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Challenge Cup, Round of 16 - Teams and Predictions

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY PREVIEW: It is do or die for the three South African franchises in the Round of 16 of the Challenge Cup on Saturday.


The Cheetahs, Sharks and Lions will look to put their best foot forward and will be fighting for quarterfinal places.

The Cheetahs and Lions will have to win away from home on Saturday if they are to keep their title hopes alive.

The Bloemfontein side will collide with Clermont while the men from Johannesburg battle Benetton in Treviso.

The Sharks have earned home-ground advantage and will look to make it count when they welcome Zebre Parma to Kings Park on Sunday.

New Cheetahs coach Izak van der Westhuizen named a near full-strength side for the game against the French Top14 team Clermont.

Back from suspension is Daniel Kasende and Munier Hartzenberg as well as Jeandre Rudolph, who had a stint with Ospreys.


The winner of Saturday’s game will face either Montpellier or Ulster next week in the quarterfinals.

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“The big guy syndrome is gone and the guys know what to expect. They know exactly what is expected of them and what the conditions will be like,” Van der Westhuizen said ahead of their trip to France.

“France is always a difficult place to play because you never know which French side is going to arrive at the field. I think it helps a lot to have that experience.”


Two-times French champions Clermont-Auvergne have won just four of their last eight games at home and will be rightfully wary of Cheetahs, whose current form is hard to gauge.

“They haven’t played many games and are coming off a long break,” said attack coach Fred Charrier.

“That said, they have a typical South African game with a big defence, a team capable of slowing down the rucks with a big physical dimension and an extremely experienced scrumhalf in Pienaar, who knows the French championship perfectly.”

No Nohamba

Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen decided to mix it up this week and in an interesting move he left one of his stars, Sanele Nohamba, out of match 23, while Jaco Visagie gets the nod at hooker and captain ahead of regular hooker PJ Botha and regular captain Marius Louw.

He is also banking on the experience of Willem Alberts, who is set to retire at the end of the season.

Another experienced campaigner, close to the end of his career as well, is fullback Andries Coetzee.

It would seem he is keeping his best players behind for their challenge in the United Rugby Championship.

Benetton are hoping Jacob Umaga’s deadly boot can kick them one step closer to a first Challenge Cup Final appearance for an Italian club.

Buoyed by the superb kicking of exiled 25-year-old Brit Umaga, who has nailed 14 out of 15 kicks in the pool stage to help Benetton top Pool Two,  have their sights set on the Final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 24.

Umaga’s move to Italy from Wasps when the Premiership club went bust in 2022 has been an unqualified success despite ramifications to the prospect of adding to a solitary England cap.

Sole Welsh representative

Ospreys head coach Toby Booth has promised his club will finish with a flourish if they are within touching distance of Sale Sharks with 20 minutes left in their encounter.

Ospreys will be the sole Welsh representatives in the knockout stages of both EPCR competitions this weekend.

And despite a host of star names in the opposition ranks as they drop down from the Champions Cup, Booth believes his fast finishers can make it an uncomfortable night for the English visitors.

“They are a very competitive team obviously and most will be familiar with how they play the game, which is very much a high-pressure, low-risk game, and they have world-class game managers like George Ford,” said Booth.

“You have to live with the abrasion and the abrasive element of people like Tom Curry and the South African boys they have, who will put themselves about in the right areas.

“But often with these sort of teams you need to be in the hunt with 20 minutes to go. The ability to maintain that effort is really, really difficult, but we are a team that comes home strong.”

Sale Sharks ended a run of six consecutive losses stretching back to December 22 by hammering Exeter Chiefs 41-5 in the Premiership last weekend and Director of Rugby Alex Sanderson insisted the victory has to be a wake-up call.

“Everyone was well aware that it was do or die or the proverbial or bust – we had to find form and this was the week to find it, so we did,” he said. “Now it’s about keeping hold of it, bottling it, maintaining the momentum.”

Home will get them buzzing

Edinburgh forward Jamie Ritchie is hoping a return to the Edinburgh Rugby Stadium can get them buzzing again as they host Aviron Bayonnais on Saturday.

After a winless trip to South Africa following losses against the Stormers and Sharks, Ritchie is banking on there being no place like home.

“Hopefully there will be a big crowd and a great atmosphere for what should be a great game,” said Ritchie. “We want to get back to winning ways at home where we love playing.”

Ritchie conceded that Edinburgh need a more clinical edge to their play if they are to progress to the quarterfinals of a competition in which they finished runners-up in 2015.

The Scottish international saw positives from the mini-tour of South Africa but feels hard work to gain the initiative in matches is being wasted with basic errors.

“We need to be more decisive with our opportunities,” he said. “There are moments in those games where we’re absorbing a lot of pressure and then we’re getting a big turnover to relieve the pressure, but then it feels like we’re just giving the ball away again.

“It’s about compounding those momentum shifts for ourselves, so when we do manage to get momentum back, we can stay on top of teams and take advantage of our opportunities.”

More of the same for Sharks

Sharks head coach John Plumtree insists that there is a gathering momentum at the club with the latter stages of the EPCR Challenge Cup in sight as they get ready to host Zebre Parma at home on Sunday.

“The nice thing about our team is that it’s connecting on and off the field. The boys are enjoying each other’s company. We have a good vibe going,” said Plumtree.

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“There are obvious challenges in our environment, because I’m a new coach and there’s a lot of work to be done, but the team is happy. We’re also developing competition within the squad, which was part of the problem for us at the start of the season.

“We have some nice youngsters coming through too, which is really good, because they provide the energy and newness to the group.

“The focus for us has been to finish this season well. We want to do well at home for the fans. There are lots of things happening behind the scenes. We are growing our game and our leadership and that’s really pleasing.”

Clermont v Cheetahs
(Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont, Kick-off: 13.30; 13.30 SAST, 11.30 GMT)


@Rugby365: Cheetahs by three points


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

Cheetahs: 15 Tapiwa Mafura, 14 Daniel Kasende, 13 Munier Hartzenberg, 12 Reinhardt Fortuin, 11 Litha Nkula, 10 George Lourens, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Friedle Olivier, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Jeandré Rudolph, 5 Victor Sekekete (captain), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Louis van der Westhuizen, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Laurence Victor, 19 Mzwandele Zito, 20 Gideon van der Merwe, 21 Siba Qoma, 22 Andell Loubser, 23 Rewan Kruger

Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Ian Kenny (Scotland), Ru Cambell (Scotland)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)

Benetton v Lions
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso, Kick-off: 18.30; 18.30 SAST; 16.30 GMT)


@Rugby365: Benetton by12 points


Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Tommaso Menoncello, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Onisi Ratave, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Alessandro Garbisi, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Sebastian Negri, 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Eli Snyman (captain), 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Thomas Gallo
Replacements: 16 Bautista Bernasconi, 17 Mirco Spagnolo, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Henry Time-Stowers, 21 Lorenzo Cannone, 22 Andy Uren, 23 Tomas Albornoz

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Richard Kriel, 12 Zander du Plessis, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Morne van den Berg, 8 Hanru Sirgel, 7 Emmanuel Tshituka, 6 JC Pretorius, 5 Darrien Landsberg, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2. Jaco Visagie (captain), 1 Morgan Naude.
Replacements: 16 Morne Brandon, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Ruan Delport, 20 Izan Esterhuizen, 21 Francke Horn, 22 Nico Steyn, 23 Erich Cronje.

Referee: Christophe Ridley (England)
Assistant referees: Jon Healy (England), Joe James (England)
TMO: Dean Richards (England)

Ospreys v Sale Sharks
(Dunrave Brewery Field, Kick-off: 20.00; 19.00 GMT)


@Rugby365: Ospreys by nine points


Ospreys: 15 Jack Walsh, 14 Luke Morgan, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Harri Deaves, 5 Adam Beard, 4 James Ratti, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16 Lewis Lloyd, 1 Nicky Smith, 18 Rhys Henry, 19 Huw Sutton, 20 Morgan Morse, 21 Luke Davies, 22 Dan Edwards, 23 Max Nagy

Sale Sharks: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Arron Reed, 13 Sam James, 12 Rekeiti Ma’asi-White, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Raffi Quirke, 8 Jean-Luc du Preez, 7 Sam Dugdale, 6 Ben Curry (captain), 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ben Bamber, 3 Asher Opoku-Fordjour, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Willgriff John, 19 Tom Ellis, 20 Cameron Neild, 21 Nye Thomas, 22 Connor Doherty, 23 Alex Wills

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (FRA)
Assistant Referees: Vivian Praderie (FRA), Jonathan Gasnier (FRA)
TMO: Thomas Charabas (FRA)

Edinburgh v Bayonne
(Edinburgh Rugby Stadium, Kick-off: 20.00; 21.00 CEST, 19.00 GMT)


@Rugby365: Bayonne by five points


Edinburgh: 15 Wes Goosen, 14 Jake Henry, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Currie, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Ben Vellacott (cc) 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist (cc), 4 Sam Skinner, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ewan Ashman, 1 Luan de Bruin
Replacements: 16 Dave Cherry, 17 Mikey Jones, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Jamie Hodgson, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Ali Price, 22 James Lang, 23 Chris Dean

Bayonne: 15 Aurélien Callandret, 14 Bastien Pourailly, 13 Guillaume Martocq, 12 Yan Lestrade, 11 Nadir Megdoud, 10 Tom Spring, 9 Guillaume Rouet, 8 Manex Ariceta, 7 Baptiste Heguy (c), 6 Rémi Bourdeau, 5 Manuel Leindekar, 4 Thomas Ceyte, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Vincent Giudicelli, 1 Quentin Bethune,
Replacements: 16 Thomas Acquier, 17 Pierre Castillon, 18 Martin Villar, 19 Kote Mikautadze, 20 Pierre Huguet, 21 Kleo Labarbe, 22 Thomas Dolhagaray, 23 Riko Buliruarua

Referee: Chris Busby (IRE)
Assistant Referees: Peter Martin (IRE), Paul Haycock (IRE)
TMO: Mark Patton (IRE)

Sunday, April 7

Montpellier v Ulster
(GGL Stadium, Kick-off: 13.30; 12.30 UK & Ireland time; 11.30 GMT)


@Rugby365: Ulster by eight points


Montpellier: 15 Alexandre de Nardi, 14 Gabriel N’Gandebe, 13 George Bridge, 12 Auguste Cadot, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Louis Foursans-Bourdette, 9 Aubin Eymeri, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Clement Doumenc, 6 Alex Becognee, 5 Paul Willemse (c), 4 Florian Verhaeghe, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Christopher Tolofua, 1 Gregory Fichten
Replacements: 16 Vano Karkadze, 17 Baptiste Erdocio, 18 Lasha Macharashvili, 19 Tyler DuGuid, 20 Yacouba Camara, 21 Louis Carbonel, 22 Masi Dakuwaqa, 23 Pierre Lucas

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

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Ben Breakspear (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Sharks v Zebre Parma
(Kings Park, Kick-off: 16.00, 16.00 CEST, 14.00 GMT)


@Rugby365: Sharks by 14 points


Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (c), 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 Corne Rahl, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Francois Venter

Zebre Parma: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Franco Smith, 12 Damiano Mazza, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Tiff Eden, 9 Alessandro Fusco, 8 Davide Ruggeri, 7 Josh Kaifa, 6 Guido Volpi, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 Dave Sisi (c), 3 Juan-Manuel Pitinari, 2 Giampietro Ribaldi, 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Luca Rizzoli, 18 Ion Neculai, 19 Leonardo Krumov, 20 Giovanni Licata, 21 Thomas Dominguez, 22 Jacopo Trulla, 23 Bautista Stavile Bravin

Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe (England)
Assistant Referees: Tom Foley (England), Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Luke Pearce (England)

Pau v Connacht
(Stade du Hameau, Kick-off: 18.30, 17.30 UK & Ireland time; 16.30 GMT)


@Rugby365: Connacht by 11 points


Pau: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Thomas Carol, 13 Eliott Roudil, 12 Jale Vatubua, 11 Aminiasi Tuimaba, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Sacha Zegueur, 7 Thibaut Hamonou, 6 Martin Puech (c), 5 Lekima Tagitagivalu, 4 Guillaume Ducat, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Youri Delhommel, 1 Ziggy Fisi’ihoi
Replacements: 16 Lucas Rey, 17 Hugo Parrou, 18 Guram Papidze, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Fabrice Metz, 21 Reece Hewat, 22 Thibault Daubagna, 23 Axel Desperes

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Shayne Bolton, 13 David Hawkshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Shane Jennings, 10 Jack Carty (c), 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Joe Joyce, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Eoin de Buitléar, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Darragh Murray, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Matthew Devine, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Tom Farrell

Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Federico Vedovelli (Italy), Alex Frasson (Italy)
TMO: Matteo Liperini (Italy)

Additional source @EPCR





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