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European Challenge Cup, Round One - teams and prediction

PREVIEW: Cheetahs will look to ‘justify’ their invitation to Europe’s top table when they begin their Challenge Cup journey against Section Paloise at the Stade du Hameau on Saturday.


The Cheetahs, one of the two South African sides debuting in the Challenge Cup this season, join the competition on an invitational basis.

One of the conditions of the invitation is that they base themselves in Europe.

The South African side will use Zebre’s ground, the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, for their home games, rather than welcoming sides to Bloemfontein.

Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie admitted there is a lot of pressure and expectation of the Cheetahs, given that they last played Northern Hemisphere opposition in February 2020 – when they lost 10-13 to the Dragons at Rodney Parade.

“There will always be people that will say we don’t belong here [in European competitions] if we don’t do well,” he told @rugby365com.

“We have spoken about it.


“We know we have a responsibility to do well and show we are worthy of the invitation that we have.

“We are looking to try and force a door open that was closed on us about three years ago,” he said of their axing from the Pro14 (now United Rugby Championship).

“We have an opportunity – four games to prove that we belong in an international competition.

“To be able to measure ourselves against these teams is a privilege and I am sure the guys will make the best of the opportunity.”


Another challenge for the Cheetahs is that Stade du Hameau – the venue for their debut – has a hybrid (artificial and grass) surface.

The Cheetahs coach said the team can overcome the ‘lack of local knowledge’ by “performing as a team”.

“Since we started training in July, we focus on what conditions we can expect and how we have to play in these conditions,” he told @rugby365com.

Fourie said there is some familiarity, such as playing against the Scarlets – a United Rugby Championship team.

Having watched Pau’s last six matches in the French Top 14, the coach believes he has a good handle on what to expect in terms of tempo and intensity.

Pau is only two places above bottom side Brive in the Top 14, but they have won three of their last four games – including an outstanding 38-21 away win over reigning Champions Cup holders Stade Rochelais in October.

The French side reached the Challenge Cup Final in 2005, where they lost 3-27 to Sale Sharks.

However, they haven’t made it past the group stages since the 2017/18 season.

“They are a skilful team that is not afraid to attack and put you under pressure,” Fourie said.

“It will be a step up,” he said, adding: “We haven’t played in a professional competition in nearly three years, so there will be a bit of an adjustment for us.

“We like to play at a high intensity as well, so it will suit us.”

(Article continues below Hawies Fourie interview …)

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* The other South African team that will make their Challenge Cup bow on Saturday is the Lions, who missed out on the Champions Cup because they did not secure a top-eight finish in the URC.

The Lions host the Dragons, a side that they beat just two weeks ago in the URC.

On that occasion, a 21-point haul from flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse was enough to steer the South African side to a 33-25 win that sees them fifth in the URC table, some eight places higher than their Welsh opponents.

The Dragons have struggled in the Challenge Cup of late, with their last away victory coming in 2019.

However, they have reached the semifinals on three previous occasions, so will be hoping that their tournament experience shines through on Saturday.

Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen said getting off to a good start in their European debut is vital for the team.

He equated the pool stages of the Challenge Cup as a ‘sprint within a marathon’ – given the many games they have to play – including the United Rugby Championship.

“It is only four games – two home, two away,” he said about the pool stages.

“As we have seen with the European competition, especially the French and English teams – their home records are unbelievable.

“It is a bit different with the Dragons, which is now here [in South Africa] for their third week.

“It would be interesting to see what Stade Francais will do next week, as they are looking good in the French [Top 14] competition.

“It brings a different dynamic to the competition for the South Africa teams, but it is vital to get as many points as possible at home and see how many points you can get away from home – to hopefully get home ground advantage in the Round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals.”

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Van Rooyen used his captain, Reinhard Nothnagel, as an example of a player that can’t play 80 minutes, in 22 consecutive games – which means ‘rotation’ becomes a big part of their entry into Europe.

“The tricky part is to say ‘no’ to players ahead of such a historic occasion,” the coach told @rugby365com.

“We are honest about the big picture,” Van Rooyen said, adding: “The core group [of players] will be involved in the EPCR [Europe] and URC.

“Hopefully we can get close to the play-offs and have everyone available there also.”

Nothnagel said the novelty of the competition is what excited the players most.

“We are looking forward to making some good memories – going to new places,” he said.

“There is plenty of excitement in the team, but we also want to perform,” he added.

Dragons flyhalf John Hanrahan also spoke of the need to ‘get out the blocks’ quickly.

“You can’t wait to get smacked in the mouth before you react,” Hanrahan said.

“We know we can fight back,” he said of their loss in the URC a fortnight ago.

“We know we can stay in games.

“There is good character in this group, which is a good thing. They care a lot about the team.”

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* In Other matches on Saturday Cardiff open their bid for a third EPCR Challenge Cup at home to Brive on Saturday, with both teams struggling for consistency this season.

The 2010 and 2018 champions will be looking to bounce back from a 45-9 thrashing at the hands of the Bulls in their last United Rugby Championship outing, which left them seventh in the table after nine games.

Zebre faces a monumental task in their Challenge Cup opener as they take on three-time Champions Cup winners Toulon at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

The Italian side fell to four straight defeats in last season’s Challenge Cup and will be aiming to progress beyond the pool stage of the competition for only the second time in their history.

Zebre have endured a nightmare start to their season, conceding 335 points in their nine consecutive United Rugby Championship defeats, while Toulon are ninth in the Top 14 after a recent slump in form.

Bath meet Glasgow Warriors, with the two sides having endured tough starts to their domestic campaigns.

The 2008 Challenge Cup winners Bath have lost six of their first nine matches in the Premiership this season, while Glasgow find themselves ninth in the URC.

Bath failed to progress from the pool stage of last season’s Challenge Cup, while Glasgow reached the quarterfinals having dropped out of the Champions Cup.

All the Saturday, December 10, and Sunday, December 11, teams and predictions are below


Lions v Dragons
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 12.45; 10.45 UK time; 10.45 GMT)


@rugby365com: Lions by nine points


Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sibahle Maxwane, 13 Sango Xamlashe, 12 Zander du Plessis, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Emmanuel Tshituka, 7 Darrien Landsberg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (captain), 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Pieter Botha, 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Jean-Pierre Smith, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Ruan Venter, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Jordan Hendrikse, 23 Rynhardt Jonker.

Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Sio Tomkinson, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Sam Davies , 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Harrison Keddie (captain), 6 Matthew Screech, 5 Ben Carter, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Chris Coleman, 2 Bradley Roberts, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Brodie Coghlan, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Aaron Wainwright, 20 Ben Fry, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Will Reed, 23 Steff Hughes.

Referee: Anthony Woodshorpe
Assistant referees: Dan Jones, George Selwood
TMO: Dean Richards

Section Paloise v Cheetahs
(Stade du Hameau, Pau – Kick-off: 14.00; 15.00 SA time; 13.00 GMT)


@rugby365com: Pau by six points


Section Paloise: 15 Clément Mondinat, 14 Eoghan Barrett, 13 Yvan Reilhac, 12 Jale Vatubua, 11 Vincent Pinto, 10 Thibault Debaes, 9 Clovis Lebail, 8 Sacha Zegueur, 7 Thibaut Hamonou, 6 Martin Puech, 5 Jimi Maximin, 4 Hugo Auradou, 3 Nicolas Corato, 2 Lucas Rey (captain), 1 Rémi Seneca.
Replacements: 16 Youri Delhommel, 17 Siegfried Fisiihoi, 18 Nicolaas van Dyk, 19 Mickael Capelli, 20 Reece Hewat, 21 Thibault Daubagna, 22 Elliot Roudil, 23 Mathias Colombet.

Cheetahs: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 Daniel Kasende, 13 David Brits, 12 Reinhardt Fortuin, 11 Tapiwa Mafura, 10 Siyabonga Masuku, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Friedle Olivier, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Jeandrè Rudolph, 5 Victor Sekekete (captain), 4 Mzwanele Zito, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Louis van der Westhuizen, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Sibabalo Qoma, 21 Daniel Maartens, 22 Rewan Kruger, 23 Robert Ebersohn.

Referee: Sam Grove-White
Assistant referees: Hollie Davidson, Ru Campbell
TMO: Andrew McMenemy

Bath v Glasgow Warriors
(The Recreation ground, Bath – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)


@rugby365com: Bath by 12 points


Bath: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Matt Gallagher, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Ben Spencer (captain), 8 Josh Bayliss, 7 Wesley White, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Fergus Lee-Warner, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 D’Arcy Rae, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Valery Morozov.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Arthur Cordwell, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Will Spencer, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Richard de Carpentier.

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Oliver Smith, 14 Kyle Steyn (captain), 13 Huw Jones, 12 Stafford McDowell, 11 Rufus McLean, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Jamie Dobie, 8 Jack Mann, 7 Cameron Neild, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 4 Lewis Bean, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 George Turner, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Angus Fraser, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Lucio Sordoni, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Euan Ferrie, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Walter Fifita.

Referee: Adrien Marbot
Assistant referees: Evan Urrusmendi, Stephane Crapoix
TMO: Patrick Dellac

Cardiff v Brive
(Arms Park, Cardiff – Kick-off: 17.30; 18.30 French time; 17.30 GMT)


@rugby365com: Cardiff by 18 points


Cardiff: 15 Ben Thomas, 14 Josh Adams , 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Max Llewellyn, 11 Theo Cabango, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 James Ratti, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Josh Turnbull (captain), 5 Seb Davies, 4 Lopeti Timani, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rhys Carre.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Teddy Williams, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Mason Grady.

Brive: 15 Mathis Ferté, 14 Valentin Tirefort, 13 Wesley Douglas, 12 Thomas Laranjeira (captain), 11 Joris Jurand, 10 Enzo Herve, 9 Enzo Sanga, 8 Abraham Papali’i, 7 Joeli Matalaweru, 6 Matthieu Voisin, 5 Andrés Zafra Tarazona, 4 Renger van Eerten, 3 Tietie Tuimauga, 2 Lucas Da Silva, 1 Wesley Tapueluelu.
Replacements: 16 Florian Dufour, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Francisco Coria Marchetti, 19 Tevita Ratuva, 20 Noé Bedou, 21 Paul Abadie, 22 Tanguy Lacoste, 23 Tom Danovaro.

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi
Assistant referees: Alex Frasson, Framco Rosella
TMO: Stefano Rochini

Connacht v Newcastle Falcons
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 17.30; 17.30 GMT)


@rugby365com: Connacht by 15 points


Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Tom Daly, 12 Cathal Forde, 11 Diarmuid Kilgallen, 10 David Hawkshaw, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 6 Jarrad Butler (captain), 5 Niall Murray, 4 Josh Murphy, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Dylan Tierney Martin, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Leva Fifita, 20 Oisín McCormack, 21 Colm Reilly, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Tom Farrell.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Tom Penny (c), 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Sam Stuart, 8 Callum Chick, 7 Tom Marshall, 6 Matty Dalton, 5 Sebastian De Chaves, 4 Greg Peterson, 3 Mark Tampin, 2 Jamie Blamire, 1 Conrad Cade.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Maddison, 17 Adam Brocklebank, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 Josh Peters, 20 Marcus Tiffen, 21 Josh Barton, 22 Josh Thomas, 23 Ewan Greenlaw.

Referee: Luc Ramos
Assistant referees: Adrien Descottes, Thomas Chereque
TMO: Denis Grenouillet

Zebre v Toulon
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 21.00; 20.00 GMT)


@rugby365com: Toulon by 18 points


Zebre: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Erich Cronjé, 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Latu Latunipulu, 10 Tiff Eden, 9 Gonzalo Garcia, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 MJ Pelser, 6 Taina Fox-Matamua, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 David Sisi (captain), 3 Matteo Nocera, 2 Luca Bigi , 1 Luca Rizzoli.
Replacements: 16 Marco Manfredi, 17 Juan Pitinari, 18 Riccardo Genovese, 19 Jan Uys, 20 Guido Volpi, 21 Ratko Jelic, 22 Geronimo Prisciantelli, 23 Franco Smith.

Toulon: 15 Aymeric Luc, 14 Gervais Cordin, 13 Jérémy Sinzelle, 12 Mathieu Smaili, 11 Gael Drean, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Jules Danglot, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Raphael Lakafia, 6 Jules Coulon, 5 Adrien Warion, 4 Matthias Halagahu, 3 Emerick Setiano, 2 Teddy Baubigny, 1 Bruce Devaux.
Replacements: 16 Pierre Damond, 17 Fanguna Apea Tau Junior Fifita, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Mattéo Le Corvec, 21 Benoit Paillaugue, 22 Maëlan Rabut, 23 Mathieu Tanguy.

Referee: Adam Jones
Assistant referees: Elgan Williams, Mark Butcher
TMO: Ian Davies

Scarlets v Bayonnais
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 15.15; 16.15 French time; 15.15 GMT)


@rugby365com: Scarlets by nine points


Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Tom Rogers, 13 Ioan Nicholas, 12 Jonathan Davies (captain), 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Joshua Macleod, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Sione Kalamafoni, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Kemsley Mathias.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Steff Thomas, 18 Harri O’Connor, 19 Tom Price, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Steff Evans.

Aviron Bayonnais: 15 Martin Bogado, 14 Bastien Pourailly, 13 Peyo Muscarditz (c), 12 Guillaume Martocq, 11 Teiva Jacquelain, 10 Thomas Dolhagaray, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Afa Amosa, 7 Geoffrey Cridge, 6 Mateaki Kafatolu, 5 Konstantine Mikautadze, 4 Manuel Leindekar, 3 Chris Talakai, 2 Thomas Acquier, 1 Pieter Scholtz.
Replacements: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Swan Cormenier, 18 Pascal Cotet, 19 Baptiste Heguy, 20 OJ Noah, 21 Guillaume Rouet, 22 Jason Robertson, 23 Tom Spring.

Referee: Jack Makepeace
Assistant referees: Mike Hudson, Charlie Gayther
TMO: Steve Leyshon


* Additional reporting by @ChallengeCup_

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