Champions Cup quarter-finals: Kick-off times, TV details, team news and more
Leinster meet Saracens in Dublin before Ulster take on Toulouse in southern France
James Lowe runs the ball during Leinster’s win over Northampton at the Aviva in December. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Nearly there. The 2019-20 rugby season is creeping closer to its belated conclusion, with last weekend’s Pro14 final seeing the campaign’s first bit of silverware finally handed out.
You could be forgiven for forgetting the Champions Cup was still up and running, with the last round of pool fixtures being concluded on January 19th.
But with domestic duties wrapped up for the Irish provinces, attention now turns to the continent - with both Leinster and Ulster in action as the knockout stages get underway.
On Saturday, Leo Cullen’s side take on defending champions Saracens at the Aviva Stadium in a repeat of last year’s final. Leinster won the Pro14 at a canter and remain on course for an unprecedented, unbeaten season.
Meanwhile Dan McFarland’s Ulster, still licking their wounds from a comprehensive 27-5 defeat to Leinster last weekend, are faced with a daunting trip to play four-time winners Toulouse in the south of France.
While these fixtures signal the end of one season moving closer, they also herald the start of what promises to be a hectic few months of rugby in Europe - there’s still a lot to squeeze in before Andy Farrell’s Ireland return to action on October 24th.
Can Leinster complete the best season in their history? Can Ulster pull off one of their finest ever results? Here is everything you need to know ahead of the Champions Cup quarter-finals.
What is it?
The quarter-finals of the 2019-20 Champions Cup.
When is it?
The four last-eight matches will be played across the weekend of September 19th and 20th.
What are the full fixtures?
Saturday September 19th
Leinster v Saracens, kick-off 3pm, Aviva Stadium
Clermont Auvergne v Racing 92, kick-off 5.45pm, Stade Marcel-Michelin
Sunday September 20th
Toulouse v Ulster, kick-off 12.30pm, Stade Ernest Wallon
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints, kick-off 5.30pm, Sandy Park
Can I go?
Sporting fixtures in Dublin remain a no-go for supporters, so once again Leinster will be playing behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium. There will, however, be 5,000 Toulouse fans present at the 19,000 capacity Stade Ernest Wallon - but the match will be off limits for visiting supporters.
In that case, how can I watch it?
Saturday’s heavyweight double-header is being broadcast on BT Sport 3, with coverage starting at 2pm and running throughout the day. On Sunday Ulster’s clash with Toulouse will be shown free-to-air on Virgin Media One and Channel 4, with BT again showing the later games between Exeter and Northampton. You can also follow both the Leinster and Ulster matches via the Irish Times liveblog.
The story so far
It’s been eight months since the last round of Champions Cup matches - so we could probably do with a refresher.
Leinster won Pool One at a canter, winning all six of their fixtures against Northampton, Lyon and Benetton. They beat fellow quarter-finalists Northampton 43-16 and 50-21 in back-to-back fixtures in rounds three and four, en-route to finishing the pool stages at top seeds.
Ulster meanwhile qualified for the knockouts as the best of the runners-up, as they trailed Clermont Auvergne in Pool Three. They stunned the French giants 18-13 in Belfast in round two, as well as completing impressive doubles over Bath and Harlequins.
As for the rest, Saracens limped through to the knockout stages as the bottom seeds - hence why they were rewarded with a daunting trip to Dublin. The defending champions were beaten 10-3 by Munster at Thomond Park before Christmas but they scraped into the last-eight on Racing 92’s coat tails.
Connacht enjoyed two famous wins in Galway against Montpellier and Gloucester but ultimately finished bottom of a pool which was topped by Ulster’s opponents, Toulouse.
Leinster: Jordan Larmour; Hugo Keenan, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Seán Cronin, Andrew Porter; Devin Toner, James Ryan; Caelan Doris, Will Connors, Jack Conan. Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Ed Byrne, Michael Bent, Ryan Baird, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin.
Saracens: Elliot Daly; Alex Lewington, Duncan Taylor, Brad Barritt (capt), Sean Maitland; Alex Goode, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Vincent Koch; Maro Itoje, Tim Swinson; Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray, Billy Vunipola. Replacements: Tom Woolstencroft, Richard Barrington, Alec Clarey, Callum Hunter-Hill, Calum Clark, Aled Davies, Manu Vunipola, Dominic Morris,
Ulster: Michael Lowry; Rob Lyttle, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole; Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (capt); Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney. Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Marty Moore, Sam Carter, Kieran Treadwell, Alby Mathewson, Matt Faddes, Matthew Rea.
Toulouse: Thomas Ramos; Yoann Huget, Sofiane Guitoune, Pita Ahki, Cheslin Kolbe; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupon; Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Charlie Faumuina; Rory Arnold, Joe Tekori, Jerome Kaino (capt), Francois Cros, Selevasio Tolofua. Replacements: Julien Marchand, Rodrigue Neti, Dorian Aldegheri, Emmanuel Meafou, Alban Placines, Zack Holmes, Alexi Bales, Matthis Lebel.
One player who will be conspicuous by his absence this weekend is England captain Owen Farrell, who is currently serving a five-week ban following a high tackle on Wasps’ 18-year-old outhalf Charlie Atkinson during Saracens’ 28-18 defeat on September 5th.
Farrell’s ugly tackle was deemed “reckless and not intentional” by a disciplinary panel meaning he will be available for England’s Six Nations fixture against Italy next month. The 28-year-old has reportedly turned coach in the build-up to Saturday’s clash at the Aviva, but his absence is a killer blow for the visitors.
Saturday’s clash with Leinster could be Saracens’ last big fixture for a while - they are currently on -41 points in the English Premiership table and will play in the Championship next season. Saracens were hit by 35 and then 70-point deductions for breaking salary cap rules, and this weekend could be the last time they are seen at Europe’s top table for a while.
On Thursday, Gavin Cummiskey asked if their success under Mark McCall really counts, given how it was achieved: “The life and times of Mark McCall will always be connected to Saracens FC. That also means the Bangor native is tainted by a level of disgrace attainable only by cheating.”
If Ulster were to pull off the unthinkable and turn over Toulouse away from home, it would surely rank as one of the biggest results in Irish rugby history.
However, following on from their Pro14 final defeat last weekend - and their inability to capitalise on Leinster’s malfunctioning lineout - Gordon D’Arcy doesn’t give them much hope of upsetting the odds.
In his column this week, he said: “Considering Ulster’s overall form since the restart, Cheslin Kolbe, Antonine Dupont and Thomas Ramos must be licking their lips.
“McFarland’s team are still on an upward curve but a reality check could be in store on Sunday because, working off the evidence to hand, they are some way off bringing a trophy to Belfast.”
The route to the final
The semi-finals of the Champions Cup final, to be held on Saturday September 26th, will be as follows:
Leinster or Saracens v ASM Clermont Auvergne or Racing 92 (kick-off 1pm)
Exeter Chiefs or Northampton v Toulouse or Ulster (kick-off 3.30pm)
Leinster would be guaranteed a home semi-final if they get past Saracens - Ulster would face Exeter away, or Northampton at home.
What’s the betting?
Leinster 2-9 Saracens 10-3 Draw 28-1(Leinster -10 5-6)
Clermont 8-11 Racing 92 6-5 Draw 20-1 (Clermont -2 10-11)
Toulouse 2-11 Ulster 4-1 Draw 28-1
Exeter 1-33 Northampton 10-1 Draw 50-1 (Exeter -22 10-11)
Who’s on the whistle?
France’s Pascal Gauzère is in charge of Leinster against Saracens, with Wayne Barnes refereeing Ulster’s clash with Toulouse.
How’s the weather looking?
Saturday looks set to be another nice mild day in Dublin, with temperatures around 16 degrees, while Toulouse is set to be warm - 26 degrees - and wet.