Challenge Cup preview: Five Gallagher Premiership teams in European action in round five
As Gallagher Premiership Rugby enters a month-long hiatus there is plenty of European rugby to keep you entertained with five teams involved in Challenge Cup action this weekend.
Round five sees Bristol Bears, Sale Sharks, Worcester Warriors and Northampton Saints all involved in overseas encounters, while Harlequins are the only English team playing on home soil.
The Gallagher Premiership Rugby teams have been in fine form on the continent this season with Worcester, Sale and Harlequins all at the top of their respective pools, while Northampton sit second in theirs.
Bristol Bears come into their match against Enisei-STM third in their pool needing a win and kind results in the other pool match to improve their chances of qualification to the knockout rounds.
Here’s a closer look at each Challenge Cup match this weekend:
Enisei-STM v Bristol Bears (Saturday January 12, 12pm, Yug Stadium, Sochi)
Bristol Bears will face a long trip to Russia to face a so-far winless Enisei-STM side for the very first time.
Four losses from four matches this season for the Russian side should give Bristol a boost coming into the game and they will be needing a win if they hope to qualify for the knockout stages.
Currently in third place, the Bears will be hoping to leapfrog either La Rochelle or Zebre, who go head-to-head for top spot in the other pool match this weekend.
Enisei boast the second best goal-kicking record in the competition this season slotting 91%, while they also have Mikheil Gachechiladze who has made the most tackles and carries.
🛣️ On the road in the @ERChallengeCup 🇷🇺
Team news coming your way at midday ⏰ pic.twitter.com/8okZzVtial
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) 11 January 2019
Harlequins v Grenoble (Saturday January 12, 3pm, The Stoop, Twickenham)
On both occasions these two teams have faced each other – it has been the home side that has come away with the victory.
As things stand, Pool 5 is tightly packed and with only two points separating the four teams, anyone could qualify for the next round.
Harlequins are currently top of the table by a solitary point but will be hoping to move to the verge of the knockouts with a victory at The Stoop.
Grenoble have shown poor form on the road recently, losing their last six away games.
🗣 TEAM NEWS: Harlequins announce squad to face @FCGrugby (h) in the Challenge Cup Round 5 on Saturday 12th January (kick-off: 15:00)
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) 11 January 2019
Connacht Rugby v Sale Sharks (Saturday January 12, 3pm, The Sportsground, Galway)
Sale currently hold a three-point advantage over Connacht at the top of Pool 3 but a loss could see the Irishmen leapfrog them.
Sale have been victorious on each of the five occasions they have come up against Connacht, including the reverse fixture at the AJ Bell Stadium which they won 34-13 in Round 2.
Connacht boast a fantastic home record in the competition, beating 17 of the last 19 teams to visit Galway. But both times they have lost during that run have been to Gallagher Premiership Rugby opposition (Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins).
TEAM NEWS | @SaleSharksAcad
— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) 11 January 2019
Ospreys v Worcester Warriors (Saturday January 12, 3pm, Liberty Stadium, Swansea)
Worcester Warriors will come into this match at the top of Pool 2 but Ospreys are in hot pursuit, just two points behind them.
The game will essentially act as a top-of-the-table decider with both teams in strong position to win the pool overall.
The previous encounter in Round 2 was the first time the teams had faced one another and it will be Ospreys who are out seeking revenge as they were downed at Sixways 27-21.
Worcester will be hoping to maintain some 100 per cent records in the game too.
They are the only side not to have missed a conversion in the competition yet while Andrew Kitchener has not missed a tackle, making all 43 he has attempted.
🎥 “It’s a plus point in our game and we want to build on it.”
Rory Duncan talks about recent scrum success ahead of Saturday’s trip to Swansea… pic.twitter.com/I30AhaNCgD
— Worcester Warriors ⚔️ (@WorcsWarriors) 10 January 2019
ASM Clermont Auvergne v Northampton Saints (Saturday January 12, 8pm, Stade Marcel-Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand)
The French side come into the game having collected more points than anybody else in the competition by securing the maximum five in each one.
They currently sit a comfortable five points ahead of their matchday rivals Worcester, who will be looking to overturn their Round 2 defeat and join Clermont on 20 points.
However, Northampton face a tough test as Clermont have never been beaten at home in the Challenge Cup, a run that stretches back 27 games.
Here are your Saints to play Clermont…
Four changes in all, with @Courtney_Lawes leading the side out at the home of the Top 14 leaders
— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) 11 January 2019