Bristol Bears and Leicester Tigers both face French opposition in their European Challenge Cup semi-finals as Bordeaux-Begles and Toulon lie in wait for the English clubs.
The possibility of an all-Premiership Euro final remains on but the likelihood of both the Tigers and the Bears making it through seems remote as they prepare to tackle tough Top 14 opponents on Friday and Saturday.
Bears Eye Maiden Final
Bristol’s semi clash is up first on Friday evening and they appear to have a much better chance of progressing to their first-ever final in this competition than their domestic counterparts.
Bristol’s only previous last-four appearance came 20 years ago but, following a seven-try win over Dragons in the previous round, confidence is high they can now see off Bordeaux at Ashton Gate.
The hosts are favourites at
10/31 but getting the better of a side who were top of the Pro14 before it was curtailed last season and one that secured a 23-14 victory over Edinburgh in the quarters will not be straightforward.
Lam Rings the Changes
Bristol have made five changes from the side that sealed their last-eight success, with Siale Piutau, Ed Holmes and Harry Randall among those returning, while Charles Piutau and Henry Purdy have both been ruled out through injury.
Pat Lam’s side bounced back from a disappointing Premiership defeat to Sale last month with two wins on the trot in early September – beating Worcester and Northampton – but they slipped to a 59-35 loss to Sale most recently in the league to leave them in fifth place, six points behind second-placed Bath.
Bordeaux, who are
47/20 to win, are only one game into their domestic campaign but they’ve started with a win, beating Brive 25-20, and they will put up a tough fight against Bristol, although the feeling is they will probably come up just short.
Leicester Face French Examination
Saturday’s tie sees Leicester travel to France and the Tigers will surely have to turn in a near faultless display in order to progress past Toulon.
The match is the club’s first European semi-final since 2016, and their first-ever in this competition, and they face the prospect of taking on a Toulon forward line that boasts the likes of Rugby World Cup winner Eben Etzebeth, France captain Charles Ollivon and Italian star Sergio Parisse.
Unsurprisingly then, Toulon are as short as
1/5 to win, with Leicester 10/3 – odds that reflect how tough a task the English side face at the Stade Mayol.
Toulon a Tough Nut to Crack
Leicester, who were given a bye in their quarter-final after three Castres players tested positive for coronavirus, are struggling in the Premiership down in second-bottom and have won just one of their last four games, although that was a much-needed 28-24 success over Northampton last time out.
They will have to raise their game considerably to beat Toulon, who have started their Top 14 season with a victory over Lyon and a defeat to La Rochelle, and restricting the powerful hosts will be difficult.
However, such is the magnitude of the game, Steve Borthwick’s men can at least prevent a heavy defeat with Toulouse to win by 1-12 points, on offer at
*All odds correct at time of writing