Rugby’s European heavyweights are on a collision course this weekend as we look forward to the Semi-Finals of the Heineken Champions Cup.
What a showcase we have for European rugby – Saracens host Munster at Allianz Park and Leinster welcome Toulouse to the Aviva Stadium.
All teams in the last four have genuine aspirations for the cup this season. They all boast world class players and have won a combined 12 European Cups between them.
A win for Saracens would see the English side reach their third Champions Cup final in four seasons. They have cemented themselves at the forefront of European rugby and are a formidable force on their own turf.
Munster on the other hand, are searching for their first final since the glory days between 2005 and 2008 where they won the cup twice. Munster have always proved resolute in Europe and are famed for their dogged determination and grit in the face of adversity.
The Munstermen have a knack of defying the odds and will be desperate to do a job on Sarries this weekend.
That said, they will have their work cut out. Saracens have been irresistible in Europe this season – they have won all seven of their matches to date including a comprehensive win in the quarters against Glasgow 56-27.
Munster haven’t had it all their own way and were pushed close by Edinburgh in the quarters. A brace from Keith Earls and a typically gritty performance booked Munster’s place in the semis.
European semi-finals are historically close affairs and Saturday should be no different. Munster travel with pride and organisation and I expect the visitors to start well.
Ultimately, the Saracens pressure and home advantage should tell in the latter stages of the match but this half time full-time selection offers us good value.
Our last tip of Ulster half time / Leinster full time was a winner and we are hoping for a repeat this weekend!
As reigning champions, Leinster represents a stern examination for a Toulouse side who are back where they belong in the latter stages of European rugby.
Leo Cullen’s men clinched victory from the jaws of defeat against Ulster in the quarters. They will be relieved to come through a tough interpro test and that should hold them in good stead for the Toulouse challenge.
Toulouse overcame Racing 92 away in their quarter final in an all-French encounter. On paper, it looked like a tough match taking on an in form Racing 92 with Finn Russell steering their ship. They suffered a huge blow early on with a red card but managed to hold on to earn their semi-final spot.
This will be the third match between these two sides in this seasons competition and the first two were shared. This match is finely poised and sets up a fantastic spectacle for us to enjoy on Sunday.
“We need to feed off all that energy” – Coach Cullen hopes that home comforts will give his side an advantage this Sunday.
Personally, I think this is a bridge too far for Toulouse taking on Leinster at the Aviva. Leinster welcome back Henshaw and Toner to their starting lineup and should have too much experience for Toulouse.
When Leinster played Toulouse in Round 5 of the pool stage at the RDS, they covered that handicap comfortably winning 29-13. It will be a good match but Leinster will have too much and will progress to the final in Newcastle.
Sean Cronin is joint top try scorer in the competition this year with 6 tries. An impressive achievement given he plays as a hooker.
That said, Cronin isn’t your standard hooker, he has immense power and an eye for the try line. In addition, he offers a threat from set piece mauls and could find his way over the whitewash this weekend.
Dupont is in the form of his life and looks to have established himself in the national side. He packs a punch and will capitalise on any space Leinster leave around the fringes.
His trail lines and spatial awareness are real strengths to his game and he is a good shout for a try at the Aviva.