Champions Cup, Round of 16 - Teams and Predictions
PREVIEW: If South African sides were unsure of the challenge of playing in Europe, they will get a full-on reality check this weekend when three massive games involving SA franchises take place in the Champions Cup.
From the Sharks to the Stormers to the Bulls, all three sides face significant challenges with the Bulls possibly having the toughest task against a massive Toulouse side away from home.
The Sharks will be determined to return to winning ways when they host Munster at Kings Park on Saturday, especially after suffering their first defeat in the competition in their last outing against Harlequins in London.
Fortunately for the KwaZulu-Natalians – who lost away to Munster in the United Rugby Championship last year – they did enough to secure a home play-off match after registering three wins in a row prior to that.
They will be wary of the fact that Munster will pose a different challenge to that which they have faced in the competition so far, but with the team having won both their home matches in the pool stages, they are expected to enter the match with confidence.
Their motivation will be boosted by the fact that they won one more match during the season and scored 46 more points than the visitors, but Munster hold a better defensive record with 22 points fewer conceded in their first four matches.
“We can beat around the bush with this game, but it’s a must-win. It’s the knockout stage,” said Sharks Director of Rugby Neil Powell.
“If you don’t win, you are out of the competition.
“It is important for us to go out there and play the way we want to. It’s great that we have a Round of 16 Champions Cup game here at Kings Park.
“The Bulls need to play away against Toulouse, so it’s great to have a home game and we must use that advantage that we have.
“I think it will be a big motivation playing in front of ow own fans and hopefully we can make it a successful weekend for Sharks Rugby.”
Powell believes his opponents always shift to a higher gear when it comes to this tournament.
“They are a really good team,” said Powell.
“I think we all know they didn’t have a great start in the URC and I think that victory over Ulster [in the URC in January] almost turned the season around for them.
“They are a well-coached team. They understand exactly what they want to do and I think they put a lot more emphasis on the Champions Cup tournament than most of the other teams.
“We expect a big onslaught from them. I think we expect them to be physical and we expect them to roll the dice and do everything in their power to try and upset us at Kings Park.”
The Stormers will be hunting their fourth victory in a row in the competition when they welcome English club Harlequins to Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
Interestingly, the Capetonians’ only defeat was in the opening round of the competition, while Harlequins have won two of their four matches – the last of which was a 39-29 victory against the Sharks.
The home side will draw confidence from the fact that they boast a superior defence, having conceded 40 points fewer in their four matches to date, although the English outfit has been marginally better on the attack.
“I saw them put 40 points on Exeter [in the Premiership] a couple of weeks ago,” said Stormers head coach John Dobson.
“I think they deserve enormous credit for their style of rugby.
“If you remember how they won the Premiership a couple of years ago, I think they were 0-30 down against Bristol [in the semifinal] at one stage and then they came back with some glorious rugby.
“With the English conditions and to play rugby as they do, it is amazing and it clicked in the second half in that [Premiership] final against Exeter [in 2021].
“It is a high-risk game and some days it doesn’t happen for them.
“They were really well positioned in the Premiership a few weeks ago and I think they lost four of their last five games.
“If they get fast ball in our conditions and they click, they could put you under pressure.
“They are one of those high-risk and high-return teams.
“Out of south-west London, it’s very brave to play that sort of rugby.
“It’s great for rugby.”
The Bulls, meanwhile, will face a tough task against the unbeaten French giants Stade Toulousain in the only match featuring a South African team on Sunday where they will be looking to secure their first away win in the competition.
The Pretoria side will back themselves to create an upset with the teams being closely matched on attack this season, but they will be mindful of the fact that they will have to step up their defence after conceding 86 more points in their four pool matches.
Toulouse will undoubtedly enter the match as favourites, but with the Bulls essentially entering the match as the underdogs, they will be wary of the fact that the pressure will be squarely on the home team.
“We have a history of playing really well in knockout games,” said Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White.
“If you look at all the knockout games that we played in the last couple of years, we won most of them.
“Their team is laden with internationals, both French and other internationals as well and they play a style that is well-known in the world of rugby.
“They are very big on offloading and keeping the ball up and not creating rucks.
“That style started a long time ago and that is the sort of thing that makes them different to other teams around the world.”
With rain expected for Sunday’s match, White is expecting Toulouse to assert their dominance with their big pack of forwards.
“They got incredible power as well. If you look at what Lyon did to us with their power game, we struggled,” White explained.
“The one thing you got to do is almost play a bit like them – you got to almost match them in terms of keeping the ball up and moving them around.
“You can’t get into a physical fight with them either.
“I would prefer it to be dry and a game where both teams can express themselves. Generally, poor weather is a leveller for the teams, but if you are playing against a really big pack of forwards, it is not really a leveller.
“They got a massive pack of forwards.
“They got one of the best players in the Six Nations on the bench in [Thibaud] Flament who is a flank and lock. Not many teams can put that calibre of player on their bench.”
There are several other intriguing knockout matches happening on Saturday and Sunday.
Ulster will have the big task of trying to knock over Leinster in Dublin.
The defending champions, Stade Rochelais, are at home against Gloucester, while Montpellier are on the road against Exeter Chiefs.
The other match in England will see Saracens at home against the Ospreys.
See below for Saturday and Sunday’s teams and predictions!
Saturday, April 1:
Sharks v Munster
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 13.30; 12.30 UK & Ireland time; 11.30 GMT)
@rugby365com: Sharks by six points.
Sharks: 15 Henry Chamberlain, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nché.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Carlü Sadie, 19 19 Emile van Heerden, 20 Phendulani Buthelezi, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Thaakir Abrahams.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 John Hodnett, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Roman Salanoa, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Alex Kendellen
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Tom Foley (England), Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)
Stormers v Harlequins
(Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 UK & Ireland time; 14.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Stormers by 11 points.
Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Daniel du Plessis, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Ben-Jason Dixon, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ernst van Rhyn, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain)
Replacements: 16 JJ Kotze, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Gary Porter, 20 Willie Engelbrecht, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Clayton Blommetjies.
Harlequins: 15 Nick David, 14 Joe Marchant, 13 Luke Northmore, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care (captain), 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Will Evans, 6 Jack Kenningham, 5 Irne Herbst, 4 Dino Lamb, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Jack Walker, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Sam Riley, 17 Fin Baxter, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Hammond, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Lewis Gjaltema, 22 Tommy Allan, 23 Oscar Beard.
Referee: Pierre Brousset (France)
Assistant referees: Vincent Blasco Baqué (France), Flavien Hourquet (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)
Leinster v Ulster
(Lansdowne Road, Dublin – Kick-off: 17.30; 16.30 GMT)
@rugby365com: Leinster by 14 points.
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Jimmy O’Brien, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 James Ryan (captain), 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Scott Penny, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Ciarán Frawley.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Rob Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Dave McCann, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 Harry Sheridan, 20 Marcus Rea, 21 John Cooney, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Ben Moxham.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (England), Jamie Leahy (England)
TMO: Andrew Jackson (England)
Stade Rochelais v Gloucester
(Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle – Kick-off: 18.30; 17.30 UK & Ireland time; 16.30 GMT)
@rugby365com: Stade Rochelais by 17 points.
Stade Rochelais: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Raymond Rhule, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Jules Favre, 10 Antoine Hastoy, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Grégory Alldritt (captain), 7 Levani Botia, 6 Ultan Dillane, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Thomas Lavault, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Joel Sclavi.
Replacements: 16 Quentin Lespiaucq Brettes, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Georges Henri Colombe, 19 Romain Sazy, 20 Yoan Tanga, 21 Paul Boudehent, 22 Thomas Berjon, 23 Hugo Reus.
Gloucester: 15 Santi Carreras, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Seb Atkinson, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Billy Twelvetrees, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Jack Clement, 7 Lewis Ludlow (captain), 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Freddie Clarke, 3 Kirill Gotovtsev, 2 Seb Blake, 1 Mayco Vivas.
Replacements: 16 Henry Walker, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Cam Jordan, 20 Freddie Thomas, 21 Ben Morgan, 22 Charlie Chapman, 23 Jonny May.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Ian Kenny (Scotland)
TMO: Ben Blain (Scotland)
Sunday, April 2:
Exeter Chiefs v Montpellier
(Sandy Park, Exeter – Kick-off: 12.30; 11.30 GMT; 13.30 France time)
@rugby365com: Exeter by four points.
Exeter: 15 Tom Wyatt, 14 Jack Nowell (captain), 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sean O’Brien, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Will Becconsall, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Christ Tshiunza, 6 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Dafydd Jenkins, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Marcus Street, 2 Dan Frost, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19 Aidon Davis, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Tom Cairns, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Josh Hodge.
Montpellier: 15 Anthony Bouthier (captain), 14 Ben Lam, 13 Thomas Darmon, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Vincent Rattez, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Masivesi Dakuwaqa, 6 Nico Janse van Rensburg, 5 Tyler Duguid, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Enzo Forletta.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Simon-Pierre Chauvac, 18 Mohamed Haouas, 19 Lenni Nouchi, 20 Leo Coly, 21 Louis Carbonel, 22 George Bridge, 23 Marco Tauleigne.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eoghan Cross (Ireland), Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)
Saracens v Ospreys
(StoneX Stadium, London – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Saracens by 19 points.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Max Malins, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Andy Christie, 5 Hugh Tizard, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Alec Clarey, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Alex Lewington.
Ospreys: 15 Michael Collins, 14 George North, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Ethan Roots, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Rhys Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Reuben Morgan-Wiliams, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Iestyn Hopkins.
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant referees: Vivien Praderie (France), Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy (France)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Stade Toulousain v Bulls
(Le Stadium, Toulouse – Kick-off: 16.00; 16.00 SA time; 14.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Toulouse by 20 points.
Toulouse: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Juan Cruz Mallía, 13 Santiago Chocobares, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Alexandre Roumat, 7 Francois Cros, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Emmanuel Meafou, 4 Richie Arnold, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Rodrigue Neti, 18 David Ainu’u, 19 Thibaud Flament, 20 Alban Placines, 21 Joshua Brennan, 22 Paul Graou, 23 Dimitri Delibes.
Bulls: 15 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Cornal Hendricks, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 David Kriel, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Zak Burger, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortjé (captain), 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Francois Klopper, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 WJ Steenkamp, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Stedman Gans.
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Hamish Smales (England); Peter Allan (England)
TMO: David Rose (England)