The EPCR Challenge Cup Round of 16 has thrown up a tantalising contest between two former winners of the competition as Bristol Bears and ASM Clermont Auvergne go head-to-head at Ashton Gate on March 31.

Clermont, who dropped out of the Heineken Champions Cup after finishing ninth in Pool B, have lifted the Challenge Cup on three occasions – in 1999, 2007 and 2019 – making them the joint-most successful team in the competition’s history.

Meanwhile, Bristol, who secured home advantage in the Round of 16 with four straight wins in EPCR Challenge Cup Pool A, got their hands on the trophy in 2020, their maiden EPCR title.

Both sides will see this season’s EPCR Challenge Cup as a terrific opportunity for more silverware and it’s set to be an enthralling duel under the Friday night lights at the end of the month.

Star-studded squads

The two teams boast Heineken Champions Cup-standard squads, with a plethora of internationals set to line up at Ashton Gate.

There are fascinating battles across the park, beginning in the front row where Bristol have England international powerhouses Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler.

That duo can cause any team problems in the scrum and in the loose, but Clermont also have talented props at their disposal, including Rabah Slimani and Étienne Falgoux, who are both vastly experienced and capped by France.

Clermont lock Paul Jedrasiak is set to return from a calf injury in time for the trip to Bristol, and his presence will be a huge lift for the TOP 14 outfit – he has been at the club since 2013 and was part of the Challenge Cup-winning side in 2019.

However, Samoa lock Chris Vui, who also has a Challenge Cup title to his name, will pose Jedrasiak a significant challenge – he was an ever-present in Bristol’s starting XV over the course of this season’s pool stage.

The tussle between the back-rows will be another key area, with Bristol led by influential captain Steven Luatua, a 15-time New Zealand international.

Scotland international Magnus Bradbury will also be vital for Bristol in the battle for the breakdown, as might be exciting young Englishman Fitz Harding.

They face a monumental task as they face up to the likes of France’s Arthur Iturria and Samoa’s Fritz Lee, who have been cornerstones of the Clermont pack for over six years.

In the backs, there are a host of players capable of magic moments for either team – Bristol’s Charles Piutau, another former All Black, is a classy operator at full-back.

Fiji centre Semi Radradra is another of Bristol’s flair players, with his lighting footwork and outrageous offloading likely to cause Clermont problems.

But the French side have a contingent of try threats themselves, with the frightening trio of Bautista Delguy, Damian Penaud and Alivereti Raka all back three options who have crossed a combined 32 times in EPCR competitions.

Previous meetings

The Round of 16 showdown will be the first meeting between the sides in the EPCR Challenge Cup, though they have faced off before in EPCR’s elite competition.

Bristol were triumphant twice in the 2002/03 pool stage, winning 24-19 at home and 30-22 in France. More recently, Clermont were too strong in the 2020/21 pool stage as they ran out 51-38 winners at Ashton Gate.