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Amlin Challenge Cup Preview

With the rugby world fixated on this weekend’s Heineken Cup quarter-finals, there is also an action-packed weekend in the Amlin Challenge Cup. Dominic Evans previews this weekend’s fixtures.

Fixtures:     

1: Sale vs Northampton Saints (Thursday). UPDATE: Sale 28-14 Northampton Saints

2: Stade Francais vs Harlequins (Friday).

3: Bath vs Brive (Sunday).

4: London Wasps vs Gloucester (Sun).

The Amlin Challenge remains the little brother to the Heineken Cup, the competition was largely ignored by the public for years. Only until recently has the secondary tournament grown in stature and gained respect. Ironically, this is the last season in the current format. There is an overriding Anglo-French theme, including six Aviva Premiership sides. (Digressing for a moment should the lack of no Welsh and Scottish representative be a concern?) Certainly the salary cap hinders English teams’ progression in recent years, allowing the H-Cup to become dominated by the top French teams and the Irish.

Used by a platform for teams to establish themselves in the Heineken, such as Northampton Saints and Toulon. Toulon acquired a major financial investor, empowering them to rebuild the side with world class talent, Jonny Wilkinson one name which immediately springs to mind. Eventually Toulon gelled into a top European side, it started in the Amlin. Could be a benchmark for these opponents.

Looking ahead to the fixtures, an all Anglo semi-final is the best bet.

1. Sale vs Northampton

Sale and Northampton (will probably have played by the time you have read this article) is an exciting prospect. Both teams battling for top 4 places, in recent weeks the Saints (Northampton) have slightly lost their way after a blistering first half of the season campaign. However, they are not to underestimated at all, Leinster suffered a shock defeat to them in the pool stages.

Steve Diamond’s Sale are over-exceeding expectations domestically, however a top four spot is not secure, as is the same of the away side. Key players for Sale (Danny Cipriani and Sam Tuitupou) and Northampton (Courtney Lawes and George North) are rested. It will allow fringe players to impress coaches for the tense A.P run in, when injuries are likely to occur.

Result: Sale 28-14 Northampton Saints

2: Stade Francais vs Harlequins (Friday).

Conor O Shea for Harlequins has alternatively perceived the Amlin as a chance for silverware this season, stating “The Amlin means a lot to us,”. As a top four spot may be out of reach, he fielded the strongest possible side available, including Nick Evans and Danny Care. After a stuttering first half, they have begun to refind their offloading game which has proved so successful.

Stade Francais potentially could upset ‘Quins but their performances have been erratic at best. They glided through the group stages, even having lost a match, due to the lack of competition. Yet their team selection is not encouraging, lacking the star names. The Top 14 mid-table team appear preoccupied with domestic matters.

3: Bath vs Brive (Sunday).

Backing Bath against Brive is a no-brainer. Even if the hosts opted for a second-string side their playing style has been impressive. Brive scraped past a lowly Newcastle Falcons who have struggled for wins. At home tie at the Rec with a winning momentum surely sees Bath through, only a complete calamity would unveil a shock away win.

4: London Wasps vs Gloucester (Sun).

The concluding quarter final consists of two labouring teams in the form of London Wasps and Gloucester. The London outfit enjoyed a perfect Amlin pool stage run, managing six from six. To be honest their opponents were not of the highest calibre (Bayonne, Grenoble and Viadana). While Gloucester deserve their spot in the knock-out stages, as Munster were too overpowering for them. Both have been crippled with injuries which hindered their progression over the 2013/14 period. The match will be tight.

Winner Predictions: Sale, Harlequins, Bath, London Wasps.

Dominic Evans, Pundit Arena.

Featured Image By Chris P Jobling (http://www.flickr.com/photos/cpjobling/2915001857/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.