The European Champions Cup Preview

Having been focused on domestic and international action for the last few months, the heavyweights of European rugby reconvene for the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup.

With sides from Wales, France, Ireland and England all still involved, it should make for fantastic viewing.

Our rugby union expert is here with his best bets.

Leinster v Saracens

They say it’s imperative to win your pool in the Champions Cup and Saracens will be kicking themselves that they didn’t take Pool Two.

Yes, they had an impressive Clermont team to face, but they are two-time winners of the competition and back-to-back defeats to their French counterparts put pay to any hopes of a first placed finish.

Mark McCall’s men are 21/10 to make it to their sixth consecutive Champions Cup semi-final.

They travel to the Aviva Stadium on Sunday afternoon knowing they are facing the top-seeded side from the pool stages.

Leinster were imperious in their pool, winning all six of their games and scoring 22 tries – the most in the competition so far.

Leo Cullen’s men are the warm 4/11 favourites with Grosvenorsport.com to continue their fine run.

Both sides come into this one in patchy form, having both won three of their last six but, based on the home side’s record on their own patch, I can’t see anything but a Leinster win.

Whether it’s been at the Aviva or RDS, Leinster have won every game this season and they seem to be inspired by their home supporters.

I’m backing them to cover the spread and take this one by eight points or more at 10/11.

 

Scarlets v La Rochelle

La Rochelle travel to Parc y Scarlets as the winners of pools one and five face off in the first Champions Cup quarter-final on Friday evening.

Scarlets are in their first quarter-final since 2006 and they are more than worth their place there, having played some really entertaining rugby in the pool stages.

They scored the second-most tries in the groups with 19 and won two of their three games on home soil, including an impressive win over Toulon in round six.

Wayne Pivac’s side are the 4/9 favourites to make it to only their second Champions Cup semi-final.

They face a La Rochelle outfit who have taken to the competition like a duck to water. They comfortably won Pool One despite being grouped with a number of European powerhouses.

Like their opponents, they play a really attacking brand of rugby, meaning this one should be a real spectacle for the neutral.

The men from the south of France are 17/10 to continue their impressive start to European rugby.

As mentioned, this isn’t going to be boring. Both sides love to use the full width of the park and you can expect tries aplenty on Friday evening.

The two sides haven’t been in great form recently though, with both losing four of their last six. La Rochelle have won their last two albeit against sides lower than them in the Top 14.

They might just be peaking at the right time and I fancy them to take this one on the handicap at 17/20.

 

Munster v Toulon

Munster topped Pool Four and much of their success was down to their strong defence, which let in just 87 points over the six rounds – the lowest in the competition.

With two French sides in the pool, defence needed to be top-quality and Johann van Graan’s side more than handled the big ball carriers which French sides have become known for.

The Red Army are Grosvenorsport.com’s 4/9 favourites for this encounter.

They face three-time champions Toulon who were perhaps a tad lucky to get out of Pool Five. Their home form was the key to their qualification. They won all three of games at fortress Stade Félix Mayol.

They are the 33/20 outsiders for Saturday’s quarter-final.

Toulon, like many French sides, are notoriously poor travellers and instead pride themselves on their home form.

All three of their wins of this competition have been created by making sure they have been playing the knockout stages on home soil.

They are however tasked with travelling to Limerick to take on a Munster side who have won their last four at Thomond Park.

Toulon might have the money and star players, but they don’t travel well, and Munster should take this one in fairly comfortable fashion.

Back the Irish side to win by five points or more at 17/20.