For two years and the health crisis due to Covid, the Champions Cup has changed formula.
With a reduction in the number of group matches but the introduction of round of 16.
Until then, it had rather smiled on the Top 14 teams since in 2021 and 2022, seven teams had qualified for the final stages of the European Cup.
Better, each time, there were three French clubs in the semi-finals for two tricolor coronations (Toulouse then La Rochelle).
This season, change of scenery.
If Toulouse and Rochelais - undefeated after three days - have held their rank, the other French teams are struggling.
And the chances of only having two teams in the round of 16 (played over a single match, unlike the 2022 round-trip format) are significant.
During the first three days, if we put aside the flawless results of the Rouge et Noir and the Maritimes, there were only three French successes in 18 matches.
Castres, which historically has never made continental games a priority, has already been eliminated after three setbacks.
More than worrying.
Lyon, Montpellier and the UBB on a thread
Lyon is currently badly embarked, only 10th in Pool A. A success against the Bulls of Pretoria, this Friday (9 p.m.) in Gerland, could be enough to reach the final stages.
But, at the same time, the LOU must knock on wood so that Racing and Gloucester, ahead in the standings, do not win against Leinster and UBB respectively.
Which seems largely playable
Distrust however, the South African Bulls - winners of a completely crazy match in the first leg (42-36) - will play the blow thoroughly with the hope of playing an eighth on their land.
“We don't have our destiny in our hands but if we win this match by improving it, I think we can watch the weekend matches with relative serenity”,
nevertheless advances the Rhone manager Xavier Garbajosa.
Despite its two setbacks against the Ospreys (the last with the offensive and defensive bonuses), the MHR (7th in Pool B) can still reach the final stages.
This will require the reigning French champion to win at home against London Irish (11th), already eliminated after three losses.
Largely in the ropes of the players of Philippe Saint-André.
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For Union Bordeaux-Bègles, only 11th in Pool A, the deal will be a little more complicated.
It is an unofficial sixteenth final that the Girondins will play on Saturday (4:15 p.m.) in Chaban-Delmas, against the English of Gloucester (9th).
Problem: a success might not be enough since Lyon (10th) and/or Racing 92 (8th) would not have to win at the same time.
Before getting injured and having to give up the next Six Nations Tournament, Bordeaux scrum-half Maxime Lucu believed in qualification:
“With two points taken during the first two days, we are still in contention.
We will certainly have to take 5 points against Gloucester to be able to qualify so that is still a goal.
Mission impossible for Racing and Clermont?
With the success snatched against the Harlequins at the Arena, the Parisians (8th in Pool A) are still alive in this competition.
Except that Saturday (4:15 p.m.), Racing will have to climb Everest and win in Dublin against the impressive province of Leinster (15 matches, 15 wins in all competitions this season), the only team to have signed three bonus wins in this Champions Cup.
All of this looks like an impossible mission for the players of Laurent Travers, inconsistent this season and swept away in the first leg (10-42, a meeting relocated to Le Havre) by these same Irishmen.
The Champions Cup was one of the stated objectives of the Altosequanais club (unfortunate finalist in 2016, 2018 and 2020), it seems to have failed for this year.
“Either we remobilize before going to Leinster, or we take 40 there.
It's up to us to raise our heads in order to pass
, ”wants to believe the international center Gaël Fickou.
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Same problem of inconstancy on the side of Clermont (8th in pool B).
The Auvergne club has been shaken since the start of the season by extra-sporting problems: departure of Damian Penaud, grumbling supporters, departure of Jono Gibbes and arrival next week of Christophe Urios.
In what state of mind will the Jaunards be when they go to challenge the Stormers (4th) in Cape Town?
They could be beaten on the wire by Sale (9th) and Ulster (10th) who face each other on Saturday (9 p.m.) in Belfast.
Above all, the current priority of ASM - unfortunate finalist in 2013, 2015 and 2017 - is clearly the recovery in the Top 14 where it is only 10th.
South Africa nibbled banknotes
For the first time in the history of the Champions Cup, three South African provinces joined the competition this year, after successfully joining the United Rugby Championship (ex-Celtic League).
For more than convincing results, since these three teams are in a good position to reach the round of 16.
Of the nine matches they have played, teams from the southern hemisphere have won seven. While the Durban Sharks are undefeated (2nd in Pool A), the Pretoria Bulls (6th in Pool A) and the Cape Stormers (4th in Pool B) have conceded only one defeat in three matches, respectively against Exeter (44-14) and Clermont (24-14).
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The return matches this weekend between Lyon and the Bulls, and between the Stormers and ASM, will be crucial for these two French teams.
And this could confirm the trend: the South African teams, who came in force to compete in the Champions Cup, are now outdoing the tricolor formations.
And take places in the final phase.
Yannick Bru, currently assistant at the Sharks before joining UBB next year, had clearly announced it at the start of the season: "
This year, the ambition of all the franchises is really to bring back trophies, especially in the Champions Cup.
The ambition is total.