Former Bath, Wasps and Dragons back-row Ed Jackson runs the rule over this weekend’s four European Cup ties
European Champions Cup Quarter-finals Preview
It’s quarter-finals weekend in European rugby and we asked Ed Jackson, the former Bath, Wasps and Dragons back-row, to make his predictions as to who will reach the semi-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup. Will you agree with his choices?
EDINBURGH v MUNSTER
Saturday 30 March, 12.45pm, Live on BT Sport, Channel 4 & Virgin Media
The pick of the bunch for me. The Irish national side might be operating slightly off the pace at the moment but it would be naïve to expect the same from Munster.
They made a slow start to the group stages but since round two they have looked imperious. They’re the only group winners to find themselves away from home, but there’s no doubt the passionate Munster faithful will be doing their best to make BT Murrayfield feel like Thomond Park.
By this stage of the competition, when European giants Munster head across the Irish Sea in search of their next victim, it is usually to England or France. Rarely do they venture to their Celtic brothers in the North but there’s something happening in the Scottish capital that’s making everyone sit up and take notice.
The appointment of Richard Cockerill as DoR is proving to be an inspired one. The former Leicester Tiger is renowned for his uncompromising approach, both as a player and coach, but his tactical astuteness is often overlooked. Both of these facets have undoubtedly rubbed off on his Edinburgh side, who are now not only scoring some scintillating tries but have the ability to strangle teams into submission.
Sprinkle that with some stardust like Viliame Mata, Duhan van der Merwe, Darcy Graham and the returning John Barclay, and all of a sudden the men from Auld Reekie are a formidable opponent for any invading army.
It’s going to be a close one but, hold on to your kilts, I think Edinburgh are the real deal this year.
Prediction: Edinburgh by four.
SARACENS v GLASGOW
Saturday 30 March, 3.15pm, Live on BT Sport
This will be the third time these two meet this season and there are a raft of players getting very familiar with each other for both club and country. There’s certainly no love lost between them and if previous fixtures are anything to go by you can expect plenty of niggle.
Saracens took the bragging rights in the previous two pool encounters but it was by no means straightforward. Glasgow pose a potent attacking threat and their loose and unconventional style has the ability to make a mockery of most.
However, that same style can cause them issues in defence, Saracens crossing the whitewash five times last time they met. Still, the 38-19 scoreline flattered Saracens in what was largely a very competitive game.
You can expect a much closer affair this time out, but the two-times European champions want their title back and it’s difficult to see the Scots being the ones to deny them that.
Expect tempers to be tested and plenty of points on the board.
Prediction: Saracens by 15.
LEINSTER v ULSTER
Saturday 30 March, 5.45pm, Live on BT Sport
An all-Irish affair will see the Ulstermen travel down the M1 to confront European giants Leinster. Ulster have looked inspired in periods this year but, as head coach Dan McFarland pointed out this week, it’s going to take more than just periods of inspiration to topple the defending champions.
Injuries aren’t helping Ulster either with Louis Ludik, Iain Henderson, Darren Cave and Will Addison all doubts and Luke Marshall still sidelined – but they might have a trick up their sleeve. Back-row Jordi Murphy moved to Belfast from Dublin last summer having been an integral part of Leinster’s double success in 2018 and is bound to be able to offer his new team an insight into the inner workings of the big blue beast.
How much difference that will make remains to be seen but it’s certainly on the radar of Leinster coach Leo Cullen, who said recently that he is trying to remember what Murphy will know and adjust accordingly.
It’s not a done deal as Ulster are yet to put in a full 80-minute performance this year and still find themselves in a European quarter-final. The question is: if they can finally produce a complete display, will it be enough? I suspect not.
Prediction: Leinster by 12.
RACING 92 v TOULOUSE
Sunday 31 March, 3.15pm, Live on BT Sport
French giants collide in Paris and I imagine we’re going to see fireworks. The resurgence of Toulouse has warmed the cockles of any red-blooded rugby fan, as has the manor in which they have been playing.
Toulouse top the French domestic competition and with the likes of Maxime Medard, Thomas Ramos, Jerome Kaino and Antoine Dupont in fine form, you wouldn’t right them off from coming out on top in Europe as well.
However, last year’s finalists might have something to say about that. In Scotland fly-half Finn Russell, Racing have one of the most talented operators on the planet and if he shows anywhere near the form that he did in the second half against England a couple of weeks ago then they should be in business.
Two teams with a passion for attacking rugby and the players to produce it, this should be a cracker but my heart says that the team from La Ville Rose will march on.
Prediction: Toulouse by two.
The May 2019 issue of Rugby World – out now – features an exclusive interview with Edinburgh’s Viliame Mata.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.