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Week 41 Fact Sheet - "Euro Action"

Last week’s Rugby Championship action provided all that was expected… and more!

With both the All Blacks and the Wallabies producing memorable – and Houdini-like – come-from-behind victories away from home, the southern hemisphere showpiece has come to an end and it’s now time for the European action – or, rather, the Champions Cup – to take centre stage.

Munster coach Johann van Graan reckons the Champions Cup is second to the Rugby World Cup in terms of the biggest competitions in the world.

Whilst the Six Nations and Rugby Championships might have claims of their own, Van Graan – a former Springbok assistant coach – said this week: “It’s a massive competition.

“After the World Cup, I think it’s quite possibly the biggest one in the world and [given] the way that people embrace this competition, we can’t wait to get out and play in the first game.”

Munster, two-times winners of the tournament in its previous Heineken Cup era, open their 2018/19 campaign against English form team, Exeter, the first time these two teams will ever go head to head.

It is one of many cross-border clashes this weekend across both European competitions (both Cup and Challenge), with Bath hosting Toulouse, Clermont travelling to Northampton Saints, Scarlets entertaining Racing 92, two-times champions Saracens heading to Glasgow, Harlequins hosting Agen, Stade Français facing up to Worcester Warriors and, lastly, Toulon entertaining English semifinalists from last season, the Newcastle Falcons.

Yes, these are European rugby match-ups of the highest order. But Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus would do well to keep his eye on many of these games with the likes of Francois Louw, Cheslin Kolbe, Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee, Duhan van der Merwe (a selection darkhorse on the wing, perhaps?), Vincent Koch, Schalk Burger – to name just a few – all in action in some way or another.

In other rugby, meanwhile, the Currie Cup springs back into action with the final round of league action. Griquas will be looking to finish their season on a high against a Sharks team still harbouring hopes of a top-of-the-log finish.

However, few would bet against the defending champions, Western Province, from achieving that honour – Province needing just the one log point from their game against the Blue Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.

POOL 1

Bath v Toulouse - History against the home side in Bath-Toulouse fixtures

  • Bath and Toulouse have met six times in the competition, with the home side on the day winning just one of those fixtures and the visitors securing four victories (D1).
  • Across their last four campaigns, Bath has averaged 19 points per match in their 12 home fixtures, winning seven and losing five of those games.
  • Toulouse are winless in their last five games against Premiership opposition in the tournament (D1, L4) although their last such victory came against Bath in 2014/15.
  • Bath Rugby averaged 173 tackles per game last season, more than any other club, with Tom Dunn (119) the only player to make 100+ tackles in the pool stage.
  • Bath’s Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph were two of 14 players to play every minute of the pool stage last season scoring six of Bath’s 16 tries between them.

Northampton Saints v Clermont - A first Challenge Cup meeting for these two teams

  • This will be the first Challenge Cup meeting between Northampton and Clermont, however, they have met five times before in the top flight with the Top 14 side claiming victory in four of those clashes (L1).
  • Saints and Clermont met in the pool stage of the Champions Cup last season with both teams claiming home wins, the only previous time Saints had hosted Clermont was in October 2001 with the Top 14 side winning 21-15.
  • This will be the first time in 10 years that Northampton has participated in the pool stage of the Challenge Cup, that season they went on to win the competition with five of their nine victories coming against Top 14 opposition.
  • Northampton (91%) and Clermont (90%) were two of just four teams to record a line-out success rate of 90% or better in the Champions Cup last season, although Saints also recorded the lowest scrum success-rate (63%).
  • Saints’ Dan Biggar recorded the best goal-kicking success rate (94%) of any player to attempt 10-plus kicks at goal in European competition last season, he slotted 15 of his 16 place kicks for the Ospreys in the Champions Cup.

Exeter Chiefs v Munster - A first European showdown between these two sides

  • Munster Rugby are the only Irish club Exeter have yet to face in Europe having played Leinster and Ulster in the top flight, as well as Connacht in the Challenge Cup.
  • Munster are unbeaten in their opening game in each of their last four campaigns (W3, D1), with two of those four matches in that run coming away from home.
  • Two-time champions Munster have lost just one of their last nine pool stage matches in the competition (W7, D1), that defeat coming in Round 5 last season against eventual runners-up Racing 92.
  • Munster’s CJ Stander was the only player to make over 100 tackles (119) and 100 carries (126) last season.
  • Former Scarlets player Tadhg Beirne won 18 turnovers last season, seven more than any other player.

Scarlets v Racing 92 - Can Scarlets end their Racing misery?

  • Racing 92 won both their pool stage games against Scarlets in 2015/16, scoring a combined 93 points and conceding just 26.
  • The last time these sides met Scarlets suffered their heaviest ever defeat (64-14) in their European Cup history.
  • Racing are unbeaten on their last three visits to Wales, however, two of those trips have seen them draw (W1).
  • EPCR European Player of the Year 2018, Leone Nakarawa, made 22 off-loads last season, 10 more than any other player, he also made the second most carries of anyone (124).
  • No player was directly involved in more tries in the pool stage of last season’s tournament than Scarlets’ Gareth Davies (seven – four tries, three assists).

Glasgow Warriors v Saracens - Saracens remain on golden run

  • Saracens – the 2015/16 and 2016/17 champions – have not been beaten in any competition since Leinster knocked them out of the European Champions Cup at the quarterfinal stage in Dublin in April 2018.
  • This will be the fourth tournament match between Glasgow and Saracens, the Gallagher Premiership side coming out on top in the previous three.
  • Glasgow did beat Saracens in the Challenge Cup back in January 2004, but that is their only victory against the two-time winners in all European competitions (D1, L6).
  • Glasgow has won eight of their last nine games when hosting Premiership opposition, Northampton (Round 2, 2015/16) the only such side to win in this run.
  • Owen Farrell was the top points-scorer in the competition last season (92), overall only Ronan O’Gara (1,365) and Stephen Jones (869) have more points than the Saracens flyhalf (688).

POOL 2

Griquas v Sharks - Sharks can secure home semifinal with victory in Kimberley

  • The only Rugby Championship squad returnee that could feature in this match is Sharks and Springbok winger Sbu Nkosi.
  • Griquas are out of the running for a semi-final place. The Sharks are in pole position for a home semi-final but could still miss out should they lose to Griquas without a bonus point and the Bulls beat Western Province with a bonus point in Pretoria.
  • A simple victory will give the Sharks a home semi-final but a loss – without a bonus point – for WP in Pretoria, coupled with a bonus point Sharks win in Kimberley, will see the Durbanites finish top of the log.

Harlequins v Agen - Another European blank canvas

  • Harlequins and Agen have never met before, and Agen will be the 19th French club that Quins have faced in Europe.
  • Harlequins have won nine of their 10 home games against Top 14 opposition in the Challenge Cup, only losing to Stade Français Paris (0-26) back in December 2002.
  • Agen has lost 11 of their last 12 games in the Challenge Cup, those losses coming by an average margin of 21 points.
  • Agen recorded a scrum success-rate of just 85% last season, the poorest rate of any side in the Challenge Cup.
  • Ross Chisholm has scored six tries in just seven European starts for Harlequins – including five in five starts in the Challenge Cup.

Blue Bulls v Western Province - Third place on the line for Blue Bulls

  • Springbok Rugby Championship squad members Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Damian Willemse and Ruhan Nel are all available for WP. Trevor Nyakane, Marco van Staden, Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier are all up for selection for the Bulls.
  • Western Province needs just one log point from this match – be it a losing bonus point or a four-try bonus – to secure a top-of-the-log finish. WP can still miss out on first place, should they lose to the Bulls without any bonus points AND the Sharks beat Griquas (and score four tries) in Kimberley.
  • The Bulls can still miss out on a semifinal place, should they lose heavily to Western Province. However, the Pumas would need to beat the Lions in Nelspruit and the Lions would need to get some bonus points in a losing cause to knock the Bulls out.
  • Province wing Sergeal Petersen is the top try-scorer in the 2018 Currie Cup competition with seven touchdowns. Lions No.8 Hacjivah Dayimani trails him by one try.
  • WP fullback/wing SP Marais is the leading points-scorer in the Currie Cup thus far – sporting 79 points, seven ahead of the Lions’ Shaun Reynolds.

Stade Français v Worcester Warriors - History against Worcester in Paris 

  • Worcester Warriors warmed up for this match in sensational style with a record-breaking 52-7 win over Bristol Bears at Sixways in the Gallagher Premiership last weekend.
  • Stade Français have won both of their previous two games against Worcester Warriors in the 2011/12 Challenge Cup pool stage.
  • Stade has won 23 of their 26 home games in the pool stage of the Challenge Cup, London Irish (twice) and Dragons the only teams to win in this time.
  • The Warriors have lost their last 11 away games in the Challenge Cup, however, they have picked up losing a bonus point in three of their last four such games.
  • No team averaged more turnovers per game last season than Worcester, who made 8.3 per game (same as Cardiff Blues).

Toulon v Newcastle Falcons - Another Champions Cup first as Jonny’s clubs go head-to-head

  • This will be the first tournament fixture between RC Toulon and Newcastle, however, they did meet in the Challenge Cup pool stage in 2011/12 with both sides picking up home wins.
  • Toulon have lost their last two games, but have never lost three consecutive matches in the competition.
  • This will be Newcastle’s third campaign in the European Cup and their first since 2004/05 when Jonny Wilkinson, later a two-time champion with Toulon, featured for Falcons on their way to the quarterfinals.
  • Toulon made more carries (153) per game than any other side last season, gaining the most metres (483) and beating the most defenders (26.6) on average.
  • Newcastle’s Adam Radwan gained the most metres (644), beat the most defenders (45) and most the joint most breaks (13, level with Henry Purdy) of any player in the Challenge Cup last season.