Champions Cup quarter-finals: 10 things you really should know
All of the information you need before Munster and Leinster play this weekend
Munster and Leinster both go into Champions Cup quarter-final action this Saturday. Photo: Inpho
State of play
With the Six Nations over the Champions Cup once again takes centre stage as Munster and Leinster both look to book semi-final berths. Both sides topped their pools to ensure home ties at the last eight stage but were quickly hit by the harsh realities of European rugby in their opponents for the first knockout round.
For Munster it’s a clash with French giants Toulon who narrowly missed out on top spot in Pool Five to Scarlets. The French side also come into this game in some pretty impressive form after hammering fellow quarter-finalists Clermont Auvergne 49-0 last weekend in a Top 14 meeting.
As for Leinster they were rewarded with six wins from six with a clash against defending champions Saracens in possibly the most unlucky of draws after the English side struggled somewhat in Pool Two with a number of key players missing through injury. However, they now look to be back at close enough to full strength.
In the other two quarter-finals, Scarlets meet La Rochelle on Friday at 5.30pm while Clermont take on Racing 92 in an all French clash at 1pm on Sunday.
How to follow
Munster v Toulon (Saturday March 31st, kick off: 3.15pm)
You can follow both the Munster and Leinster games on our liveblogs. Munster are first up on Saturday with our coverage getting underway at 2.30pm. You can also watch the game on Sky Sports Main Event where the build-up starts at 2.55pm.
If you fancy going along to Thomond Park on Saturday you will be disappointed as tickets have officially sold out.
Leinster v Saracens (Sunday April 1st, kick off: 3.30pm)
On Sunday Leinster take to the Aviva Stadium pitch. Our liveblog will begin at 2.45pm while live coverage is on BT Sport 1 from 3pm.
Tickets are still available for the quarter-final tie and can be purchased here.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (Capt), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, James Cronin, John Ryan, Gerbrandt Grobler, Robin Copeland, James Hart, JJ Hanrahan, Darren Sweetnam.
TOULON: Chris Ashton; Josua Tuisova, Mathieu Bastareaud, Ma’a Nonu; Semi Radradra; Francois Trinh-Duc, Eric Escande; Florian Fresia, Guilhem Guirado, Marcel Van Der Merwe; Juandre Kruger, Dave Attwood; Raphael Lakafia, Facundo Isa, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Anthony Etrillard, Xavier Chiocci, Emerick Setiano, Romain Taofifenua, Anthony Belleau, Malakai Fekitoa, Alby Mathewson, Samu Manoa.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa (capt), James Lowe; Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Seán Cronin, Tadhg Furlong; Devin Toner, James Ryan; Scott Fardy, Dan Leavy, Jordi Murphy.
Replacements: James Tracy, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Rhys Ruddock, Max Deegan, Nick McCarthy, Joey Carbery, Rory O’Loughlin.
SARACENS: Alex Goode; Liam Williams, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt (capt), Sean Maitland; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Juan Fogallo; Maro Itoje, George Kruis; Nick Isiekwe, Schalk Burder, Jackson.
Replacements: Schalk Brits, Richard Barrington, Titi Lamositele, Dom Day, Blair Cowan, Ben Spencer, Alex Lozowski, Chris Wyles.
Seasons hinge on this weekend
It seems like a lifetime ago that the Champions Cup pool stages finished up in January with a Grand Slam taking up most of the rugby attention in between. However, there is no rest for the elite of European rugby.
Writing in his column this week, Gerry Thornley says that both sides will find it tough to get the most out of their players after that gruelling international period. Munster, in particular, have been hit hard while their opponents Toulon have, as usual, been relatively untroubled by the Six Nations.
English players paying a price
During the week a report emerged that might give Leinster some more confidence going into their meeting with Saracens after it was revealed just how much of a toll English training sessions under Eddie Jones have on players.
Jones conducts notoriously gruelling training sessions and has stated previously that when his players join England from their clubs they are not at the levels of conditioning required for Test rugby.
By the sounds of things, when they go back to their clubs, some of them are not at the levels of conditioning required for any sort of rugby.
Keatley feeling the intensity
There’s a different feel about a European game in Munster and Ian Keatley is well aware of it at this stage. Speaking during the week the number 10 said: “You’re walking down the street and people are wishing you good luck for the weekend. It is such a good buzz around and then the day of the match, even when you are getting the bus on the way to the ground you can feel the crowd, the buzz, the anticipation.”
Munster will be hoping Saturday is not the last time this season that they feel that same buzz.
D’Arcy on ’People’s Game’
It’s a debate that looks like it will never end and, perhaps, gets more ridiculous by the day but Gordon D’Arcy is the latest to say that rugby can be the game of the people, as long as teams keep winning.
“The people follow winners. Always have, always will,” he writes.
“The stakes are high as the dominant England and French clubs of this era invade Dublin and Limerick.”
For Leinster it’s a case of being ahead at half-time
Perhaps the most remembered Leinster game in Europe is a famous comeback – the 2011 final win over Northampton to be precise – but, when it comes to quarter-finals, it’s imperative that they lead at half-time.
In the 12 quarter-finals in which the province has competed since the inaugural European tournament in the 1995-1996 season – there was no last eight in that first season in which Leinster reached a semi-final – Leinster have never overcome a half-time deficit.
Fear can be a motivator
Past defeats haunt Peter O’Mahony. This weekend he wants to ensure that his nightmares aren’t added to with an 11th Champions Cup loss.
Given that he has played 40 games in the European competition it’s far from a bad record but winning us everything when it comes down to it.
“Unfortunately the bad memories are always the ones that stick out, and you always have a little bit of fear driving you on,” he admitted this week.
The voice from the other side
Richard Wigglesworth is an Englishman through and through and this week defended the system which has been widely criticised following the Six Nations for flogging its players too hard.
“There are pros and cons to every system. In an ideal world, yes, you would get your minutes controlled and all the rest of it but we weren’t mentioning this last year and the year before.”
Wigglesworth and his Saracens teammates will be hoping that doesn’t come back to haunt them in Dublin this weekend.