Amlin Challenge Cup Quarter-Finals: Round-up

All eyes this weekend may have been on the Heineken Cup, but Europe’s secondary competition, the Amlin Challenge Cup, also served up some intriguing fixtures. The stylistic clashes of Gloucester vs Biarritz and Bath vs Stade Francais were expected to make good viewing, and the excitement surrounding the all-French affair of Perpignan vs Toulouse and the explosive London Wasps vs Leinster contest were also not to be missed.

The quarter finals got under way on Thursday night, as Gloucester played host to Biarritz at Kingsholm. Despite showing some great attacking endeavour, a sight which Gloucester fans have become used to this season, they were not able to live with the physicality of Biarritz, and ultimately succumbed to a 41-31 defeat. Ill-discipline also cost the Cherry and Whites, as yellow cards to both Dario Chistolini and Koree Britton saw the home side ship 24 points during their time in the sin-bin. Playing Biarritz is never easy, but the French side currently sit at 8th in the Top 14, and the Aviva Premiership playoff-chasing Gloucester would have been optimistic about advancing to the semi-finals before the game.

Across the Channel, Perpignan were also bucking expectations as they defeated perennial Heineken Cup powerhouse Toulouse, 30-19 at the Stade Aime Giral. Home advantage seemed to be crucial for Perpignan, as was the excellent performance from James Hook, who kicked 15 points and helped his side to an impressive win. The loss adds to a forgettable season for Toulouse who, as well as being knocked out of both European competitions, have played second fiddle to both Clermont and Toulon in the Top 14, and will need to improve significantly if they want to be a real contender when the Top 14 playoffs start.

With both teams willing to run from deep and spread the ball out wide, not to mention players who can make something from nothing, the Wasps vs Leinster clash was never going to be short of expectations, and fortunately the game delivered. Despite heroics from Wasps’ two illustrious wingers, Christian Wade and Tom Varndell, who grabbed two tries apiece in front of the watching Warren Gatland and Stuart Lancaster, the precision and power of Leinster, especially at the breakdown and set-piece, was too much for the English side, who fell to a 48-28 defeat. Worthy of note was the performance of victorious fly-half Ian Madigan. The youngster was in imperious form and has shown real signs that Jonathan Sexton will have serious competition for Ireland’s number 10 jersey in the near future.

The weekend’s action was rounded off at The Rec, where Stade Francais looked as if they had a point to prove, as they overpowered Bath on their way to a 36-20 victory. Braces from both Waisea Vuidarvuwalu and Hugo Bonneval were vital for Stade Francais as they outplayed their hosts, but unfortunately the game is likely to be remembered for an act of ill-discipline, rather than the rugby which was played. Accusations have been made by Peter Stringer that Stade Francais scrum-half Jerome Fillol spat at him, and the replays seem to confirm this. A citing will likely quickly ensue.

Both Gloucester and Bath’s losses at home to underperforming French sides will likely raise questions over the strength of the ‘intermediate’ sides in Aviva Premiership, especially when compared to their French counterparts. Wasps’ loss to Leinster is a little more understandable, given that just last season they were battling against relegation, and that Leinster currently sit 3rd in the RaboDirect PRO12, but will leave Dai Young no uncertainty over the areas he needs to improve as they head into the business end of the season.

Leinster will now play host to Biarritz at RDS in a salivating clash on the 27th April, whilst Stade Francais will have to make the trip to Perpignan on that same weekend, as all four teams compete to be in the final in Dublin on the 17th May.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

6 thoughts on “Amlin Challenge Cup Quarter-Finals: Round-up

  1. Surely Lancaster is now ruing not having Wade in the 6N setup? A player like that could have made a real difference when England started getting stodgy towards the end.

    I’m still not convinced he’ll be a bolter though. If you think there might be 3 wings and 3 fullback/wings then I can’t see who out of, for example, Cuthbert/North/Maitland/Zebo/Bowe, Wade would displace?

    1. I think that his chance of Lions selection would be based not on any pecking order but the fact that he can offer something different.

      If you consider the Welshmen plus, say, Zebo as your primary Wings, you can afford to take a gamble on someone like Wade. Particularly if you have extra Wing cover (if needed) from some FB’s – probably Halfpenny, possibly Brown and/or Hogg.

    2. Completely agree about Wade and the 6N squad. But I also think he has a chance to tour. He is such a surprise package and is lightning. I actually think the Zebo and Bowe need more game time. Zebo hardly looked outstanding at the weekend. I am sure fans of these two and would have been my first choice Lions wingers at one point – but now not so sure if they are in their best form. As we know, the Lions tour is all about form.

      My bolter is Ian Madigan. Class act on Friday night and 10 is hardly a position that the Lions are blessed in. Mix that with the fact that he can also play centre and full back and you have a Lions possible.

    3. Would have loved to earwig on the WG SL conversation. Maybe something along the lines of “…. tell me again why you didn’t pick this guy?”

      As I love a good stat …. if you exclude the opposed training run against Fiji …. more tries scored on the wing by Wasps in 1 game against Leinster than England have scored in 16 under Lancaster.

      Hope both wingers are involved in a summer tour.

      1. Is that true? Didn’t Wasps score four tries, and England scored four tries against Scotland in the 6 nations – and other tries in the last 16 games. Or am I misreading the stat as that is what it sounds like?

      2. Scrap my last comment, I re-read your comment and it clearly states wings. Not surprising really – need to get Wade in the England side. Him and Ashton will compliment each other very well as they are both different players.

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