In a tumultuous season to date, Saracens are now set to compete in another Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals match-up versus Racing 92 on Saturday, September 26.
They secured their place with victory over Guinness PRO14 champions Leinster. Winning 25-17, it makes the 2020 season much improved for Mark McCall, as he can feel satisfied that while in England his side will need to play in the Championship next season, his group is still one of the premier clubs in Europe.
🗣 “It was a special victory given who we were facing, but ultimately it is no more than any other quarter-final win.” @Saracens stalwart @rwiggy9 reflects on a stunning #HeinekenChampionsCup win but is remaining focused ahead of the semi-finals 💪https://t.co/TPHwqfEybj
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) September 21, 2020
Those results, alongside a terrific win for the Exter Chiefs over Clermont, means two English sides are competing in the Champions Cup playoffs against equal opponents from France. Coincidentally, the same Anglo-France rivalries appear in the Challenge Cup semi-finals, after a mix of great encounters and a forfeited result, courtesy of Covid-19.
Castres Olympique had to withdraw from the competition following three members of their playing group, as well as one staff member, tested positive for COVID-19 in advance of the club’s planned departure to England.
That unfortunate news aside, the seven matches last weekend held plenty of attention in the Northern Hemisphere, as the Premiership took a break, and the French Top14 paused temporarily to accommodate the rescheduled 2019/20 European Rugby competitions.
European Professional Club Rugby holds centerstage in playoffs
The Challenge Cup has not always got the credit it is due. And the four strong contenders in this playoffs series prove that.
Bristol brings the high-hopes of Pat Lam to Ashton Gate on Friday evening. Inviting the Bordeaux Begels to town, this might be the semi-finals stage yet don’t expect the sides to crawl under the blankets of defence. Home fans should cheer loudly, with both teams likely to free up the ball, and ‘go for Gold’.
🚨 REMINDER 🚨Your 2019/20 #ChallengeCupRugby semi-finalists are decided and we've got two crackers in store 💥Bristol…
Follow that up on Saturday night, where Toulon will invite the Bristol side over to the seaside city. But don’t expect anytime for sunbathing, as the prize on offer will have the Bears fizzing. Toulon has plenty of ammunition. Cheslin Kolbe is the most exciting player in World Rugby, so one-on-one tackles will need to be made, to stop the Toulonnais attack.
This one is much harder to predict, so just sit back after dinner, and enjoy the contest.
Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals will bring first-class action
Each clash on Saturday, September 26 is a worthy match-up. Each of the Champions Cup semi-finals offers different possibilities. Yet Racing 92 v Saracens is possibly the pinnacle ‘match of the weekend’.
After gaining the early advantage in winning their Pool 4 clash, now Racing host the current titleholders. If anything, it gives some confidence if they can play to their potential. A firing Finn Russell could be the key player, as Owen Farrell is still sitting out his suspension. How important will that be?
For some, it will be massive. Alex Goode will again be called on to step up. And while Maro Itoje (see main picture) has no equal in the pack, there will still be a contest in the forwards that the backs may need to take any and every opportunity offered. High kicks could prove a useful tool for each side, as much as discipline and team unity [which Saracens would hold a small advantage in].
Your 2019/20 #HeinekenChampionsCup semi-finalists:🏎 Racing 92 🤜🤛 Saracens 💫❌ Exeter Chiefs Official 🤜🤛 Stade Toulousain ❤️🖤Who will make the Final?? 🏆
Wrapping up the fixtures list is an Exeter Chiefs home side enjoying a rare semi-final appearance. Emerging from Pool 2 with a draw and five wins, they cannot rest too early though. And against Toulouse, you need to be ‘on guard’. The French powerhouse has not held the Champions Cup since 2010 and would like nothing more than to assert their superior credentials on foreign soil.
Expect the home crowd to offer some boost, yet how many are permitted to attend might make little difference. Rob Baxter needs to focus solely on this one game, before looking at either at next week’s Premiership fixture, or a possible Cup Final match.
“Main photo credit”
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