bègles attacking play, which racked up nine tries, 19 clean breaks and beat 33 defenders, reducing Saracens’ tackle success rate to 67 per cent.

All the teams and predictions for Saturday (April 6) and Sunday (April 7) follow below …

Bulls v Lyon Olympique Universitair
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 13.30; 13.30 French time; 11.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Bulls by 12 points

Teams

Bulls: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sebastian de Klerk, 13 Canan Moodie, 12 David Kriel, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Reinhardt Ludwig, 6 Marcell Coetzee (captain), 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 JF van Heerden, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Izak Burger, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Devon Williams.

Lyon: 15 Thaakir Abrahams, 14 Xavier Mignot, 13 Alfred Parisien, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Martin Page-Relo, 8 Jordan Taufua (captain), 7 Beka Saginadze, 6 Marvin Okuya, 5 Loann Goujon, 4 Theo William, 3 Paulo Tafili, 2 Guillaume Marchand, 1 Vivien Devisme.
Replacements: 16 Yanis Charcosset, 17 Demba Bamba, 18 Mickael Guillard, 19 Ave Maalo, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Maxime Gouzou, 22 Ethan Dumortier, 23 Liam Rimet.

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Sara Cox (England), Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)

Stormers v Stade Rochelais
(Cape Town stadium – Kick-off: 16.00; 16.00 French time; 14.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Stade Rochelais by six points

Teams

Stormers: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Ben-Jason Dixon, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Salmaan Moerat (captain), 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Adre Smith, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Ben Loader.

La Rochelle: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Ulupano Seuteni, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Antoine Hastoy, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Grégory Alldritt (captain), 7 Levani Botia, 6 Judicaël Cancoriet, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Louis Penverne.
Replacements: 16 Quentin Lespiaucq, 17 Alexandre Kaddouri, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Thomas Lavault, 20 Paul Boudehent, 21 Yoan Tanga, 22 Teddy Iribaren, 23 Ihaia West.

Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Hamish Smales (England), John Meredith (England)
TMO: Ian Tempest (England)

Exeter Chiefs v Bath
(Sandy Park, Exeter – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Exeter Chiefs by three points

Teams

Exeter: 15 Josh Hodge, 14 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Tom Cairns, 8 Ross Vintcent, 7 Christ Tshiunza, 6 Ethan Roots, 5 Dafydd Jenkins (captain), 4 Rusi Tuima, 3 Ehren Painter, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Danny Southworth, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Lewis Pearson, 20 Greg Fisilau, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Will Haydon-Wood, 23 Zack Wimbush.

Bath: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Will Muir, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben Spencer (captain), 8 Alfie Barbeary, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Miles Reid, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Jaco Coetzee.

Referee: Luc Ramos (France)
Assistant referees: Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy (France), Evan Urruzmendi (France)
TMO: Patrick Dellac (France)

Union Bordeaux-Bègles v Saracens
(Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux – Kick-off: 18.30; 17.30 UK & Ireland time; 16.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Bordeaux by five points

Teams

Bordeaux: 15 Romain Buros, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Nicolas Depoortere, 12 Yoram Moefana, 11 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10 Matéo Garcia, 9 Maxime Lucu (captain), 8 Tevita Tatafu, 7 Pete Samu, 6 Antoine Miquel, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Cyril Cazeaux, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Maxime Lamothe, 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Romain Latterrade, 17 Lekso Kaulashvili, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Thomas Jolmes, 21 Guido Petti, 22 Yann Lesgourgues, 23 Pablo Uberti.

Saracens: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Lucio Cinti, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Alex Goode, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Theo McFarland, 5 Hugh Tizard, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Christian Judge, 2 Jamie George (captain), 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 20 Tom Willis, 21 Gareth Simpson, 22 Manu Vunipola, 23 Olly Hartley.

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eoghan Cross (Ireland), Andrew Cole (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)

Leinster v Leicester Tigers
(Lansdowne Road, Dublin – Kick-off: 20.00; 19.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by 16 points

Teams

Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Jamie Osborne, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris (captain), 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 Joe McCarthy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Ben Murphy, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Ciarán Frawley.

Leicester: 15 Jamie Shillcock, 14 Freddie Steward, 13 Dan Kelly, 12 Solomone Kata, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Jack van Poortvliet, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Hanro Liebenberg, 5 Kyle Hatherell, 4 Harry Wells, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Julián Montoya, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Will Hurd, 19 Finn Carnduff, 20 Emeka Ilione, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Phil Cokanasiga, 23 Mike Brown.

Referee: Pierre Brousset (France)
Assistant referees: Kevin Bralley (France), Jeremy Rozier (France)
TMO: Denis Grenouillet (France)

Northampton Saints v Munster
(Franklin’s Gardens; Northampton – Kick-off: 12.30; 11.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Saints by six points

Teams

Northampton: 15 James Ramm, 14 Tommy Freeman, 13 Fraser Dingwall, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Ollie Sleightholme, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Tom James, 8 Sam Graham, 7 Lewis Ludlam (captain), 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Alex Coles, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Trevor Davison, 2 Curtis Langdon, 1 Emmanuel Iyogun.
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Temo Mayanavanua, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Juarno Augustus, 22 Alex Mitchell, 23 George Hendy.

Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Simon Zebo, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 John Hodnett, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Tadhg Beirne (captain), 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Eoghan Clarke, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 John Ryan, 19 Tom Ahern, 20 Alex Kendellen, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Sean O’Brien.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Jonny Perriam (Scotland), Dave Sutherland (Scotland)
TMO: Hollie Davidson (Scotland)

Stade Toulousain v Racing 92
(Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse – Kick-off: 16.00; 14.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Stade Toulousain by 12 points

Teams

Toulouse: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Juan Cruz Mallia, 13 Pierre-Louis Barassi, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Alexandre Roumat, 7 François Cros, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Emmanuel Meafou, 4 Richie Arnold, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Rodrigue Neti, 18 Joel Merkler, 19 Thibaud Flament, 20 Joshua Brennan, 21 Mathis Castro-Ferreira, 22 Paul Graou, 23 Paul Costes.

Racing: 15 Max Spring, 14 Henry Arundell, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Henry Chavancy (captain), 11 Wame Naituvi, 10 Tristan Tedder, 9 Clovis le Bail, 8 Jordan Joseph, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Cameron Woki, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Peniami Narisia 1 Hassane Kolingar.
Replacements: 16 Eddy Ben Arous, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Thomas Laclayat, 19 Fabien Sanconnie, 20 Ibrahim Diallo, 21 Martin Meliande, 22 Francis Saili, 23 Christian Wade.

Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant referees: Andrew Jackson (England), Jack Makepeace (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)

@king365ed
@rugby365com

* Additional reporting by @ChampionsCup

 

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