The six nations may be done and dusted but the domestic season is just getting to the sharp end. This week sees the return of the Heineken Champions Cup as Europe’s elite prepare to face off in the Quarter-Finals. Whilst all of the headlines off the field have centred around fighting to leave Europe, the eight teams in action certainly want to remain. Historically, this round has thrown up some epic encounters and fans are eagerly anticipating what the next chapter of Europe’s premier competition has in store. Ahead of the weekend, let’s take a look at each fixture:
Edinburgh v Munster
Nobody would have predicted that Edinburgh would find themselves playing at home in the Quarter finals after being drawn in a pool with heavyweights Montpellier and Toulon, but here they are, and in fact the bookies have them has marginal favourites. A pack that is built around that of the national team coupled with a new-found edge and belief have propelled them to where they are now. Richard Cockerill has stamped his trademark all over this team and with a little bit of fairy dust from the likes of Bill Mata, they are capable of downing anyone at home. Munster in Europe, however, are a tough nut to crack and they’ll have no shortage of support at Murrayfield, but their Irish stars will need to dig deep to find some much-needed form. This promises to be the tie of the round in terms of unpredictability and a contest.
Saracens v Glasgow
There’s a feel of déjà vu surrounding this one, not only did they meet twice in the pool stage and at this stage a few years ago, there will be plenty involved on Saturday who took part in that match at Twickenham a few weeks ago. Glasgow will take belief from the second half that Scotland pulled out of the bag, but the truth is they are not the team the were a few seasons ago and without Finn Russell at the helm, heroics are a bit harder to come by. Couple that with Saracens’ experience and relentless nature as well as the fact that they are mentally superior to the England outfit that capitulated – its hard to look past a home win.
Leinster v Ulster
Clearly these teams know each other very well and the all-Ireland affair is bound to make for a cracking atmosphere at the Aviva. Ulster have gone about their business quietly this season and following escape from a very tough pool (including two of last season semi-finalists), they have started to build in the Pro 14 too. However, an away trip to Dublin in Europe is an altogether different prospect, on paper, Leinster should walk this, and they most likely will. But will Ulster be able to target the cracks that were beginning to show when a very similar group of players were wearing the green of Ireland? Similar to Saracens, it is unlikely that national form will repeat itself domestically – so expect the blue machine to roll on.
Racing 92 v Toulouse
Racing have reached the final twice in recent seasons and are desperately trying to go one step further this time. The glitz and glamour of their futuristic stadium is being matched on the field this season, Finn Russel has slotted in at 10 with no shortage of highlight reel moments. Making the trip north are a resurgent Toulouse who with their youth and exuberance are showing glimpses of their old prestige. This is a tough one to call and has all the makings of a high scoring classic, but statistically one team usually pulls out an away win at this stage of the competition and this may be the one.
Written by – James Jones, @JAJ_87