European Challenge Cup semi-final preview

Two French and two English sides represent the last men standing in the European Rugby Challenge Cup, just one win and one month from the final at BT Murrayfield Stadium on Friday 12 May (the eve of the Champions Cup final at the same venue).

Read our European Champions Cup semi-final preview here

This Saturday La Rochelle – Top 14 leader by an impressive 10 points – host 2015 winners Gloucester at the Stade Marcel Deflandre on Saturday 22 April (kick-off 8pm BST).

The match is Gloucester’s fourth semi-final appearance in the competition and they’ve won their last two matches when reaching this stage, however three previous semi-finals in the competition have all been against English Premiership opposition, most recently their 30-19 victory over Exeter on their way to lifting the trophy two years ago.

It will be the ninth meeting between the sides in the Challenge Cup – only Newcastle and Brive have played each other more often in the competition (12 times) – with the Englishmen winning six of the previous eight meetings between the two.

La Rochelle – making a first appearance in the knockout rounds – are the only side this season average to make fewer than 10 missed tackles per game and have done so by a reasonable margin (8.7). Their tackle success rate of 91% is also the best in the competition.

Hoping to put that defence under pressure are the tournament’s most decisive playmakers – Billy Burns (7) and Billy Twelvetrees (6) – have made the most and second-most try assists this season.

Fast fact: La Rochelle's Brock James, a tournament winner with Clermont 10 years ago, is third on this season's list of points scorers with 54 from seven appearances. The Australian out half also has a 79% place kick success rate.

The following day (Sunday) Stade Francais host Bath in their fifth semi-final; with their previous four semi-finals have all been decided by margins of fewer than seven points (W2, L2).

Their opponents – 1998 Heineken Cup and 2008 Challenge Cup winners, Bath – go one better on that score to make a sixth, while they have made the final on four of five previous occasions.

The last Challenge Cup meeting between Stade Francais and Bath in the 2013 quarter-final ended in a 20-36 defeat at The Rec for the Aviva Premiership club – their only home loss in the tournament.

Bath have won 16 of their last 17 away games in the Challenge Cup, with their only defeat in that run coming earlier this season against Cardiff Blues. Conversely, Stade Francais have won seven of their last eight home games against English Premiership sides in the Challenge Cup.

Their only defeat in that run came against Harlequins in the 2014 quarter-finals:

  • Bath need just four points at Stade Jean Bouin next weekend to register their 2,000th point in the tournament.
  • On the one occasion that Bath played a Challenge Cup semi-final in France, they lost 38-22 to Montferrand (now ASM Clermont Auvergne) in 2004.