Who will be in the last eight?

The Challenge Cup last 16 preview is here and the competition’s knockout stage starts with the first of eight matches on Friday night.

Knockout rugby is a different beast and so fans should have some tense matches to watch this weekend.

Read more: Challenge Cup fixtures

But who is playing and at what time? Here is all you need to know.

Gloucester v Castres

Friday 5 April, 8pm BST

Gloucester are so far unbeaten in Europe this season, topping their pool after four wins. Castres, meanwhile, were in the same pool at Gloucester but only came away with two wins.

Being in the same pool means the two have come up against each other already this season and at Kingsholm too. The west country side defeated the French club 35-5 in January and so the visitors will have to bring an improved performance to progress.

Clermont v Cheetahs

Saturday 6 April, 12.30pm BST

The Cheetahs have a new head coach in Izak van der Westhuizen, their former forwards coach, who has a big task of facing Clermont on Saturday. The new boss said: “I think the guys know what is expected of them and the conditions. Playing is always difficult because you never know which side will arrive for the game. I think it helps a lot to have that experience within the group.”

Clermont only lost one game in the pool stages, to Gloucester, with the Cheetahs losing two.

Benetton v Lions

Saturday 6 April, 5.30pm BST

The two teams were in the same pool but they didn’t play one another. Against the same opposition Benetton only lost one game, while the Lions lost two.

Benetton are building something special which was underpinned by their United Rugby Championship win over Connacht at the end of March. The atmosphere at Benetton is said to be one of the best in rugby too. The club may go in as favourites but the game should be a close one.

Edinburgh v Bayonne

Saturday 6 April, 8pm BST

Bayonne were one point and some point difference outside of qualifying for the Champions Cup last 16 and so they have dropped down into the Challenge Cup. They come up against an Edinburgh side who won two and lost two of their European fixtures so far.

The Scotland club have an advantage with being at home but may go in as slight underdogs against the French outfit. It should be a close match and Edinburgh’s head coach spoke on the motivation in his side before the game. “The motivation for us is that we’ve put ourselves into contention for play-off places,” Sean Everitt said. “The next five rounds of the URC plus what’s left of the EPCR are all going to be treated the same. So, internal motivation is to try and be in the starting 15 from week to week.”

Ospreys v Sale

Saturday 6 April, 8pm BST

Ospreys and Sale have lots of moving players in the upcoming break between seasons but for now the two come face to face in a European clash. Phil Cokanasiga is joining the Wales team, among other signings, and Manu Tuilagi is leaving Sale for France.

Sale Sharks will be looking to prove themselves as they were demoted into the Challenge Cup after a disappointing Champions Cup campaign. Ospreys are also playing with another layer to their game after winning just one pool match.

Montpellier v Ulster

Sunday 7 April, 12.30pm BST

Ulster travel to Montpellier with just one European win under their belts this season. The lack of victories meant they dropped out of the Champions Cup and face the French club in the last 16. Montpellier had an impressive pool stage with three wins from four matches.

Ulster have had a boost with captain Iain Henderson back in the fold for the club. He had missed a game through illness. He will be hoping to lead his side into the last eight.

Sharks v Zebre

Sunday 7 April, 3pm BST

This fixture is another case of being in the same pool but not playing one another. Sharks topped the group after only losing one game. The story was very different for Zebre who were fourth after recording two wins and two losses.

While they did not play one another in the Challenge Cup, they have competed in the URC. Zebre beat the sharks in November but the South African side have some star power in their ranks. They will be led out by 2019 Rugby World Cup winner Lukhanyo Am.

Pau v Connacht

Sunday 7 April, 5.30pm BST

Connacht head into their last 16 match against Pau after a disappointing Champions Cup outing. In the pool stage they only won one match and so dropped out of the competition.

Pau, meanwhile, only lost one match in the Challenge Cup pool stage and Connacht are not under-estimating their opponents. Head coach John Muldoon said: “Certainly we are not going over there to get our bellies tickled. They are a quality team at home.”

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