European Champions Cup Quarterfinals Previews

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Here we are, in the knockout stages of the 2016 Champions Cup. With no Pro12 sides in the knockout stages, we are looking at purely English and French sides in the competition. While that is unfortunate for the fans of the Celtic league, it does mean that we will get to see some of the biggest names in our game, as Europe’s big spenders take the pitch.

Wasps vs Exeter:

There is no doubting that Wasps have taken Europe by storm. Like the Viking hordes of old, they have taken no prisoners as they stormed through France, England, and Ireland, leaving battered husks of the once mighty sides of Pool 5. While Exeter may not have had to come through the likes of Leinster, Bath, and Toulon, They have made an emphatic statement throughout this season with upset after upset, and no one doubts their potential. With the likes of Joe Launchbury, James Haskell, George Smith, and Nathan Hughes, Wasps possess a devastating array of weapons in the pack, but Exeter are not without big names of their own. The likes of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Geoff Parling, Julian Salvi, and Thomas Waldrom will be needed of this Exeter side are to come away with what would be a major upset. Out wide, Exeter can call upon young stars like Gareth Steenson, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, and Michele Campagnaro. Steenson and Slade have been in fantastic form this season, and Campagnaro was one of the best attacking players in the 6 Nations, so this Chiefs backline cannot be underestimated. Wasps are very strong in the backline as well, with the Piutau brothers, Frank Halai, Christian Wade, Salosi Tagicakibau and of course, England star Elliot Daly. While Wasps are more like Toulon in that they are a big spending side, dominating largely because of their big name signings, while Exeter have built their success from the ground up. While Exeter undoubtedly click better as a team, there is only one way to go with this prediction, and that is with Wasps.

Prediction: Wasps 35- Exeter 17

Saracens vs Northampton:

A rematch of the stunning 2014 Aviva Premiership final, this is set to be a collision fest, as two of Europe’s most physical sides go head to head. Saracens have been hard to stop this season, rolling through pool 1 without losing a single match. Northamptons road to the quarterfinals has been a little more rocky, but no team ever wins without going through some form of adversity. Few can rival the pack play of Saracens, and with names like Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, Michael Rhodes, and Billy Vunipola it is not hard to see why. Mark McCall will be looking for big games from his two young England second rows, Maro Itoje and George Kruis, both of whom are in excellent form. Northampton will doubtless reply in kind with Kieran Brookes, Courtney Laws, and club favorite Tom Wood. Look for some big carries from New Zealand born flanker Teimana Harrison, who has made a huge impression in his relatively short time at Northampton. George North and the Pisi brothers give the Northampton backline no shortage of attacking flair, as will Ben Foden from fullback. Hopefully we will get a glimpse of young Harry Mallinder, who possesses some serious talent. Owen Farrell is in some of the best form of his career at the moment, as well as Scottish centre/winger Duncan Taylor. Alongside the likes of Marcelo Bosch and Chris Ashton, this Sarries backline is undoubtedly one of the best in Europe. With their full compliment of England stars, both of these sides could take this match, and it is hard to predict who will win, but we think Saracens will just edge it.

Prediction: Saracens 17- Northampton 14

Leicester vs Stade Francais:

Two pool four rivals go head to head once again in this fixture, as a revitalized Leicester takes on the current Top 14 Champions. While Stade have failed to replicate the swagger with which they played in the Top 14 playoffs a year ago, Leicester have received boost after boost, and head into this match with no shortage of momentum. As ever with Leicester, you can expect them to bring a very large pack, with the likes of Logovi’i Mulipola, Marcos Ayerza, Dan Cole, Graham Kitchener, Tom Croft, and Ed Slater all likely to play some part in the match. Stade have two very physical beasts of their own, with Rabah Slimani and Antoine Burban all too happy to throw their weight around, as well as Willem Alberts, Alexandre Flanquart, and Pascal Pape. Perhaps Stade’s best weapon is their number 8, Italian legend Sergio Parisse. Should Leicester allow Parisse to find any space, and they will find themselves in a world of trouble. Stade will need big games from their stars in the backline, and will hope their investment in players like Will Genia will pay off. Jules Plisson, Jonathan Danty, and Djibril Camara give this side plenty of attacking talent, but all of these players have proven to be very inconsistent. Leicester have splurged, and for once we can honestly say that their backline may be better than their forward pack. Ben Youngs and Owen Williams will orchestrate from the halves, while Manu Tuilagi, Peter Betham, and Jean De Villiers are all likely to play a major role in the centres. Leicester’s shrewd signing of Telusa Veainu continues to pay off, as the excitement machine continues to score try after try in the Premiership. This match will be a tough call, but we really think that it will fall the way of Leicester. Tigers seem to be peaking at the right time, and Stade simply aren’t.

Prediction: Leicester 24- Stade Francais 14

Racing 92 vs Toulon:

This might as well be a match between two country clubs, as two of Europe’s wealthiest clubs will duke it out in the Stade Yves Du Manoir. Both sides have plenty of size in their front row, with Racing likely to start Eddy Ben Arous, Dimitri Szarzewski, and Ben Tameifuna, while Toulon are likely to bring Florian Fresia, Guilhem Guirado, and Matt Stevens. While Racing’s try will be far more mobile, they may struggle at scrum time against this incredible powerful Toulon front row. Luke Charteris is bound to play a prominent role in the lineout. With jumpers like Romain Taofifenua, Toulon often struggle to lift their men quickly enough, leaving them vulnerable to clever locks such as Charteris. Yannick Nyanga gives Racing another weapon in the lineout, while Bernard Le Roux will do the dog work at the breakdown, leaving Antonie Claassen and Chris Masoe to do what they do best, carry the ball with authority. Mind you, this is easier said than done against a side that includes the likes of Mamuka Gorgodze, Steffon Armitage, Juan Smith, Duane Vermeulen, and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. Toulon are stacked in the backline as per usual, with the likes of James O’Connor, Quade Cooper, Ma’a Nonu, Maxime Mermoz, Tom Taylor, Bryan Habana, Josua Tuisova, Mathieu Bastareaud, and Drew Mitchell (to name a few). Racing are not really outgunned here either however, as they can counterattack with Maxime Machenaud, Dan Carter, Remi Tales, Alexandre Dumoulin, Juan Imhoff, Casey Laulala, Brice Dulin, Johan Goosen, and Louis Dupichot. Both of these sides have proven themselves to be capable of exploiting every opportunity they are given, so both sides will look to keep things tight for much of the match. We’d love to see Racing come away with a win, but sadly, we just can’t see it happening especially in a tight, forwards oriented match.

Prediction: Toulon 15-Racing 13

Aidan Clarke
Media Intern from America.

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