A competitive weekend of rugby action coming up with the highlight being the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup. It is also the semi-final stage of the European Challenge Cup, while domestically there is one match in the Aviva Premiership. In the southern hemisphere, it is round 9 of Super 18, with the race for play-off spots hotting up.
Weekend Rugby Union Fixtures
European Champions Cup
It’s the semi-final stage of Europe’s premier rugby competition with four teams battling it out for a place in next month’s final in Lyon. It’s an all-England affair in Saturday’s first semi-final, with Wasps facing rivals Saracens while Leicester take on French side Racing 92 in the second semi-final on Sunday.
European Challenge Cup
Semi-final weekend in the European Challenge Cup also with four teams looking to secure their place in the competition’s final. The first semi-final on Friday evening sees English side Harlequins taking on Grenoble of France at The Stoop. Harlequins have been boosted this week with the news that fly-half Nick Evans is set to feature having recovered from a broken leg ahead of schedule. Harlequins have struggled domestically this season and have saved their best performances for European action. Having won the Challenge Cup in 2011, the London side will be confident of victory against Grenoble and are currently 1/7 to progress to the final.
In the other semi-final, it’s France versus Wales with Montpellier hosting the Newport Gwent Dragons on Saturday evening. The Dragons have reached the semi-final stage of the tournament in 2007 and 2015, losing on both occasions and they will be aiming for third time lucky this time around. A shock victory over English side Gloucester in the quarter-finals saw them through to the semi-finals but against a strong Montpellier side and with questions over the future of coach Lyn Jones, they may well find Saturday’s match a step too far. Montpelier are chasing silverware on two fronts, currently sitting second in the French league and they are strong 1/16 favorites to reach the final.
Only the one match in the Aviva Premiership this week with Bath taking on Sale on Saturday afternoon in a rescheduled match. Both sides met just seven days ago, with Sale running out 29-17 winners and the Sharks are in fine form having won their last three league matches. They also have a solid record at Bath, winning on two out of their last four visits. A win for Sale would see them move up into fifth place in the table, while a victory Bath would consolidate their current ninth position.
Round 9 this week of Super 18 with a full schedule of matches set to be played over the weekend. The NZC leaders Waikato Chiefs face fourth placed Wellington Hurricanes on Saturday in the match of the weekend. The Chiefs have been in good form but a trip to Wellington will be a stern test with the Hurricanes knowing that a bonus-point victory would potentially see them move to the top of the table.
Sunday’s only Super 18 match sees the ACT Brumbies taking on the Canterbury Crusaders in Canberra in what promises to be an exciting match. A solid victory over fellow Australian side the Waratahs last weekend sees the Brumbies go into Sunday’s in good form but the Crusaders are also in fantastic form, having won their last five Super 18 matches.
Weekend Rugby Union Highlight – The European Champions Cup Semi-Finals
Saturday’s semi-final has the potential to be a cracker with rivals Wasps taking on Saracens at the Majedski Stadium in Reading. Saracens currently sit at the top of the Aviva Premiership, with Wasps four points behind in second place. Both sides have faced each other twice already this season, each registering a win apiece and familiarity could well breed contempt on Saturday. For Wasps, this is their third semi-final in the competition and their first since 2007. On both previous occasions that they have reached the semi-final stage the have gone on to lift the trophy and they will hopeful that they can record a hat-trick of successes. Saracens have enjoyed huge success in recent seasons and Saturday’s semi-final will be their twentieth knockout match in the last six seasons. They have reached the semi-final stage of European competition three times in the last four seasons but as yet they have never won the Champions Cup. With so much European experience, Saracens will hope that they can edge out Wasps on Saturday and secure their place in next months final. Saracens are the 2/5 favorites to qualify with Wasps available at a tempting 7/4.
The second semi-final on Sunday is an Anglo-French affair with Leicester facing Racing 92 at Nottingham’s City Ground. Leicester were European heavyweights at the turn of the millennium but have struggled in recent seasons to reach that level. The appointment of ex All Black Aaron Mauger as coach last summer has seen Leicester move away from their tried and trusted game plan of suffocating their opponents through strong set-pieces, a solid defense and an accurate kicking game. This season has seen Leicester evolve towards a far more expansive game plan with the focus switching to attack being the best form of defense. If they are to be successful on Sunday, then Leicester’s game plan will need to involve nullifying Dan Carter of Racing 92. The former All Black has been in inspirational form since his move to France and he put in a virtuoso performance in the quarter-final, dictating the match to lead his side to a hard-fought 19-16 victory over fellow french side Toulon. Racing have never reached a Champions Cup final but if Leicester fail to get to grips with Dan Carter, then they may well guarantee their spot in next month’s Lyon final.
By: Scott McGlynn