It’s Champions Cup quarter-final time, one of the best weekend’s in the club rugby calendar, and you can make a case for every team but recent European pedigree is the most important factor when picking the winners for me.
Home advantage is crucial as well as visiting teams have only won 23% of the games at this stage of the competition over the years, so the law of averages says only one of the four ties will be won by the away team.
Here’s how I see the last eight action unfolding…
Edinburgh v Munster
What Cockers has done this season has been remarkable. To finish top of a pool that included Montpellier and Toulon is some achievement and home advantage at a packed Murrayfield will be a major factor but I just feel that the European pedigree and experience Munster have will carry them through to the semi-finals.
A lot of people’s hearts will be saying Edinburgh in this one and it is a tough one to call. If Bill Mata, Hamish Watson and John Barclay if he starts can win the battle of the back rows, then they’ll have every chance but you can’t back against the kind of nous and knowledge of how to win big knockout games that Munster have.
Saracens v Glasgow
There’s a fair bit of rivalry and animosity involved in this one, not only because they’ve faced each other quite a few times of late but also with so many players having played in the Calcutta Cup as well. Ryan Wilson, who was the main protagonist in tunnel-gate before last year’s Scotland v England game, will be a big loss for the Warriors as he isn’t fit but I hear he might have thrown his hat into the ring to be waterboy and add a bit of extra spice!
Saracens’ England contingent will be desperate to put the memory of Scotland’s comeback a couple of weeks ago behind them and it’s hard to see them losing at home with the quality and European record they have, so I’m going for a home win.
Leinster v Ulster
After their struggles on and off the field last season, Dan McFarland has done a tremendous job to turn things around at Ulster in such a short space of time. Billy Burns has excelled in a number 10 jersey that had a huge cloud hanging over it and they’ve got a man in Jacob Stockdale who’s flying in Europe and has a pretty good record at the Aviva Stadium as well.
The men from Belfast will travel south with some confidence, especially if they can get a good start and put doubts in the minds of some of the Leinster players who haven’t had the best of times with Ireland of late. However, they’ve won on just one of 20 previous visits to Leinster in the PRO14 and Leinster don’t lose home quarter-finals.
The last time they lost at home at this stage was 14 years ago at Lansdowne Road when there was a visiting fly half in his prime kicking 19 points in a Leicester triumph. That’s how tough it is to win at Leinster in a quarter-final, you have to go back to the dark ages for the last time it happened, so I’m picking Leinster.
Racing v Toulouse
Toulouse are the top team in France this season and have won at the Paris La Defense Arena already, so they’ll travel there with real confidence. The run they’re on of just one defeat in their last 20 games in all competitions is a phenomenal one when you consider how difficult it normally is to win away from home in the Top 14 as well.
They would’ve probably chosen Racing if they had their pick of which of the four teams they wanted to travel to because it takes away some of the home advantage, which often proves so crucial at this stage, but the home side are the one’s with the recent European pedigree.
Toulouse may have four titles but Racing have reached the final in two of the last three seasons and I think a lot of their focus is on getting back to another. They have the carrot of a home semi-final as well if they win and I think they’ll just edge an entertaining encounter.
Predicted Semi-Final Line-Up
Saracens v Munster – Ricoh Arena
Racing v Leinster – Paris La Defense Arena
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