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European Challenge Cup

European Challenge Cup Predictions – Round 3

The South African franchises face French opposition as the European Challenge Cup resumes this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.


The South African franchises face French opposition as the European Challenge Cup resumes this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The Sharks and the Lions are in action on Saturday, the Durban outfit at home against Oyonnax and the pride of Johannesburg away at Montpellier, while the Cheetahs host Pau in their home away from home in Amsterdam on Sunday.

Newcastle Falcons v Benetton

Friday, 12 January – 22:00

The Newcastle Falcons have failed to get off the ground, both domestically and in Europe’s second-tier club competitions. They haven’t won a single game in the Premiership, their record standing at 0-11, and lost both of their Challenge Cup matches – 24-19 to Montpellier and 35-13 to the Lions.

Benetton, in contrast, are in brilliant form. Second in the United Rugby Championship, they responded to their Round One away defeat to the Ospreys by pummelling Perpignan 29-7 and have too much going for them to fall victim to the embattled Falcons.

Prediction: Benetton by 9.

Ospreys v Perpignan

Friday, 12 January – 22:00

After beating Benetton 43-34 in the opening round, the Ospreys were brought back down to earth by Montpellier, the strong title contenders from France thumping them 38-5.

Perpignan are the only team in Pool 2 yet to pick up a point, sitting on zero after heavy defeats to the Lions (28-12) and Benetton (29-7), and that won’t change this weekend with their Welsh hosts set to add to their woes.

Prediction: Ospreys by 11.

Clermont v Scarlets

Saturday, 13 January – 15:00

With an impressive 31-18 win over Edinburgh followed by a 28-17 away loss to Gloucester, Clermont will be looking to cash in against the struggling Scarlets.

The Welsh region have lost four in a row in all competitions, including both of their Challenge Cup ties heavily (34-16 to Castres and 23-7 to Black Lion), and seven of their last eight, so it’s safe to say they’ll leave France empty handed. 

Prediction: Clermont by 18.

Sharks v Oyonnax

Saturday, 13 January – 15:00

It was a case of a new year and the same old mistakes for the Sharks in their 20-18 home loss to the Lions in the URC last weekend.

Looking good in the first 40 to establish an 18-3 halftime lead, ill-discipline and poor substitutions saw the Durbanites implode and suffer their eighth loss in nine games.

The shift to the Challenge Cup is a welcome one from a mental perspective as they are firmly in the playoff race in second place in Pool 1 after a 45-5 thumping of Pau and a 32-29 loss to the Cheetahs.

With their chances of qualifying for the URC playoffs – and therefore earning a place at the Champions Cup table next season – now reduced to a long shot, winning the Challenge Cup becomes their best bet of returning to the top-flight.

That focus will see them power past the winless visitors, who are propping up Pool 1 following losses to the Dragons (24-7) and Zebre (21-14). 

Prediction: Sharks by 28.

Zebre v Dragons

Saturday, 13 January – 17:15

This Pool 1 clash between two URC clubs could define which of them goes through to the Round of 16, with Zebre sitting third, two points ahead of the Dragons. The Welsh region are tied on four points with Pau but occupy the final qualification slot due to their better points difference.

They have not met in the URC so far this season, but Zebre have narrowly won their last two URC meetings in Italy, 26-15 in 2021 and 23-18 in 2022. It should be another close contest with the hosts eking out another win.

Prediction: Zebre by 3.

Castres v Black Lion

Saturday, 13 January – 17:15

Pool 3 is exceedingly tight, with second-placed Black Lion leading four clubs on five points on account of their superior points difference in their first Challenge Cup season.

Among the chasing pack are Castres, who will have to be at their best to see off the competitive Georgian outfit, particularly following the latter’s convincing 23-7 victory at bottom side the Scarlets in Round Two. 

Castres have lost four straights in all competitions, but they did push TOP 14 leaders Racing 92 close at the weekend, succumbing 34-30. They’re building towards a breakthrough, and I believe it’ll come in what could be an arm-wrestle.

Prediction: Castres by 5.

Edinburgh v Gloucester

Saturday, 13 January – 19:30

With Edinburgh in fifth place in Pool 3, leaders Gloucester can help the qualification hopes of the three other clubs on five points by continuing their impressive record down the years in Edinburgh.

They won there 31-14 in 2006-07 and 16-10 in 2013-14, both in the Champions Cup, in addition to their 19-13 Challenge Cup final triumph over the Scottish outfit in 2015.  

Gloucester have lost their last three Premiership games in a row, though, whereas Edinburgh secured a thrilling 19-14 win over the Warriors in their last URC outing, so I’m leaning towards Sean Everitt’s charges.

Prediction: Edinburgh by 2.

Montpellier v Lions

Saturday, 13 January – 22:00

This fixture is a face-off between the frontrunners in Pool 2. Tournament winners in 2016 and 2021, Montpellier are the only club with a maximum 10 points from the opening two rounds. They took down the Newcastle Falcons 24-19 and mauled the Ospreys 38-5.

Despite sending a weakened side to France in the opening round, the Lions came away with a 28-12 win over Perpignan and followed that up with a 35-13 victory over the Falcons at Ellis Park, putting them one point behind their hosts this weekend in second place.

The Lions have such fight in them, as they showed in their comeback win over the Sharks last weekend, that it might be worth sprinkling a few pennies on them, but the safe money is on Montpellier to prevail at home.

Prediction: Montpellier by 7.

Cheetahs v Pau

Sunday, 14 January – 15:00

The high-flying Cheetahs top Pool 1 after their wins over Zebre (33-15) and the Sharks (32-29) and will look to keep their momentum going in their first ‘home’ game at the NRCA Stadium in Amsterdam. How both teams adapt to the conditions remain to be seen.

There is history between the sides, which along with their current form, indicate who will walk out as winners. Hawies Fourie’s men did the double over the French side in their maiden Challenge Cup campaign last season, winning 21-16 in France and 9-6 in their ‘home’ match in Italy.

However, they will be up against an improved Pau line-up, who are fourth in the TOP 14 this season, only four points off top spot. Rebounding from their 40-point loss in Durban with a 24-21 win over the Dragons see them in fifth place in Pool 1.

With Ruan Pienaar, the tournament’s top points scorer with 30, directing traffic, the rested Cheetahs should keep their winning streaks in the competition and against Pau intact.

Prediction: Cheetahs by 10.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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