Forget the puzzle of the preliminary stage, the Champions Cup is back for its final stage. After the first months of an unlikely European season, from Saturday 16 April will take place in the round of 16. At this stage of the competition, a strong French contingent will be represented with seven clubs, including two confrontations: Toulouse challenges Ulster on Saturday (16 :15, followed by France 2 and france.tv) when Clermont takes on Leicester on Sunday (4:15 pm, sequel to France 2 en france.tv† lRacing 92, Montpellier, Stade Français, La Rochelle, Bordeaux-Bègles also participate. A scenario that is difficult to imagine at the beginning of the year.
Two Franco-French duels and shocks on the program
Racing and Stade Français fans have reason to cheer. Three derbies in three weeks: first in the Top 14 (53-20 win for the Racingmen) then with the two games of the round of 16, on April 9 and 17.
Like the inhabitants of Ile-de-France, they too are inseparable. After clashes, both on the pitch and on the trainer’s bench, last Saturday in the Top 14, Stade Rochelais and Union Bordeaux-Bègles face each other in triptych style. Finalist and semi-finalist respectively of last edition, the two teams have great ambitions again this season, despite recent disappointing performances in the French championship.
For the rest, the leader of the Top 14, Montpellier receives the Harlequins, third in the English Championship, while the first of the same championship, the Leicester Tigers, receives Clermont. After an exceptional start to the season, the Midlands players dominate the Premiership and have won all their group matches, most notably on the Chaban-Delmas grass pitch. Finally, the defending champions, Stade Toulousain, welcome Ulster second to their Rugby United Championship group. During the group stage, the Irish twice dominated the Clermontois and the Saints of Northampton.
The extension of a shortened group stage
For two seasons, the EPCR has decided to innovate. To even change everything. Leave the five hens of four and the readable and understandable format. Make way for the two groups of twelve, where not all teams meet and do not play the same matches. Stopping there would have been too simple. Since this season, the Round of 16 is played as a home and away game. But no quarters or halves.
Faced with Covid-19 and the different health protocols specific to the countries, even the closure of borders, the first months of the competition gave work to the EPCR, the body responsible for organizing the competition. A total of eleven games in the group stage have not been played due to the pandemic. Depending on the situation, the defeat on the green carpet was attributed to the team affected by the coronavirus or there were draws and scoreless games. Decisions widely contested by the clubs.
Racing 92, for example, drew two bonus wins (28-0) on green carpet. She therefore played only two of the four games initially scheduled. With La Rochelle, it will be one of the few French teams to reach the quarter-finals in the event of qualification. Union Bordeaux-Bègles, for its part, achieved a win and a draw “thanks to” the Covid. The Toulouse title holder, for his part, benefited from two matches that ended on a green carpet, with a draw and a defeat. With a seventh place far from his ambitions.
A new format for the eighth
It is therefore the only round of this final phase that is played in the first leg (this weekend) and the return (next weekend). The eighth will judge after two games and the winner is “nominated on the basis of the cumulative scores of two rounds”. Field points and bonus points therefore do not apply. After that, from the quarter-finals, the posters are played on a dry match.
The compositions have fallen for the first stages of the round of 16
— Champions Cup France (@ChampionsCup_FR) Apr 8, 2022