Rugby Champions’ Cup Round-up

ERCCTHE WINNER-takes-all encounter between Clermont Auvergne and Saracens wrapped up the group stages of the first ever European Rugby Champions Cup. The concluding weekend of January 23-25 saw three French teams, four English teams and one Irish team go through to the quarter-finals. All three French sides booked home ties which are due to take place over the Easter Weekend of April 3-5. With a reputation as poor travellers, the home advantage will have a massive impact for the French clubs as away wins tend to be rare. All four English clubs, on the other hand, will be playing away from home in April. It should also be noted that this is the first time since 1998 that four English clubs are through to the last eight.

As top seeds, Racing Metro will host last season’s Aviva Premiership runners-up Saracens at Stade Yves-du-Manoir. Leinster’s 20-20 draw with London Wasps sent both sides through to the next stage, where Wasps are off to face the back-to-back European champions Toulon in France. As winners of Pool 2, Leinster will host Bath at the Aviva Stadium. Northampton Saints must pay a steep price for their heavy loss at home to Racing as they will journey to Clermont.

Simultaneously, the draw for the semi-finals took place. The winner of Clermont v Northamption will have the home advantage and host the winner of the encounter between Racing and Saracens, whereas the victor of Toulon and Wasps will welcome either Leinster or Bath. The semi-finals are scheduled for the weekend of April 18-19.

Racing Metro v Saracens

In the crucial winner-takes-all encounter against Clermont Auvergne in France, Saracens went down 18-6. Nevertheless, Mark McCall’s side progressed to the quarter-finals on point difference where they will travel to Paris to face Racing Metro. Currently fourth in the French Top 14, nine points off Clermont and Stade Francais, Racing have enjoyed a sublime campaign in the Champions Cup this season. It is set to be a tight game in Paris, but the home advantage will prove to be decisive and will see Racing to go through to the semi-finals.

Toulon v London Wasps

As back-to-back champions of the Heineken Cup, Toulon are looking for a third consecutive win. With thirteen points off the boot of Leigh Halfpenny, Toulon secured a comfortable 26-3 win over Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets. Wasps, on the other hand, were completely outplayed in the first half of their encounter against Leinster. However, the financial reborn side that recently moved stadiums showed extraordinary character to recover and secure a draw and eventually booked their quarter-final spot as one of the three runners-up. Their driving line-outs proved to cause substantial problems for Leinster in the second half and it could potentially pose a threat to Toulon. Nonetheless, Toulon will have enough firepower and flair to see of Wasps in April.

Clermont v Northampton Saints

The humiliating 8-36 defeat at home to big-spending Racing sees the Saints limping into the last eight where they will face the current leader of Top 14, Clermont Auvergne. Tries by Nick Abendanon and Vincent Debaty secured Clermont the desirable home advantage in the third Anglo-French game of the quarter-finals. Clermont’s home record and the atmosphere at Stade Marcel Michelin are well-known and it will take remarkable character by the Saints to go through to the semi-finals. Clermont to win.
Leinster v Bath

If Andy Goode, Wasps’ fly half, had landed his late drop goal attempt against Leinster, it would have been the Irish side to face the reigning champions Toulon away instead of hosting Bath. It is the first home quarter-final for Leinster since 2012. Bath qualified for the quarter-finals after a 20-15 win over Glasgow at The Rec. As Montpellier beat Toulouse 27-26 last weekend, Bath came out on top of Pool 4. Yet, they are travelling to Ireland to take on the three-time winners of the Heineken Cup. Leinster have won five of their last six games and I believe that will happen again in April.