Stephen Jones runs the rule over the Euro­pean Chal­lenge Cup run­ners and riders

Rugby World - - FRONT ROW -

HE CHAL­LENGE Cup has some ex­cel­lent clubs in the line-up for 2018-19, but the over­whelm­ing prob­lem in fore­cast­ing a win­ner lies in their at­ti­tude to the tour­na­ment. Will they be flat out to win? Or will they use the tour­na­ment as a devel­op­ment ve­hi­cle for some back-up play­ers? French clubs, in par­tic­u­lar, can be no­to­ri­ously fee­ble in the Chal­lenge Cup. Shame. Here’s a look at the pools…

TPool One

Clermont Au­vergne, Drag­ons, Northamp­ton Saints, Tim­işoara Sara­cens Clermont, now charg­ing af­ter a poor and in­jury-wrecked sea­son in 2017-18, could just be the best team this sea­son in ei­ther tour­na­ment – if they want to be. Saints are likely to give it a crack but nei­ther Drag­ons nor Tim­işoara have the power in depth to com­pete. Pool win­ners: Clermont

Also to qual­ify: Northamp­ton

Pool Two

Ospreys, Pau, Stade Français, Worces­ter War­riors

On pa­per, a strong pool. Who will want it most? Stade Français made a strong start in the Top 14 and have form in this event. Ospreys and Worces­ter will have to re­ally com­mit to make any im­pact, but there are some at­trac­tive fix­tures here and it would be a shame to waste them. Pool win­ners: Stade Français

Also to qual­ify: Worces­ter BordeauxBè­gles, Con­nacht, Perpignan, Sale Sharks Con­nacht could tar­get the event as they will find it a mas­sive task to qual­ify for the main Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion through the Pro14. Sale can sift their fringe play­ers to good ef­fect, but the two French teams will surely throw all their re­sources at the Top 14.

Pool win­ners: Con­nacht

Pool Four

Pool Three

Bris­tol Bears, Eni­sei-STM, La Rochelle, Ze­bre

The loyal fans of Bris­tol will no doubt fancy the trip to the west coast of France in par­tic­u­lar, though coach

Pat Lam will be des­per­ate to run up

Roar­ing sup­portClermont fans

Rus­sian kick Eni­sei-STM

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