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Who could spoil the Celtic sides’ chances of reaching the European Challenge Cup last four?

Guinness PRO12 Rugby Editor

30 Mar 2017

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This weekend brings the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals with the Guinness PRO12 sides making up three of the last eight.

Ospreys cruised through their pool winning six from six securing a bonus point in each game to progress with the maximum 30 points in a pool that contained Newcastle Falcons, Grenoble and Lyon and now face Stade Francais.

Cardiff Blues cross the border to take on an in-form Gloucester side as they look to reclaim the title they won back in 2010.

And if Edinburgh are to progress they will have to overcome a La Rochelle side that is leading the Top 14.

We take a look at the key men for the PRO12 sides’ opposition in the last eight.

Edinburgh Rugby v La Rochelle, Friday March 30, 8.00pm kick-off

Kevin Gourdon

After a breakout year for the flanker in the RBS 6 Nations – starting all five matches for France – Gourdon will be primed to take on Edinburgh in a knockout encounter.

Both sides lost just one fixture in the pool stages and Gourdon will be hoping to lead his team closer to the first European final in their history.

Gourdon, who was a consistent outstanding performer for Les Bleus in the Championship, will need to be at his best against an Edinburgh side that have saved their best rugby for the European stage this season.

Victor Vito

All Black Victor Vito completed his move to La Rochelle after winning the Super Rugby title with the Hurricanes in his 100th and final game for the franchise and the versatile back row will be looking to earn yet more silverware this season.

Vito has been outstanding for the French side this season with powerful carries and a relentless work rate characterising his performances for his new club – and he will add a boost when he comes off the bench in Edinburgh.

Vito and Gourdon will prove tough to move from over the ball and could prove pivotal to La Rochelle’s cause at BT Murrayfield.

Arthur Retiere

After a impressive Under-20s Six Nations, scrum-half Arthur Retiere could be key to La Rochelle’s hopes of lifting European silverware this season.

The young scrum-half scored a late double to earn France Under-20s in Round Two and his club side will be hoping he is at his sniping best against Edinburgh.

And Retiere can gain yet more admirers on the European stage if he can control his side during what could be a tight contest in Edinburgh.

 

Gloucester Rugby v Cardiff Blues, Saturday April 1, 8.05pm kick-off

Ross Moriarty

Welsh No.8 Ross Moriarty will lead a titanic battle in the back rows when the Cherry and Whites host Cardiff Blues at Kingsholm on Friday night and after a superb RBS 6 Nations, Moriarty is one to watch for Gloucester.

Moriarty will do battle with compatriot Sam Warburton at the breakdown in what is set to be a fierce contest between the sides.

Moriarty’s carries and ferocious defence will be crucial to Gloucester’s effort on Friday evening as they search for the crown they won in 2015 after beating Edinburgh 19-13 in the final.

Jonny May

After being dropped for the final two games of England’s RBS 6 Nations campaign, Jonny May has something to prove to head coach Eddie Jones and the flyer was back on the score sheet last weekend in domestic action.

The Gloucester flyer could cause the Blues all sorts of problems on his home turf so the Welsh side will have to kick accurately out of hand to minimise May’s time on the ball.

And May could go toe-to-toe with Blues’ Alex Cuthbert – his classmate back in the day at Hartpury College – which would make for an interesting battle and certainly test the Englishman’s defence.

 

Billy Burns

Fly-half Billy Burns has enjoyed more regular game time this season and has started in five of Gloucester’s six European pool matches this season.

His control of proceedings and his ability to move his pack around the pitch have been pivotal to Gloucester’s success in Europe thus far.

And Burns will need to ensure his back division runs intelligent lines to breach a Cardiff Blues defence that conceded the same amount of tries as Gloucester in the pool stage (15).

Ospreys v Stade Francais, Sunday April 2, 5.45pm kick-off

Sergio Parisse

Italian No.8 Sergio Parisse has been a mainstay in the Stade Francais line up ever since he arrived at the club in 2005 and has captained the French outfit in both of their Challenge Cup final defeats in 2011 and 2013.

As the nearly-men of the competition, Parisse will be determined to lead his side one step further and lift the trophy in Edinburgh come May.

And after a disappointing RBS 6 Nations with Italy, the Stade Francais talisman will have extra motivation when he leads his side out at the Principality Stadium on Sunday

Waisea

Fijian flyer Waisea was instrumental in Stade Francais’ final pool match as he scored the opening try which set his side up for a 27-17 win over Harlequins, ultimately clinching their spot in the last eight.

Waisea’s skill set is not limited to his raw speed, his ability to offload out of the tackle and drag in defenders with his subtle running lines will worry Ospreys’ midfield.

And with Stade Francais not performing as they would like domestically, Waisea will be hungry to win his first trophy in the French capital.

Will Genia

Australian scrum-half Will Genia has bags of international experience and his tussle with in-form Welshman Rhys Webb is a thrilling prospect.

Genia, who has made 75 appearances for Australia, will have to use all of his grit and guile against an Ospreys side flying high in the Guinness PRO12 as well as boasting a flawless European record this season.

If Genia can get front-foot ball, his speed from the base of the ruck will pose questions to the Ospreys breakdown defence which may create space out wide for the likes of Waisea.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final