Challenge Cup final: Teams and Predictions
EUROPEAN RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: This season’s European Rugby Challenge Cup final on Friday will feature two sides in Bristol Bears and RC Toulon who go in search of a first success in the competition.
RC Toulon can boast considerable European pedigree, having won the Champions Cup on three occasions between 2013 and 2015, whereas Friday’s clash will be a first European final for Bristol Bears.
The English club marched to the top of Pool 4 with five wins and a draw from their six matches, securing the No.2 seeding as a result. Comfortable wins over Zebre Rugby Club and Brive were backed up by back-to-back successes over former Challenge Cup winners Stade Francais Paris.
A comprehensive 52-3 win over Brive in Round 5 and a tense 7-7 draw at Zebre in their final pool stage match secured a home quarter-final, one they dominated against Dragons, running out 56-17 winners at Ashton Gate.
They would stay in Bristol for their semi-final against Bordeaux-Begles, in a match played over 100 minutes after the sides were locked at 20-20 after normal time. It was Bristol who proved stronger in the extra time period, with tries from Piers O’Conor and Max Malins helping them secure a 37-20 win and a spot in the final.
RC Toulon’s run to the final was even smoother, winning all eight matches as the three-time Champions Cup winners go in search of a first Challenge Cup title.
They had to grind out 20-13 and 17-16 wins over Bayonne and Scarlets respectively in the opening two rounds, before recording comfortable back-to-back victories over London Irish.
Toulon then ran out 12-point winners over Scarlets in Llanelli before putting 50 points on Bayonne in a superb Round 6 performance, one that secured the No.1 seeding.
They would do battle again with Scarlets in the last eight, this time coming from 6-0 down to earn a narrow 11-6 win with Sergio Parisse’s try proving the difference between the two sides.
The French side had a more comfortable last-four tie, seeing off Leicester Tigers 34-19 at Stade Felix Mayol with tries from Bryce Heem, Facundo Isa and a brace from Gabin Villiere settling matters inside 65 minutes.
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To make festivities more interesting, the Challenge Cup will be played in front of fans after authorities in the Bouches-du-Rhône department granted EPCR permission to sell 1 000 tickets for the showpiece match in Aix-en-Provence.
“In a final, when you play the game and that full-time whistle goes, there’s a real reward that you get handed over to you – it’s something that all rugby players, coaches and management look forward to, but there is enough of us who have experienced them to understand that there’s a lot of work that goes into it,” Lam said ahead of the final.
“So, this week has all been about taking our learnings from what happened last week and then channelling all of the excitement of a final into making sure we tick off a lot of boxes, and making sure we are ready to go and get the performance that will give us the best chance of winning that silverware.”
Predictions: Toulon to win by five points
Toulon: 15 Gervais Cordin, 14 Bryce Heem , 13 Isaiah Toeava, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Gabin Villière, 10 Louis Carbonel, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Raphael Lakafia, 6 Charles Ollivon, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Beka Gigashvili, 2 Anthony Etrillard (captain), 1 Jean Baptiste Gros,
Replacements: 16 Bastien Soury, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Emerick Setiano, 19 Brian Alainu’uese, 20 Swan Rebbadj, 21 Julien Ory, 22 Tane Takulua, 23 Masivesi Dakuwaqa.
Bristol Bears: 15 Max Malins, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Alapati Leiua, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Daniel Thomas, 6 Steven Luatua (captain), 5 Chris Vui, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Yann Thomas,
Replacements: 16 George Kloska, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 John Afoa, 19 Joe Joyce, 20 Jake Heenan, 21 Tom Kessell, 22 Piers O’Conor, 23 Niyi Adeolokun.
Date: Friday, October 16
Venue: Stade Maurice-David, Aix-en-Provence
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 UK time; 20.00 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy, George Clancy
TMO: Brian McNeice