THE SECOND round of the Amlin Challenge Cup is almost here and despite the complaints of some about the level of competition in Round 1, there are some mouthwatering clashes coming up.
On Friday night, Wasps host Bayonne. No doubt Wasps will want another win, but it is likely they would also like more of a contest after ransacking Viadana last week, winning by an embarrassing margin of 90-17. At this stage the Amlin is as much about exercising towards the next domestic game as anything else for the bigger clubs and the prospect of playing Bayonne offers less of a team run. Sure, Mike Phillips is not playing and Joe Launchbury and James Haskell warm the bench, but this is less likely to be a stroll in the park.
Biarritz versus Oyonnax is one of those fixtures that could be a waste of time, with Biarritz struggling so much in the Top 14 that they would never risk injuring their top players, but Oyonnax are pulling out so many surprises in the league and offer something so refreshing that they could maybe just stun their more famous opponents out of their current stupor.
Of course, much more predictably fierce will be the all-English clash between Worcester Warriors and Sale Sharks. Could it end up more like an LV Cup game? Maybe, but those are always entertaining and fast-paced games and momentum is such a part of Aviva Premiership rugby that neither side will want to effectively throw a game. Particularly not against a rival who could be in a relegation dog-fight with you later.
Bath versus Newport Gwent Dragons will have a little bit of spice to it, with Dragons going all out to trip their Premiership opponents and there is enough quality in Bath to make a credible and victorious home appearance, particularly after gritting their teeth and doing the job against Bordeaux last week, when five penalties from George Ford was enough to ensure a win.
Meanwhile two teams with shaves so close they might have needed paramedics in the opening round, Brive and Newcastle Falcons, line up on Friday to try and right a few wrongs. Brive drew 20-all with Calvisano when they would have expected to blow their lowly Italian counterparts away, weakened team or not, and Falcons only nipped ahead by a point as they defeated unfancied Bucharest Wolves 13-12. Both will want to make amends and both would love to have something they can at least proudly build upon for their return to domestic competition and hey, it’s always nice to score more than a few tries in Europe after a fortnight of graft, full team or not.