Champions Cup Quarter-Final preview:
After the final week of Champions Cup pool stage action and with confirmation of the teams going through to the next round, we can look ahead to the quarter-finals. With the quarter-finals not taking place till the 3rd to the 5th of April there are plenty of games to be played in between now and then including the six nations but let’s look at what we know now.
Leinster v Saracens:
A game of titans. The first quarter-final see’s a repeat of the 2019 Champions Cup final in which Saracens came out of Champions of the tournament however things have looked very different for both sides this year. Leinster cruised through the pool stages claiming six wins from six games with four bonus points and domestically have dominated too with the Dublin based side taking 10 wins from 10 games in Conference A in the Pro14.
Saracens have however had different fortunes this season. Having been found guilty of breaching the salary cap, at first they were deducted 35 points putting them in the relegation zone, however since this they have been automatically relegated for next season, giving Saracens a threat of players immediately leaving to avoid playing in the Championship for next season however no players have yet left and Saracens have been in relatively good form so far this year winning six out of eight games in the Premiership and four wins out of six games in the Champions Cup meaning they just scraped into the quarter-finals.
Both teams represent the spine of their respected national teams with Leinster making up the basis of the Ireland national squad and with Saracens making the basis of the England squad. With so many international players this should be considered a Six Nations match, the winner of this game looks likely to progress onto the next round.
Clermont v Racing 92:
An all French affair. After finishing top of their pool Clermont will host Racing at the Marcel Michelin in what is guaranteed to be a box office game with both of the teams finishing top of their pool, Clermont played six games and won five in the competition while Racing won four, drew one and lost one in their pool.
While Clermont are thriving in Europe they have struggled domestically so far as they sit at 8th in the Top14 table as Racing sit above them at 5th in the table. Clermont are the reigning Champions of the Challenge Cup (the European tier below the Champions Cup) and they also played in the Top14 final last season, narrowly losing 24-18 to miss out on the Top14 title.
While Clermont have struggled domestically so far this year, they’ve remained consistently on form in Europe. Racing 92 have been living a new lease of life this season, Under the coaching of Laurent Travers and with Finn Russell running the ship at fly-half they’ve looked lethal so far this year, this game is bound to provide entertainment with the two French titans of Europe going head to head.
Toulouse v Ulster:
This tie see’s two massively changed teams go head to head, both Toulouse and Ulster have undergone big changes in the past years with both clubs having gone through large patches of muddy form with big squad changes all round, Toulouse are now the current reigning champions of the Top14 and Ulster sit second under the unbeaten Leinster in conference A of the Pro14.
Ulster have seen big changes over the past few years bringing in the likes of Billy Burns, John Cooney and Jack McGrath. With John Cooney having the task of replacing club legend Ruan Pienarr and Billy Burns replacing fan favourite Christian Leali’ifano. Both have done an exceptional task of steering the ship and gliding Ulster into the knock out stages.
Toulouse have become one of the most exciting teams in Europe with the likes of Cheslin Kolbe, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack adding flair and pace all over the pitch. The game will see two big forward packs go head to head and whoever wins that forward battle is going to have the opportunity to supply the ball to the backs and make it an open game, it could go either way but it’s guaranteed to be a tasty fixture.
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints:
The top two English Premiership teams go head to head in Europe in this encounter. The Chiefs who have struggled to make a dent in the European competition are looking to make this campaign a memorable one, having brought in a new marquee signing in the summer with Scottish international Stuart Hogg to help pull them closer the European glory.
Northampton have seen a resurgence in form this year with head-coach Chris Boyd bringing New Zealand flair to the Premiership through the Saints. Boyd has promoted youth talent through the ranks this year but also bringing in 108 cap All Black Owen Franks and Super-Rugby winning centre Matt Procter.
The two teams last faced each other in the quarter-finals last year when the Chiefs knocked out Saints to go through to the final and eventually lose to Saracens. Both teams look equally strong and comfortable atop of the top of the Premiership but can either top climb to the top of Europe?