The European Professional Club Rugby Challenge Cup returns this week, with eight teams battling it out in the quarter-finals. Three days of action featuring some evenly matched teams promises an exciting Easter of rugby action.
So which teams are fighting it out for a place in the semi-finals and where do they come from? There are four English clubs making up the quarter-finalists, with Aviva Premiership Rugby’s representation coming from Gloucester Rugby, Exeter Chiefs, Newcastle Falcons and London Irish. Newport Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues fly the flag for Wales, while Connacht and Edinburgh holding the hopes of Ireland and Scotland respectively.
How are the quarter-final matches shaping up? There are two all-country clashes on a super Saturday, as Newport Gwent Dragons host Cardiff Blues before fellow #TeamGilbert members Newcastle Falcons travel down to the south-west to face Exeter Chiefs. Either side of those matches, Richard Hibbard and his Gloucester Rugby team mates open up proceedings looking to turn a Good Friday into a great one with the visit of Connacht to Kingsholm and London Irish have home advantage as they play Edinburgh on Easter Sunday.
Gloucester had a perfect record in Pool 5, winning six matches out of six to ensure top spot. Their opponents Connacht qualified as a best runner-up, having finished behind Exeter in Pool 2. The Chiefs won five matches on their way to the quarters, and face another best runner-up in Newcastle. Falcons battled it out in Pool 3 but missed out on first place to the Dragons. Their Welsh clash with arch-rivals Cardiff Blues promises to be an enthralling encounter. The Blues finished level on points with London Irish in Pool 1 but went through as a best runner-up. Irish’s reward for topping the pool is a game with Pool 4 winner Edinburgh, who have suffered only one defeat en route to the quarter-final.
Which teams are most likely to be in Final contention? The form side of the Pool stage with a 100% record was Gloucester, although their domestic form is not aligning with their European efforts. Each of the other home sides will fancy their chances of progressing, although the quality of the three best runners-up left in the competition will be cause for concern for their hosts. Both #TeamGilbert teams Falcons and Dragons – foes in Pool 3 – will believe they can advance – a potential third meeting between the two could await in the Final in May.
So the last eight are set to collide. Easter weekend, with all its sweet treats, just got a little bit tastier.
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