CASTRES, FRANCE – It’s return fixture-week in both the Amlin Cup and Heineken Cup. It means a few scores from last week have to be settled as the group stages of each competition enter their second halves.
Worcester Warriors, in particular, have every reason to believe the rugby gods are against them this season. Without a win in the Aviva Premiership or the Amlin Cup, they were within seconds of beating Top 14 basement side Biarritz at Sixways, when the Basque Country side’s flanker Tanguy Molcard crashed over to snatch a late late victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Warriors now face a very difficult trip to Parc des Sports Aguilera. Biarritz may well have left it too late to avoid playing domestic rugby in the French Pro D2 division next season, but their record in recent weeks is on the up. A home win is very much on the cards… unless Worcester can pull off a big shock.
Three other Top 14 sides are back on home soil for this weekend’s Amlin Cup matches. After their 18-13 Romanian Job last week, Brive fans will be looking for their team to put on an exhibition against Bucharest Wolves at Stade Amédée-Domenech. They’ll need a big win, too, to pull away from Pool Three rivals Newcastle Falcons, whose bonus-point home win over Calvisano last time means the Premiership and Top 14 sides start this round of matches level on 10 points at the top of Pool Three.
Bordeaux Begles will have revenge in mind as they face Newport-Gwent Dragons at Stade André Moga. The Pro12 side put them to the sword at Rodney Parade, and will be looking for a second Amlin Cup win in a row to make sure that their qualification hopes do not rely on the whims of other clubs.
Last season’s Amlin Cup finalists Stade Francais know that the bell at Stade Jean Bouin could be tolling for them if they lose to London Irish for the second time in a week. The Parisian side are five points adrift of their opponents on Saturday – and another defeat could see their chances of qualifying for the knockout phase almost completely disappear.
Three Aviva Premiership sides kick off the second half of the Amlin Cup pool stages with home advantage. Biarritz will be hoping fellow Top 14 side Oyonnax can do them a favour by beating Pool One leaders Sale for a second time. The giant-killers from France’s ‘plastic city’ picked up their now almost-expected home win in last weekend’s fixture – but their record on the road is as bad as their record at Charles Mathon is good. It would be remarkable if they won in Salford.
No one should expect anything other than a walk in the Rec as Bath face Mogliano – a side they walloped 55-8 in Italy last weekend. Wasps, meanwhile, will also be confident of doing the double over Grenoble after their 47-7 win at Stade des Alpes last weekend.
Dean Richards’ Newcastle Falcons duly dispatched Calvisano 37-15 at Kingston Park last time out. The scores could well be much closer this week as the two sides meet again at Peroni Stadium, but the Premiership side are favourites to win.
Fellow Italian side Viadana entertain Bayonne at the wonderfully named Stadio Comunale Pierluigi Zaffanella. Despite their lowly position in the Top 14, Bayonne ran in nine tries at Stade Jean Dauger in front of 2,000 fans to maintain the pressure on Amlin Cup Pool Four pace-setters Wasps last weekend. The crowd probably won’t be much bigger this weekend – but the result could well be just as decisive.
Portuguese representative side Lusitanos actually led for a brief period in the first half of last weekend’s Amlin Cup Pool Five match at I Cavalieri Prato, before finally losing 40-22. Despite that brave performance at Stadio Enrico Chersoni, it’s almost impossible to see them picking up a win at home. It would be almost as big a shock as Connacht’s Heineken Cup win at Toulouse…
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