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5 talking points ahead of the European quarter-finals

(Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

European competitions take centre-stage this weekend with quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup. The games, delayed since early April because of the coronavirus pandemic, promise to produce some thrilling encounters.


Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the talking points.

Saracens face mission improbable

It has been a season of abject misery for the Champions Cup holders, with relegation from the Gallagher Premiership and a £5.36million fine for their punishments following repeated salary cap breaches.

They will play in the Championship next season and not return to European rugby’s blue riband knockout competition until at least 2022.

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The Rugby Pod has its say on the red card tackle that has ruled Saracens’ Owen Farrell out of this weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-final at Leinster

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The Rugby Pod has its say on the red card tackle that has ruled Saracens’ Owen Farrell out of this weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-final at Leinster

On top of that, their fly-half talisman Owen Farrell is suspended for Saturday’s quarter-final clash against Leinster in Dublin. The odds are stacked against Saracens, but that is exactly how they like it.

Leinster look unstoppable

It is difficult to imagine Leinster not reclaiming the Champions Cup this term and securing a record fifth European crown. They are unbeaten in European and Guinness PRO14 action since losing to Saracens in last season’s final, and will play their quarter-final and possible semi-final in Dublin.

Packed with international stars and led by mercurial fly-half Johnny Sexton, they are currently setting remarkable standards of consistency and excellence.


Are Exeter ready to conquer Europe?

For a club that has featured in the last four Premiership finals at Twickenham, European success has consistently eluded Exeter. This season’s runaway league leaders and firm title favourites can reflect on just one previous quarter-final appearance, and that was in 2016 when they lost to Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.

This year, though, Rob Baxter’s men might be about to crack the code, hosting quarter-final opponents Northampton on Sunday with a semi-final against Toulouse or Ulster if they topple Saints. Potentially Leinster’s biggest threat.

French threat is a powerful one

French clubs have traditionally featured at the business end of European Cup competitions and this season is no exception with a powerful trio of Toulouse, Clermont Auvergne and Racing 92 all in quarter-final action.

Clermont and Racing face each other, guaranteeing at least one French semi-finalist, while four-times European champions Toulouse are expected to overcome Ulster. Eight of the previous 24 European finals have been won by French teams.


Bristol geared for Challenge Cup success

Bristol have already achieved stated goals of a top-six Premiership finish and qualification for next season’s Champions Cup, but there is potentially more available to them.

They face a Challenge Cup quarter-final against the Dragons on Friday at Ashton Gate, then it is Bordeaux-Begles or Edinburgh in a home semi-final if they topple the Welsh outfit. With star summer arrivals like Semi Radradra and Kyle Sinckler making their presence felt, Challenge Cup silverware could certainly end up in the west country next month.




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Shaylen 1 hours ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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Jon 7 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
FEATURE Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink