Amlin Cup Preview: Six Quarter-Final Berths Still up for Grabs

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AmlinChallengeCup_320CASTRES, FRANCE Aviva Premiership sides Bath and Wasps have already made sure of their places in the Amlin Cup quarter-finals, but there’s still plenty to play for – not least as only three more slots are available with the other three going to Heineken Cup dropouts.

Final seedings, and with them, home advantage, have also to be decided.

It seems likely that Top 14 duo Brive – who should have an easy ride at home against Calvisano this week – and last season’s losing finalists Stade Francais, who face Lusitanos on a Portuguese away-day in Lisbon, will fill two of the three open berths. Expect plenty of tries to be added to the 293 already scored in this season’s competition in these two encounters alone.

Newcastle may be hoping, but don't expect Brive to lose against Calvisano in their second Amlin Cup clash of the season
Newcastle may be hoping, but don’t expect Brive to lose against Calvisano in their second Amlin Cup clash of the season

One side hoping the Calvisano can spring a major shock is Newcastle Falcons. Dean Richards’ side looked odds-on to book their place in the last eight, until a brutal 9-7 defeat by Brive at Kingston Park took control of their Amlin Cup destiny out of their hands. They have to hope that Calvisano can go one better at Brive than they managed in Italy in the opening round of the competition. Then, the Italians pushed the Top 14 side all the way – and were within just a few minutes of a shock victory. This time, they have to win if Falcons are to overtake them and steal the Pool’s qualification slot.

London Irish's Amlin Cup hopes are out of their hands
London Irish’s Amlin Cup hopes are out of their hands

London Irish’s hopes, meanwhile, hang by a Portuguese thread. They should make relatively short work of I Cavalieri Prato, but they need Lusitanos – against whom they ran in 13 tries last week – to stop Stade Francais picking up a bonus-point win.

The French side, who are second in the Top 14 and have a proud record in the Amlin Cup, have a point to prove after a far from convincing performance last week against The Exiles’ Italian opponents. It took an Anton Van Zyl try two minutes from time to make sure of the maximum points that ensured they came into the final round of the group stages at the top of Pool Five and with qualification a near certainty.

Bath have already qualified for the quarter-finals of the Amlin Cup
Bath have already qualified for the quarter-finals of the Amlin Cup

Bath, meanwhile, will be looking for the coveted top seeding, which confers home advantage, and a match against the side ranked eighth once all the numbers are crunched (right now, that’s Brive). Last week’s victory at Newport-Gwent Dragons made sure the Premiership side qualified for the knockout phase with a week to go.

A bonus-point win over Bordeaux Begles at The Rec this week would make certain of top seeding, regardless of results elsewhere. A defensive bonus point would guarantee a home quarter-final – and a complete failure to even turn up wouldn’t necessarily be a total disaster.

Wasps have Pool Four all wrapped up, so will be looking to put on something of an exhibition for their fans as they entertain Viadana – making certain of a home quarter-final in the process.

Olly Barkley may be a misfit at Grenoble, but news of his departure is sure to generate plenty of interest from other clubs
Olly Barkley may be a misfit at Grenoble, but news of his departure is sure to generate plenty of interest from other clubs

Neither Grenoble, who recently announced that Amlin Cup winner Olly Barkley is on his way out of Stade des Alpes, or Bayonne can qualify for the knockout phase of this season’s competition. With both sides facing very different yet equally compelling Top 14 issues, expect to see a few fringe players given the chance to impress.

Dragons are determined to prove that they are a better team than last week’s 30-13 defeat at home to Bath suggests. Saturday’s Amlin Cup trip to Mogliano offers an immediate chance to right some of the wrongs from arguably their worst display of the season. Anything less than a repeat of the 50-8 scoreline from the last time the two sides met at Rodney Parade in October will probably be regarded as a disappointment.

Pool One is hardest to call. Biarritz looked to be in control of the pool until their 28-24 defeat by Oyonnax. That result means their opponents this weekend, Sale Sharks, go to the Basque country armed with a four-point lead following their win over Worcester.

The Warriors entertain Oyonnax in a match that has little other than bragging rights going for it. The hosts have only won one game in all competitions this season, while their opponents have yet to win on the road. Something has to give.

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About James Harrington 196 Articles
James Harrington... Before injury brought his rugby career to a timely end, journalist James was equally useless whether he packed down in the second row or at number 8, positions in which he represented his school and university with indistinction. The prolific one now lives in France with his journalist wife and three children and watches as much Top 14, European and international action he thinks he can get away with; justifying his obsession by claiming: "But it's all work, Honey!"