South African players will hugely influence who makes it to the play-offs of European Rugby’s two premier competitions, the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup.
The five pool winners and three best runners-up play-off quarter-finalists will be confirmed by Sunday evening.
There are still 15 sides in with a chance of cracking the magical eight number, with only Leinster already guaranteed qualification.
The Champions Cup and Challenge Cup match attendance will exceed one million for the 2017/18 two competitions.
Munster’s South African coach Johann van Graan and Gloucester’s Johan Ackermann could both be beneficiaries of success in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup respectively, and several South Africans will get the chance to impress new South African National Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, who until recently was the Director of Rugby at Munster.
Erasmus appreciates more than most the strength of the European competitions and he will have targeted a select group of players among the South African contingent in his planning for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Champions Cup highlights include:
- Leinster Rugby are the only side to have booked their quarter-final place, but they will be looking for the No 1 ranking as they head to Montpellier tomorrow.
- Three consecutive wins for Scarlets have set up a make-or-break conclusion as they welcome RC Toulon who have a one-point advantage at the top of Pool 5. Wayne Pivac’s side won the corresponding fixture at Parc y Scarlets last season which is their only victory in five previous meetings with the three-time champions.
- ASM Clermont Auvergne and Ospreys clash at Marcel-Michelin with Pool 2 supremacy on the line. Holders Saracens could also book a knockout place at the death as they host Northampton Saints who are hoping to end a run of three games without a win.
- Munster Rugby still have matters in their own hands in Pool 4 despite the defeat away to Racing 92 last weekend. On Sunday, the 2006 and 2008 winners go head-to-head with Castres Olympique who are still mathematically in the race for the last eight. Racing’s qualification quest takes them to Welford Road to meet familiar foes Leicester Tigers for whom it will be a 150th match in the European Cup.
- La Rochelle are looking to seal a quarter-final berth on their debut season in Europe’s top flight when they welcome Harlequins. Meanwhile, past winners Wasps and Ulster clash at the Ricoh Arena where a win for the Irish province will guarantee them a place in the last eight.
Key points in the Challenge Cup:
- Gloucester Rugby welcome Pau to Kingsholm this evening live on Sky Sports with a home quarter-final at stake. The Aviva Premiership side are looking to overcome a three-point deficit at the top of Pool 3.
- Connacht Rugby have already won Pool 5 and have a home quarter-final in their own hands when they welcome Oyonnax to The Sportsground.
- Holders Stade Français Paris face a vital match against Edinburgh Rugby if they are to keep their grip on the trophy. Edinburgh won a see-saw battle 34-33 at BT Murrayfield last weekend to secure a home quarter-final.
- The competition reaches a ninth different country of the season when a double-header takes place in Georgia. Newcastle Falcons – who are already confirmed as a home quarter-finalist – face Russian club Enisei-STM at Tbilisi’s Avchala Stadium, followed by Krasny Yar’s Pool 4 fixture against London Irish at the same venue.
Meanwhile, Timisoara Saracens and Heidelberger RK hold slender advantages heading into the deciding legs of the first play-off round in the European Rugby Continental Shield.
Romanian club Timisoara welcome RC Batumi with a precious 11-6 lead from the first meeting in Georgia, whilst Heidelberger head to Italy to face Pataro Rugby Calvisano protecting a 34-29 cushion.
The two ties will be settled on aggregate scores with the winners meeting eachother on the same home-and-away basis in April for the right to play Enisei-STM or Krasny Yar in the final. Both finalists will be guaranteed places in next season’s Challenge Cup.
Visit epcrugby.com for all information about the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup.