Rugby Preview: Champions Cup Round 6

THIS weekend sees the final round of this year European Champions Cup group stages, formerly known as the Heineken Cup, with much discussion about the heightened competition or the widening in the gulf of quality. It all depends on who you listen to, or read, and where they’re from, but as it stands 12 teams still have a chance of qualifying, only two of them not playing in the Top 14 or the Aviva Premiership – Leinster and Glasgow. Irish fans will be disappointed, whilst Welsh rugby fans will have to wait until at least next season to see a region in the final eight of European rugby’s top competition. Here are previews to three of the matches to look out for, with both sides still with a chance of reaching the last eight.

Wasps vs Leinster, Saturday 1pm, BT Sport

Both sides come off bumper wins last weekend, with Wasps beating Harlequins at the Stoop, more or less knocking them out of the tournament,  and Leinster putting half a century on the score board over an almost fERCCull-strength Castres side (who won’t qualify for next season’s competition with their awful domestic form, let alone this years Quarters’). The Dublin side are in pole position with a two point advance over Dai Young’s team, and a win would see either team through, with a losing bonus point maybe good enough for Leinster, who have all of Irish rugby depending on them. Jimmy Gopperth visits the Ricoh Arena a few months before he’ll be wearing the black and yellow of Wasps from next season onwards. He has Ian Madigan outside him, who was superb last weekend. The Wasps back-row got the better of Quins’ last Saturday night and are the in-form back-row in the English Premiership, but a tougher test is ahead of them with Dominic Ryan, Jordi Murphy and Jamie Heaslip picked for Leinster this coming Saturday. Wasps have never lost at home to Irish opposition in the competition (6 fixtures) and it’ll be seven from seven as the Ricoh Arena welcomes European rugby for the first time (As Wasps’ official home) with a win.

Northampton Saints vs Racing Metro, Saturday 3:15pm, BT Sport

Both teams have 19 points from 5 games, with Racing travelling to Franklin’s Garden’s with a near perfect record, with their only hiccup coming in an away draw to the Ospreys. The Saints beat the Welsh region last weekend, and looked very comfortable in defence. They truly proved their worth as contenders for the title with a clinical backline. In the backline, Ben Foden suffered knee damage last weekend, which will see him sidelined for a while, including all of the upcoming Six Nations. He’s replaced by James Wilson, who handled the Ospreys well last weekend, but looked fragile putting boot to ball. Dimitri Szarzsewski starts at hooker for Ciels et blans after Phillipe Saint-Andre dropped him from the French national squad’s training group for the Six Nations. Luke Charteris and Jamie Roberts both start before they leave Paris to join Warren Gatland’s Welsh squad in preparation for the clash with England on February the Sixth. It’s a straight knock-out – whoever wins is through most probably with a home quarter-final, but if the loser claims any sort of bonus point they could sneak through too. They’ll both qualify and Jim Mallinder’s men will have a home quarter final to boot.

Bath Rugby vs Glasgow Warriors, Sunday 1pm, BT Sport

Bath produced one of the greatest performances European Rugby has ever seen last Sunday as they beat Toulouse by 35 points to 18 in France as George Ford ran the show with Jonathan Joseph running the ball deep inside Toulouse half and Bath scored three tries within the first half an hour. Glasgow beat Montpellier at home last weekend but are on 14 points, one point behind Bath, and Toulouse are top with 16 points. Hat-trick hero DTH Van de Merwe claimed a hat-trick at Scoutstoun and is joined by Sean Maitland in the Warriors’ back-three, who announced this week that he was moving to London Irish at the end of the season as Fijian scrum-half Niko Matawalu is named on the bench, who will be playing in the Blue, Black and White next season. Sam Burgess is back in the matchday squad, on the bench, and club captain Stuart Hooper returns to the starting fifteen at second-row. Both teams need a win, like in the other two matches, but a losing bonus points will not do on Sunday afternoon. Bath and Glasgow have a tendency to play an open game, voire last weekend, but four points are needed on Sunday, and one sees George Ford kicking Bath into their first European Cup quarter-final since 2006.

Predicted Quarter Finalists:

Pool 1: Clermont-Ferrand

Pool 2: Wasps, Leinster

Pool 3: RC Toulon

Pool 4: Bath Rugby, Toulouse

Pool 5: Northampton Saints, Racing-Metro