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The state of SA franchises as Euro knock-outs take shape

All five South African franchises are on the verge of an incredible historic feat in the European Cup competitions.

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However, there might be a few surprises as teams continue to battle to gain what foothold they can in their pool – and even for those who have qualified there is still the task of securing a home tie in the Round of 16.

For South Africa, the Lions have already progressed to the last 16 of the European Challenge Cup, while the rest face intense European matches to follow the Johannesburg-based franchise.

In the Champions Cup, the Bulls and Stormers kept their hopes of reaching the last 16 alive with wins on Saturday.

The Bulls, missing their Springboks due to the resting protocol, collected five log points with their 31-17 win over Bristol Bears at the Ashton Gate.

Stormers scored four tries, including a brace of Leolin Zas, for a 31-24 bonus-point win over Sale Sharks at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.

In the Challenge Cup, the Sharks joined the winning circle by beating Oyonnax 38-7 at Kings Park. The win sees the Sharks snatch a three-game losing streak.

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Unfortunately, the Cheetahs and Lions both handed defeats. Lions went down 3-13 to Montpellier, while the Cheetahs suffered a 20-33 defeat to Pau in their historic game in Amsterdam.

Heading into the final pool phase of the respective competitions, there are still big upsets on the card.

In Pool One of the Champions Cup, with two teams – Lyon and Bordeaux – already progressing to the second round – the Bulls can only claim one of two spots when they host Bordeaux at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Bulls need a win to progress.  However, it is easier said than done, especially after the French club’s big statement victory over Saracens on Sunday.

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Jake White’s team will also be relying on Saracens to beat Lyon, currently second, in order to make their clash with Bordeaux a quest for second spot.

The Stormers, who are second in Pool Four with nine points, need only two log points when they travel to Paris to take on winless Stade Francais.

However, given the congested nature of the pool, a win will be crucial for the Stormers.

A defeat could see either Leicester Tigers (nine log points), La Rochelle (seven) and Sale Sharks (five) progress to the second round.

Leicester Tigers face group leaders Leinster, while Sale Sharks host La Rochelle in a do-or-die battle.

Meanwhile, in the Challenge Cup, the Lions have already qualified for the play-offs.

However, last season’s quarter-finalists will want to conclude the pool phase as high as possible when they face Ospreys at Ellis Park on Sunday.

The Sharks need one point in their final Pool One match against Dragon in Wales on Sunday.

A win over Dragons will be a huge favour to Cheetahs, who head to France to winless Oyonnax on Saturday.

The Cheetahs will be out to bounce back following their shock defeat to Pau, who kept their round 16 dream alive.

A win for the Cheetahs will secure them their place in the playoffs.

Champions Cup

Teams that have qualified:

Lyon (Pool One): Lyon may have suffered a narrow loss at Bristol Bears in Round One, but they picked up two bonus points at Ashton Gate which proved key to their qualification. They picked up successive bonus point wins at home against Bulls and Connacht to secure their spot in the knockout stage.

Union Bordeaux-Bègles (Pool Two): The TOP 14 club have been outstanding in this season’s competition to date winning all three of their Pool One matches against Connacht, Bristol Bears and Saracens. All three victories have come with bonus points and the entity boasts a substantial points differential.

Stade Toulousain (Pool Two): The record winners of EPCR’s elite competition, Stade Toulousain qualified for the Round of 16 with a dominant trio of bonus point victories over Cardiff, Harlequins and Ulster.

Bath (Pool Two): Winner of EPCR’s premier competition back in 1997-98, Bath Rugby penned their name in the Round of 16 with a trio of bonus point victories over Ulster, Cardiff and Racing 92 in Pool 2.

Harlequins (Pool Two): Four-time Champions Cup quarter-finalists Harlequins are once again in the knockout stage of the competition following wins over Racing 92 and Cardiff.

Northampton Saints (Pool Three): Northampton Saints secured their spot in the Round of 16 after their Round Three mauling of Aviron Bayonnais, who they defeated 61-14. They have picked up three wins from three so far, defeating Glasgow Warriors and RC Toulon in their other Pool Three matches. They have also ensured home advantage in the next round.

Exeter Chiefs (Pool Three): With three comeback wins in three rounds Exeter Chiefs have also secured their spot in the Round of 16. They defeated RC Toulon, Munster and Glasgow Warriors in three impressive performances.

Leinster (Pool Four): Losing finalists in both of the last two seasons, Leinster are looking to go all the way this season and add a fifth Champions Cup title to their trophy cabinet. They have won all three of their Pool 4 matches so far, starting with a win at two-time defending champions Stade Rochelais. They followed that up with consummate victories over Sale Sharks and Stade Francais Paris in the Irish capital.

Challenge Cup:

Teams that have qualified:

Montpellier Hérault (Pool Two): Winners of the competition in 2016 and 2021, Montpellier Hérault will be eyeing a third success in the competition this season and secured their Round of 16 berth with wins over Newcastle Falcons, Ospreys and Lions.

Benetton (Pool Two): Beaten semi-finalists last season in the EPCR Challenge Cup, Benetton advanced to the knockout stage for the fourth successive season thanks to triumphs over USAP and Newcastle Falcons.

Lions (Pool Two): Quarter-finalists last season, Lions will be eager to advance further this campaign and have qualified for the knockout stage following wins over USAP and Newcastle Falcons.

Ospreys (Pool Two): There will be Welsh representation in the EPCR Challenge Cup Round of 16 as Ospreys have secured their berth with victories over Benetton Rugby and USAP.

Gloucester (Pool Three): The two-time EPCR Challenge Cup winners have booked their ticket for the Round of 16 with victories over Black Lion, ASM Clermont Auvergne and Edinburgh.

Champions Cup Pool One stadings after three rounds

Champions Cup Pool Four standings after three rounds

Challenge Cup Pool One stadings after three rounds

Challenge Cup Pool Two standings after three rounds

*Additional Source: EPCR

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