Champions Cup: Quarter Finals

Sean Cronin is a constant try-scoring threat for Leinster

Conor Quigley looks forward to this weekend’s Champions Cup Quarter Finals

The Six Nations has come and gone. Wales proved that they must not be overlooked going into this year’s World Cup.

With that particular competition put to bed for another year it is time to turn our attention back to the club scene.

The Champions Cup quarter finals take place this weekend, with each one set to be a quality contest.

Looking at the quarter finalists it is a who’s who of European rugby.

Between all the remaining teams, they have won Champions Cup 13 times. With Leinster and Toulouse tied at 4 apiece, Munster and Saracens have both claimed the title twice.

See Bar One Racing’s Champions Cup betting here

Whereas Ulster have managed to get their hands on the trophy just the once in 1999. That leaves three quarter finalist on a quest to win the highest trophy in club rugby for the first time.

Racing 92 have played the bridesmaid more than once in the history of this competition.

Glasgow and Edinburgh both bid to become the first Scottish team to win the Champions cup.

This will be a huge achievement considering no Scottish team has ever reached the final.

Edinburgh v Munster (Channel 4/Virgin Media/BT Sport, 12:45pm, Sat Mar 30th)

It’s fair to say that this game is not as straightforward as it might have been for Munster at one point in time.

After losing their first game away to Montpellier, Edinburgh then went on a five game winning streak.

In the process, they put Toulon to the sword both at home and away.

They have enjoyed a rich vein of form in this competition. However their Pro 14 campaign has not gone as well.

Despite this, they recently toppled Leinster in the league, so they are coming into this game in form.

The arrival of Joey Carbery to Munster has breathed new life into the European sleeping giant.

His skill was on display for all to see when Munster beat Gloucester convincingly away at kingsholm. Where he scored two tries, five conversions and two penalties.

He will play a huge part in Munster’s chances of qualifying for the semi-finals.

Munster has a great history of away wins in this tournament, such as their win at Harlequins back in 2013. Paul O’Connell was the hero on the day, it is now time for someone else to step up and be the hero.

I believe a fit Joey Carbery could guide this side to greatness.

Saracens v Glasgow (BT Sport, 3:15pm, Sat Mar 30th)

This is a repeat of their final game in the pool stage, that day Saracens triumphed 38-19.

Although the score may be different this time I expect the same end-result.

Saracens have proved twice in the pool stages that they are simply too strong for Glasgow.

The Saracens’ spine is too experienced to fall to Glasgow.

They can rely on players like Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt.

These players are experienced winners. With them, and home advantage, I believe they will have too much for Glasgow to handle.

Of course, there is a chance that Glasgow may pull off a famous win. If they are to achieve this there are certain things they need to do.

The first thing is they need Stuart Hogg fit, he is currently trying to beat the clock and return from injury in time for this game.

He has not played since he picked up a shoulder knock against Ireland in the Six Nations.

The second thing they need to do is not play the game Saracens want to play.

If Glasgow manage to keep the game open and unstructured they will have a better chance of winning.

They also need to get at Owen Farrell. If they can put him off his game early it will give them a good chance of progression.

Leinster v Ulster (BT Sport, 5:45pm, Sat Mar 30th)

This is a repeat of the 2012 Champions cup final, were Leinster cruised to a 42-14 win in Twickenham.

I expect the outcome of this game to be similar this weekend. Just like Saracens I believe the Leinster spine is too strong for Ulster.

I believe the Leinster pack will physically dominate this came particularly at scrum time, through Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong.

The back row also have a huge part to play. I have no doubt that Leinster will edge the battle on the floor.

As for their backline, they are glittered with international pedigree which I believe will prove too much for the travelling ulster men.

Ulster have benefited hugely from the Leinster academy system. They currently have three players that start regularly, they are John Cooney, Marty Moore and Jordi Murphy.

These are all great additions to the Ulster squad but I believe they still lack a bit of quality if they are going to try and progress.

Their out-half Billy Burns, younger brother of Bath’s Freddy Burns, has not had the smoothest of transitions into the side.

I don’t believe the time is right for this Ulster side, they are a growing force but perhaps this is a season or two too soon for them.

Racing 92 v Toulouse (BT Sport, 3.15, Sun Mar 31st)

The final game of this round is an all French affair, seeing the Champions cup bridesmaid play a giant of European rugby.

Racing have been unlucky in recent years on their quest to achieve European glory. They finished runner-up twice in the last four years, perhaps this is finally their year.

With Finn Russell at the helm and reportedly earning close to a million pounds a year there is a lot of pressure on him to perform. However, that is exactly what he has done recently for Scotland in the Six Nations, leading them to an incredible comeback against England on the final day of the competition.

With imports such as Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan this may be enough to help Racing finally reach the promised land. However, they do face a very good Toulouse side.

Toulouse the sleeping giant of European rugby has finally awoke.

They announced their return with an impressive win over Leinster in the second round. This form has followed them into the league as they currently sit on top.

Their recent success is no surprise when you take a closer look at their backline which includes Maxime Medard, Yoann Huget, Romain Ntamack and Chris Kolbe.

This is an extremely attack minded set of backs that will score tries against most defences.

Every year this competition typically throws up one unlikely away win and I have a feeling that this will be the game.

Verdict:

Edinburgh v Munster

Munster to Win at 6/10

Anytime Tryscorer: Chris Farrell at 9/2

Saracens v Glasgow

Saracens -15 at 4/5

Leinster v Ulster

Leinster -14 at 4/5

Anytime Tryscorer: Sean Cronin at 11/10 

Racing 92 v Toulouse

Toulouse to win at 13/8

Anytime Tryscorer: Chris Kolbe at 11/4

 



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