Toulon can cook Saracens' goose by battering Castres

The French side can end Saracen's Challenge Cup bid with a bonus-point victory

This Challenge Cup lark was supposed to be easy. In the four completed campaigns since 2005-06, 15 of the 20 round-robin pools were won by English clubs, who also filled 19 of the 32 quarter-final places.

Only Clermont Auvergne, far from the weakest team in France, managed to break the Premiership's stranglehold on the competition by beating Bath to the title in 2007. For all the changes this season – a fresh title sponsor in Amlin, a new football-style format allowing only the group winners to proceed to the knock-out stage – the trend was certain to continue. Wasn't it?

Not so. Not by a long chalk. If Wasps tied up their group with a match to spare – just as well, given their defeat in Paris on Thursday night – Newcastle were playing for their future in the tournament at Kingston Park yesterday evening while Worcester disappeared over the cliff long ago.

As for Saracens and Leeds, the next 24 hours will be decisive. The former are under serious threat from Philippe Saint-André, Jonny Wilkinson and the rest of the expensively accumulated bunch at Toulon, while the latter find themselves facing a winner-take-all argument with Bourgoin.

Saracens will no doubt put a shedload of tries past Rovigo in the Veneto this afternoon: the overmatched Italians have conceded well over 250 points in their five outings to date and are most unlikely to improve their average against opponents boasting full internationals from around the globe and uncapped players as hot as Andy Saull, the fast-improving young English flanker.

However, Toulon are ahead of Brendan Venter's side by a point and play Castres on the shores of the Mediterranean tonight. If they win with four tries, as they ought against a team with next to no interest in the fixture, Saracens' goose will be cooked. There are no complications surrounding the Leeds-Bourgoin game at Headingley tomorrow.

Both sides are on 19 points, so victory is everything. The Yorkshiremen have scored more freely than their opponents over the course of the competition and with four first-choice forwards back in the pack – Mike MacDonald and Juan Gomez return to the front row, the in-form Erik Lund starts at lock and Kearnan Myall resumes on the blind-side flank – they have enough in the way of old-fashioned "grunt" to absorb whatever strong-arm pressure their visitors might inflict.

But Bourgoin are taking this sufficiently seriously to include their most prized possession, the goal-kicking outside-half Benjamin Boyet, and can be expected to pose a threat. "The old adage that French teams struggle away from home is no longer true," asserted Andy Key, the Leeds director of rugby, yesterday. "With the extra exposure to overseas games via the European competitions, teams have become accustomed to the demands placed on them by travelling."

Bourgoin frequently seem intent on doing everything in their power to contradict Key's argument. But they reached the final of this tournament last season, winning a last-eight tie at London Irish along the way. That alone makes them dangerous.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test