CASTRES, FRANCE – Here’s the second instalment of Rugby Wrap Up’s two-part guide to this season’s Amlin Cup competition, examining the prospects of the teams in Pools 3, 4 and 5.
TEAMS: Brive / Bucharest Wolves / Calvisano / Newcastle Falcons
Fate loves her little jokes, doesn’t she? Even if mere mortals like us don’t find them particularly amusing. Just as the Aviva Premiership and Top 14’s bottom clubs have been drawn together in Pool 1, so two teams that were promoted to their country’s top flight after being relegated a season earlier are drawn together in Pool 3.
Unlike Biarritz and Worcester in Pool 1, however, Fate has been relatively kind to Brive and Newcastle Falcons as far as their Amlin Cup ambitions are concerned.
Both should expect to notch up two wins against Italian National Championship of Excellence outfit Calvisano and two more against Romanian representative side Bucharest Wolves.
But neither has found life back in the top flight easy in the early rounds of their domestic leagues, so the European break could offer a little welcome relief – and even kickstart their seasons. A key match will be the meeting between the two sides at Stade Amédée-Domenech on October 19. That will go a long way to deciding who makes it to the knockout phase of the competition. We’re tipping Falcons to top the Pool, but maintain the right to change our minds after that game…
HOW THEY’LL FINISH: Newcastle Falcons / Brive / Calvisano / Bucharest Wolves
TEAMS: Bayonne / Grenoble / Wasps / Viadana
What has happened to Wasps? The once-mighty London side are now shadows of their two-time European Cup-winning selves, and kicked off this domestic season with four defeats in their first five games.
They open their Amlin Cup account with what looks on paper to be a relatively easy game against Viadana – but the re-formed Italian National Championship of Excellence club is made up of the backbone of former Pro12 side Aironi and are coached by former Wales flanker Rowland Phillips, who has been there, done that – many, many times.
Wasps – along with Grenoble and Bayonne – should still be too strong for the fourth team in Pool 4, but don’t be too surprised to see a one or two scares and sphincter-clenching scorelines from Stadio Luigi Zaffanella.
Like Wasps in the Premiership, Bayonne are having a nightmare season, and won’t be looking forward to trips to French to Top 14 rivals Grenoble or darkest Acton.
On the whole, this Pool looks like it will be a toss-up between Grenoble and Wasps – and we think the gritty French outfit will want it more.
HOW THEY’LL FINISH: Grenoble / Wasps / Bayonne / Viadana
TEAMS: I Cavalieri Prato / London Irish / Lusitanos / Stade Francais
Pity poor Stade Francais. Last season’s Amlin Cup runners up have a shiny and impressive-looking new 20,000-seat stadium, and a shiny new-look team that has impressed in the early part of the Top 14 season. They have even toned down their bonkers’ shirts so that fans can almost – but not quite – get away with wearing replicas in the street.
But, why should you pity them? After all, just look at their opponents in Pool 5. Qualification for the knockout stage will be a cakewalk.
This is why. By the time they get to the business end of the competition, they will hardly have been tested, so when things become a little more difficult, they might find it hard to step up a gear.
London Irish are the only side in Pool 5 capable of giving Stade anything approaching a run for their money.
Like Pool 2 whipping boys Mogliano, I Cavalieri Prato usually play in front of crowds of fewer than 1,500 in Italy’s National Championship of Excellence.
Meanwhile, Lusitanos, a late, late call-up to the Amlin following the withdrawal of Spanish side Olympus, are a representative side made up of players from Portugal’s national club tournament, the Campeonato Nacional Honra.
They don’t even – yet – have a logo to call their own on the European Rugby website. Though they do have a pretty decent home ground – the 40,000-capacity Estadio Nacional in Lisbon. At least Stade and their fans have a trip to Lisbon to look forward to, so maybe you shouldn’t pity them, after all…
HOW THEY’LL FINISH: Stade Francais / London Irish / I Cavalieri Prato / Lusitanos
Strongly agree? Agree? Disagree? Strongly disagree? As ever, comments are always welcome… and do look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.