PERPIGNAN, FRANCE – In the name of keeping you at least somewhat in tune with all things Rugby, here’s our Amlin Challenge Cup Preview. For those not in the know, Amlin is the sponsor – it’s actually the European Challenge Cup and is the second tier competition to the Heineken Cup. The first round of pool play begins next week the 12th of October.
Teams from England, France, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Romania – and sometimes Spain and Portugal – in pool play, then knock-outs. That said, we’ll predict who will come out on top of the respective pools:
1 Gloucester Rugby – They seem to be improving on the domestic front and will really make a run at Europe.
2 London Irish – Much like Gloucester, they are a mid-table English side with enough talent to do well here.
3 Bordeaux-Begles – It is hard to tell how they will perform; they will be more focused on pacing themselves for the Top 14 season. Unsure they will be that dedicated in Europe.
4 Mont de Marsan – This is a newly promoted side in a European competition that will not have the energy or the resources for this fight.
1 Perpignan – They have competed in Europe and succeed in the Top 14 before, and they will look to do it again this year as long as they don’t fall off the pace domestically.
2 Worcester Warriors – They have progressed to the point where they are not living in fear of relegation in their domestic league.
3 Bizkaia Gernika RT – This is essentially an All-Star team from Spain, so they will have some talent. The talent will be raw, however, and probably lack that little extra something.
4 Femi-CZ VEA Rovigo – Considering how mightily Italy struggles on the national stage in the Six Nations, and how the two regional teams fare in the RaboDirect 12 and Heineken Cup, I can’t see anything impressive from a team a level below that.
1 Bayonne – They are the best team in Pool 3 and I fully expect them to play like it.
2 Newport Gwent Dragons – Struggling in the RaboDirect 12, they may focus on the Amlin and the momentum that can come with qualifying for the quarters.
3 London Wasps – After just avoiding relegation in England, I don’t think they will even care enough to achieve anything in the Amlin.
4 Rugby Mogliano – They’re in the same boat as Rovigo in that they are an Italian team made up of players not selected for Treviso or Zebre. They may be good but they’re likely not good enough to really compete.
1 Agen – They are far from the best team in the competition but are better than any other team in their pool and that is why they will make the knockout round.
2 Bucharest Wolves – Like Bizkaia, they are an all-star team… from Romania. They have been improving in play each year they have been in this tournament. I believe this is the year they have a watershed moment.
3 Bath Rugby – Most would think Bath would easily finish 1 or 2 in this pool. I am of a different mind as I don’t believe they have depth for a war on two fronts and Bath Director of Rugby Gary Gold really wants improved Aviva Premiership results first before focusing on Europe.
4 Cammi Rugby Calvisano – The third Italian with the same domino effect as the others: the Italian national team has to improve before the Rabodirect 12 teams can be expected to do anything at this level.
1 Stade Francais Paris – They are rebuilding and are starting to get to the point where they can compete for honors at home and abroad.
2 Grenoble – They are newly promoted but the two teams below them are absolutely dreadful.
3 I Cavalieri Prato – The 4th of the Italian clubs in the Amlin and this is the only one that will not finish bottom but they will still not impress anyone.
4 London Welsh – As with Mont de Marsan, a newly promoted side’s only focus is not going back down. Lyn Jones has his hands full in the Premiership; when will he have time for the Amlin.
PREDICTIONS: Final teams will be the 5 Pool Winners and the 3 second place teams with the best record and point totals. Here is who I foresee making up that group. The top 4 will host the bottom 4 in traditional knock-out competition: 1 vs 8… 2 vs 7… etc.
1 Stade Francais Paris
2 Gloucester Rugby
6 London Irish
7 Worcester Warriors
8 Newport Gwent Dragons
That is it for me for now. Please feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @RugbyWrapUp, @JunoirBlaber, @Declan Yeats and @Mathew Drew Turner, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.