2024 Harlequin F.C. vs Glasgow Warriors

Investec Champions Cup: Key Storylines For Knockout Round Of 16

Investec Champions Cup: Key Storylines For Knockout Round Of 16

Get ready for a rugby showdown! Dive into the intense action of the Investec Champions Cup knockout round with key matchups and storylines.

Apr 5, 2024 by Philip Bendon

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The safety nets have been removed, the pretenders brushed aside and all the chips are down, as the first knockout round of the 2023-2024 Investec Champions Cup comes into focus.

Featuring the best 16 teams in the competition, this weekend’s action promises to be a barn burner, as teams jostle for the right to run out at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for this year’s final.

Starting on Friday evening, two of the most dazzling attacking sides in European rugby collide - the Glasgow Warriors and Harlequins. The Round of 16 will be must-watch rugby!

Rugby fans can catch all of the action live and exclusively on FloRugby. Here are five key storylines to follow.

Irish Duck To Be Broken?

One Champions Cup title in the past decade is a rather disappointing return for a country that prides itself on European excellence. 

At just about every turn, the Irish provinces, namely Leinster, have been there, or thereabouts, when it comes to the business end of the season. However, outside of their 2018 final victory, the cupboards in Dublin, Limerick, Galway and Belfast have been bare. 

Yes, getting to the business end of the season each year is impressive, but the reality is that Leinster has not met the lofty self-imposed targets. 

Munster has made a handful of quarterfinal and semifinal appearances, as has Ulster, but in reality, neither has been a true contender. 

Thus, this season, Irish provincial performances need to match those of the national team. 

For Leinster, the path is clear to another final appearance but may yet go through the side that has denied the team in the past two finals, should La Rochelle down the Stormers in Cape Town. 

Munster has a trickier route with an away trip to a red-hot Northampton Saints, to be followed by a likely trip to Pretoria a round later, if the Bulls do what many expect they will against Lyon. 

Yet, for all of the challenges in its way, Munster, of all teams, has the ability to go on the road and win, while Leinster is nigh-on unbeatable in Dublin. 

It all starts this weekend for Irish Rugby’s last remaining hopes in this year’s Championship.

URC Revenge 

Watching their Gallagher Premiership and Top 14 rivals take control of the Pool Stages (outside of Leinster), the BKT United Rugby Championship sides will be hellbent on rebounding in the Round of 16. 

First up are the Glasgow Warriors, who have a real shot at disrupting an up-and-down Harlequins side with their robust defense and lethal counterattack. 

A day later in South Africa, both the Bulls and Stormers will be uber confident of downing their French visitors and progressing to the quarterfinals. 

Completing the URC comeback would be the Irish duo of Leinster and reigning URC champ Munster. Of these fixtures, only Leinster and the Bulls will be the overwhelming favorites. However, one does not need to squint too hard to see a path to victory for all five sides to feature in the quarterfinals, given their respective draws.

Pretoria Beckons 

Traditionally, there are a handful of venues in the Champions Cup where an away win is a highly unlikely outcome. 

Strongholds, such as Thomond Park, the Royal Dublin Society ground and Stade Ernest-Wallon are three that come to mind. 

Since last season, a new contender has entered the fold, with the addition of the South African sides to the competition. Few venues in World Rugby match the intense atmosphere of a sold-out Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria when the Vodacom Bulls are chasing a title. 

Facing the daunting task of looking to derail the impending stampede is Top 14 side Lyon. 

Edging the first meeting between the two sides at home, Lyon will be hyper-aware of the different beast that awaits them in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon. 

Despite this, the French side has named a strong side packed with attacking talent. This selection certainly will give them more than a puncher's chance, and they will be looking to silence the crowd early. Failure to do so, and anyone who hasn’t already seen Loftus in full flight will understand just why it has such a formidable reputation.

La Rochelle Rugby, 2023 Champion, Faces Early Exit

To become back-to-back champion at the highest level of club rugby is a feat accomplished by only five clubs in the competition’s history. Joining this illustrious group last season was French outfit Stade Rochelais. 

Coached by Munster legend Ronan O’Gara, La Rochelle did the impossible by downing Leinster in consecutive finals, the second of which was in Dublin. 

To get to this point, La Rochelle worked its way from the obscurities of French Rugby’s lower leagues to the top of the game through a painstaking yet meticulous process. During this rise, the club overcame hurdle after hurdle and now is chasing the rarefied air of becoming a dynasty. 

Saturday’s trip to Cape Town is the latest of these hurdles and certainly is one of the biggest challenges the club has faced in recent years. 

Tackling a Springbok-laden Stormers team that gathers form at just the right time is what it is all about for O’Gara and his squad. While they are far from being big-time underdogs, they are by no means favorites, having already lost in the final seconds against the Stormers earlier in the season. 

Should they turn over the URC’s most successful outfit, then they likely will set up another shot at Leinster in Dublin. If there was a scenario written in the stars for an unlikely title run, it would be this one.

The Antoine Dupont Factor

While not officially crowned the game’s best player at the time of writing, the 2021 World Player Of The Year is arguably still the best in the game. 

Returning to Toulouse following his successful first crack at the French sevens setup, which included a first title for the team in 19 years, Dupont is back to lead his team to yet another Champions Cup title. 

Joining his compadre Romain Ntamack in the starting lineup for the first since last year’s Top 14 final, Dupont and his halfback partner have a score to settle this season. 

Having come up short against Leinster once again last season, Toulouse is looking to add another star on the jersey to take them two clear of their Dublin rivals. To do this, they will need Dupont for as many of the remaining fixtures as possible, before he departs on his quest for Olympic gold. 

For the man himself, facing off against French Rugby’s latest hotshot scrumhalf in Racing 92’s Nolan Le Gerrac adds an extra edge to this weekend’s fixture. 

Having displaced Maxime Lucu as the next man up behind Dupont toward the end of the Guinness Six Nations, Le Gerrac will be out to prove that he is not just a backup but a contender to Dupont’s crown. 

With the stage set, fans will not want to miss this showdown between two of the games’ best Petite Generales.

How To Watch Rugby Matches In the United States On FloRugby

The Investec Champions Cup will stream all its matches on FloRugby and the FloSports app in the United States. FloRugby and FloSports are also the U.S. home to:

FloRugby also is home to match archives and match replays. 

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