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Zebre Parma face a monumental task in their EPCR Challenge Cup opener as they take on three-time Heineken Champions Cup winners RC Toulon at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Saturday evening.
The Italian side fell to four straight defeats in last season’s EPCR Challenge Cup and will be aiming to progress beyond the pool stage of the competition for only the second time in their history.
Zebre have endured a nightmare start to their season, conceding 335 points in their nine consecutive United Rugby Championship (URC) defeats so far, while Toulon are ninth in the TOP 14 after a recent slump in form.
Despite their relative lack of success in recent seasons, the French team still boast a squad packed full of internationally-acclaimed talent, including a new addition in Welsh fly-half Dan Biggar, and will be looking to avenge their defeat in last season’s final – their fourth failure in the tournament’s showpiece game.
The Pool A match kicks off at 20:00 (UK & Irish time) and will be shown on epcrugby.tv and FloRugby.
BIG move 😳
— EPCR Challenge Cup (@ChallengeCup_) November 8, 2022
- Three of four players who made seven dominant tackles last season – the highest total achieved in the competition – were from Zebre Parma: Luca Andreani, Dave Sisi and Jimmy Tuivaiti.
- In last season’s EPCR Challenge Cup, Zebre Parma averaged more tackles than any other team per 80 minutes (137.5).
- Of any player who attempted more than 10 shots at goal in the EPCR Challenge Cup last season, Anthony Belleau – now with ASM Clermont Auvergne – finished the season with the highest rate of success off the tee (91%).
- Controlling the game from scrum-half, Baptiste Serin made more kicks in play than any other player in the 2021/22 EPCR Challenge Cup (51).
- Toulon had the highest rate of ball retention at the restart in the competition last season, regaining 21% of their kicks.
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Toulon battled to a 24-21 win against a stubborn Zebre Parma side in their opening EPCR Challenge Cup game at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Saturday evening.
A try double from Gael Drean, plus a Sergio Parisse score and a penalty try, were enough for Toulon, who were beaten in last season’s final.
Zebre were worth opponents and threatened to snatch an unlikely win as they crossed through Luca Bigi, Enrico Lucchin and Kobus van Wyk.
Toulon took the lead with a quarter of an hour played through the penalty try, but Zebre hit back seven minutes later through prop Bigi.
The sides looked set to go into the break level, but after Zebre prop Matteo Nocera was sin-binned on 36 minutes, Toulon reclaimed the lead through No.8 Parisse.
👏 What 👏 A 👏 Kick 👏
— EPCR Challenge Cup (@ChallengeCup_) December 10, 2022
Wing Drean extended Toulon’s advantage with a try shortly after the restart, but centre Lucchin went over for a Zebre response, fly-half Tiff Eden’s second conversion of the evening reducing the deficit to three points.
And the hosts sprung a surprise on 59 minutes as wing van Wyk dotted down to hand them the lead, Eden converting again to move his side three points clear.
But there would be no shock success for the United Rugby Championship (URC) strugglers as Drean crossed again on 69 minutes and snatched victory for Toulon.
Round 2 sees Zebre travel to Bristol Bears a week on Sunday, with Toulon welcoming Bath Rugby to Stade Félix Mayol on Saturday.