It’s a big semi-final weekend in Europe, with eight teams vying to make four spots across the two EPCR tournament finals after what has been a chaotic 14 months for the game.
Organisers have released their preview notes for the weekend, and they make for interesting reading for stats nerds and casual fans alike.
HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP
1 – Leinster have played four of their 11 semi-finals to date in France, winning once against ASM Clermont Auvergne in 2012, but losing the other three.
2 – Ugo Mola, a winner with Toulouse in 1996, is in line to emulate Leinster’s Leo Cullen who is currently the only person to have won the tournament both as a player and as a Head Coach. Although Ali Hepher, who won with Northampton Saints in 2000, is the Exeter Chiefs’ Head Coach, he is the club’s No 2 behind Rob Baxter. Similarly, Ronan O’Gara, a winner with Munster in 2006 and 2008, is currently the No 2 at La Rochelle to Director of Rugby, Jono Gibbes.
3- With Bordeaux-Bègles and La Rochelle both qualifying for the penultimate stage for the first time, Toulouse will be appearing in their 13th semi-final and Leinster Rugby their 12th. Munster Rugby hold the appearance record with 14.
4 – Three French clubs have qualified for the semi-finals for the first time since 2004/05 and Toulouse v Bordeaux-Bègles is the first all-French match at the penultimate since that season when Stade Francais Paris defeated Biarritz Olympique.
5- The in-form Bordeaux-Bègles fly-half, Matthieu Jalibert, is this season’s leading scorer so far with 63 points. Jalibert has also made the most offloads with 10.
6- Ronan O’Gara holds the record for the most points scored in tournament semi-finals with 123 for Munster from 10 matches.
7 – Toulouse have played six semi-finals on French soil winning four but losing to Brive in 1998 on try count, as well as to Munster in 2000.
8 – Cameron Woki of Bordeaux-Bègles is this season’s leading line out exponent with 20 won including three steals.
9 – Leicester Tigers and Ulster Rugby are both bidding to emulate the four clubs to date – Bath Rugby, Leinster Rugby, Northampton Saints and Wasps – who have won the coveted double of the Challenge Cup and the European Cup.
10 – Leicester Tigers’ Director of Rugby, Steve Borthwick, captained Bath to Challenge Cup success in 2008.
11 – Ulster fly-half, Billy Burns, and his back-up, Ian Madigan, as well as teammates John Cooney and Jack McGrath, are all Challenge Cup winners. Madigan and McGrath started for Leinster Rugby in the 2013 final against Stade Francais Paris while Cooney was a replacement, and Burns was also a replacement for Gloucester Rugby against Edinburgh Rugby in 2015.
12 – Bath and Montpellier have met twice before in the Challenge Cup with Bath winning both pool matches in the 2006/07 season.
13 – On the only other occasion in 2016 that Montpellier reached the semi-final, they went on to lift the trophy.
14 – Bath will be appearing in a semi-final for the seventh time in their history. The 2008 tournament winners have won four matches at the penultimate stage and lost two.
15 – Leicester Tigers’ South African back row, Jasper Wiese, has beaten the most defenders so far this season with 18.
16 – Bryan Redpath, whose son Cameron could start for Bath against Montpellier on Saturday evening, captained Sale Sharks to success in the 2002 final.
17 – Leicester and Ulster will be meeting for the first time in the Challenge Cup. The clubs have played one another 10 times in Europe’s top flight with Ulster ahead by seven wins to three.
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