It’s been a whole week since the end of the 6 Nations and it may feel like European rugby is over – but never fear! The best players from the continent face-off in the Quarter Finals of the Champions Cup, domestic rugby’s biggest competition.
European Rugby Champions Cup
Let’s take a look at the match-ups and talking points as we get to the business end of one of European rugby’s most competitive tournament.
A brutal qualifying campaign leaves us with 4 French powerhouses, 2 Irish juggernauts and 1 team apiece from England and Wales. A whole weekend of rugby awaits with 3 days of action and it all kicks off on Friday evening.
Scarlets v La Rochelle
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Date: Friday 30th March
The Scarlets head into this game as favourites with home advantage and being able to call upon their returning Welsh internationals. Coach Stephen Jones has given his side license to express themselves with an all-court gameplan built on hard work and earning the right to attack.
The French side’s form has nose-dived since the end of the group stage. La Rochelle were sitting pretty at the summit of the Top 14 but have slipped to 5th after a series of poor performances. This will also be the first serious foray into the latter stages of European rugby for the French outfit. Inexperience may cost them away from home.
How La Rochelle pick themselves up from their poor domestic form will determine the outcome of this game. The french outfit will be looking to talismatic No. 8 Afaesetiti Amosa to set the platform.
This game should kick off the European rugby Quarter-Finals with a bang as both teams love to attack. The memory of the Scarlets brushing Bath aside away from home is still fresh and there should be a good atmosphere in Llanelli.
Munster v Toulon
Venue: Thomond Park
Date: Saturday 31st March
The first of the Irish powerhouses, Munster put their European rugby pedigree and Champions Cup experience against 3 times winners Toulon as the Irish province look to return to glory. A home fixture could be key for Munster against a star-studded French side with much to prove.
Ireland’s system of resting key personnel at key times of the season has come into sharp focus following their 6 Nations triumph. Munster will be welcoming back a host of internationals as well as a possible return for Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway.
Toulon prepared for this weekend’s European rugby clash with an impressive 7-try demolision of Clermont Auvergne, eventually running out 49-0 winners. Chris Ashton once again proved his class and his ability to play from full-back is causing problems for all defences.
This game will revolve around whether the individuals in Toulon can overcome the teamwork and togetherness of Munster.
Clermont Auvergne v Racing 92
Venue: Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin
Date: Sunday 1st April
An all-French affair is contested by perennial underachievers Clermont and flash-in-the-pan Racing 92. One of the most famous grounds in European rugby will be hosting this epic contest with an atmosphere second to none.
Clermont’s Champions Cup chances increased significantly with the return of half-back duo Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez. The French national side were left red-faced more than once during the 6 Nations with the inability of their stand-offs to complete simple tasks. The return to form of Lopez in particular will be a welcome sight to all of France. With Wesley Fofana coming back into the centres, Clermont could be coming back into form at just the right time.
Racing 92 are sitting pretty in second place in the Top 14 but don’t have a history of European pedigree to call upon. A narrow defeat away to Clermont in the 5th round of the Top 14 may still linger in the memory for the sky blue and whites.
Leinster v Saracens
Venue: Aviva Stadium
Date: Sunday 1st April
The final Champions Cup game of the weekend should be an absolute cracker. Former Champions Cup winners Saracens head to the tournament favourites Leinster in an eagerly awaited contest.
Stuart Lancaster has Leinster on top of their game and can call upon a group of players that are high on 6 Nations glory. The men in blue are rightly favourites for the tournament. The Aviva stadium in Dublin is one of the hardest places to get a victory.
However, if you going to back one English side to go to Dublin and get a win it would be Saracens. The north Londoners are coming off a season of indifferent form but look their best with a full squad available.
This season’s theme of injuries is biting the English club hard. A tilt at European glory is hampered with injuries to Billy Vunipola (wrist), Farrell (thigh), Barritt (questionable), Kruis and Skelton (arm).
This game will come down to who has the mental capacity to win the game. Saracens were schooled at home by Clermont earlier in the tournament and haven’t been the same since. This Leinster side is packed with seasoned international players high on confidence. They will take some beating.
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