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Sunday Showdowns For Connacht And Ulster In Challenge Cup

Sunday Showdowns For Connacht And Ulster In Challenge Cup

The EPCR Challenge Cup trophy has been won by French clubs Montpellier, Lyon and Toulon in the last three seasons ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Connacht and Ulster will both play their EPCR Challenge Cup round of 16 matches on Sunday, April 7, travelling to French clubs Pau and Montpellier respectively.

The road to London, and the final which will take place at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Friday, May 24, will become clearer once the knockout stages get under way in early April.

The teams that are in contention to win the Challenge Cup title include Connacht, Ulster, Bayonne, and Sale Sharks, who all finished fifth in their respective Investec Champions Cup pools.

There are five former champions in the mix – three-time winners Clermont Auvergne, Gloucester and Sale, along with Pau and Montpellier who will provide the opposition for the provinces in the last 16.

Ulster were beaten semi-finalists the last time they played in the Challenge Cup in 2021. Dan McFarland’s men bowed out of this season’s Champions Cup in disappointing fashion, conceding seven tries to both Toulouse and Harlequins in their last two pool defeats.

Their round of 16 clash with Montpellier has been pencilled in for 1.30pm local time/12.30pm Irish time on Sunday, April 7. The teams have only played twice before, with the Ulstermen winning both pool matches during the 2013/14 Heineken Cup campaign.

Indeed, the province’s 25-8 win over Montpellier at Stade Yves-du-Manoir, now known as GGL Stadium, represented only their second ever competitive victory on French soil. Andrew Trimble scored the only try, and Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson kicked the rest of the points between them.

Montpellier are currently bottom of the Top 14 table, but finished second in Challenge Cup Pool 2 having seen off Newcastle Falcons (24-19), the Ospreys (38-5), and the Emirates Lions (13-3), before losing 27-19 last weekend at Benetton Rugby.

The winners of the Montpellier-Ulster tie will either be away to Clermont or host the Toyota Cheetahs in the quarter-finals. Connacht’s reward for beating Pau would be a quarter-final trip to Benetton Rugby, or a last-eight date at home to the Emirates Lions.

Pete Wilkins’ charges marked the renaming of the Sportsground to Dexcom Stadium with a stirring 27-10 win over 14-man Bristol Bears. Winger and player-of-the-match Andrew Smith supplied their bonus point with a 45th-minute try in the right corner.

Smith was just three years of age when Connacht last played Pau, advancing through a two-legged Challenge Cup second round on aggregate. Despite losing 10-6 at Stade du Hameau, the westerners had done enough by winning the previous week’s home match, 29-7.

They made it through to the semi-finals that season, bowing out to eventual champions Harlequins, and will hope to get another cup run going after losing in the round of 16 to both Leicester, in 2021, and Benetton last year.

The Pau-Connacht clash will bring the round of 16 fixtures to a close, kicking off at 6.30pm local time/5.30pm Irish time on Sunday, April 7. Currently sixth in the Top 14, Pau posted Challenge Cup pool wins over the Dragons (24-21), the Cheetahs (33-20), and Zebre Parma (28-27).


– Seeding number in brackets/Kick-offs are local time

Friday, April 5:

R16 2: Gloucester (2) v Castres Olympique (15), Kingsholm, 8pm (Viaplay-Premier Sports/beIN Sports/FloRugby)

Saturday, April 6:

R16 4: Clermont Auvergne (4) v Toyota Cheetahs (13), Stade Marcel-Michelin, 1.30pm (France TV/beIN Sports/SuperSport/FloRugby)

R16 3: Benetton Rugby (3) v Emirates Lions (14), Stadio Comunale di Monigo, 6.30pm (epcrugby.tv/SuperSport/FloRugby)

R16 7: Ospreys (7) v Sale Sharks (10), Brewery Field, Bridgend, 8pm (S4C/FloRugby)

R16 8: Edinburgh (8) v Bayonne (9), Hive Stadium, 8pm (Viaplay-Premier Sports/beIN Sports/FloRugby)

Sunday, April 7:

R16 5: Montpellier (5) v ULSTER (12), GGL Stadium, 1.30pm local time/12.30pm Irish time (beIN Sports/Viaplay-Premier Sports/FloRugby)

R16 1: Hollywoodbets Sharks (1) v Zebre Parma (16), Hollywoodbets Kings Park, 4pm (SuperSport/epcrugby.tv/FloRugby)

R16 6: Pau (6) v CONNACHT (11), Stade du Hameau, 6.30pm local time/5.30pm Irish time (beIN Sports/Viaplay-Premier Sports/FloRugby)


– The quarter-finals (April 12/13/14) will be played over one match and the highest-ranked teams from the pool stages will have home venue advantage

QF 1: Winner R16 1 (Hollywoodbets Sharks (1)/Zebre Parma (16)) v Winner R16 8 (Edinburgh (8)/Bayonne (9))

QF 2: Winner R16 2 (Gloucester (2)/Castres Olympique (15)) v Winner R16 7 (Ospreys (7)/Sale Sharks (10))

QF 3: Winner R16 3 (Benetton Rugby (3)/Emirates Lions (14)) v Winner R16 6 (Pau (6)/CONNACHT (11))

QF 4: Winner R16 4 (Clermont Auvergne (4)/Toyota Cheetahs (13)) v Winner R16 5 (Montpellier (5)/ULSTER (12))


– The semi-finals (May 3/4/5) will be played in Europe and the highest-ranked teams from the pool stages will have home country advantage

SF 1: Winner QF 1 v Winner QF 4

SF 2: Winner QF 2 v Winner QF 3


The 2024 final will be played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London on Friday, May 24 (kick-off 8pm). Click here for ticket information.

NB: In the event of drawn matches at the end of normal time during the knockout stages, extra-time will be played. If the scores remain tied at the end of extra-time, the winner will be determined as follows:

(a) the team that has scored the most tries in the match (including extra-time) or
(b) if equal, by a place kick competition