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Champions Cup, quarterfinals - teams and predictions

PREVIEW: The bulk of the week’s spotlight will be on Dublin’s Lansdowne Road, where the two-time defending champions Stade Rochelais face off against four-time champions Leinster.

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They also featured in the last two finals – won by the French giants.

To add to the intrigue, they were Pool Four rivals – a Round One match won 16-9 by the Irish province at Stade Marcel-Deflandre.

However, three other intriguing and engaging encounters will make the last eight delectable.

The most absorbing of the build-ups has been the face-off at Franklin’s Gardens – where former winners Northampton Saints host the Bulls.

Director of Rugby Jake White has spoken at length about his team’s travel challenges and defended his selection – at team sans 10 Springboks.

The Bulls, the only South African representative in the last eight, face a team chasing an incredible Premiership and Champions Cup double.

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This will be the 1999-2000 European Cup winners’ first clash against South African opposition this season.

Phil Dowson’s men will have to manage it without centre Burger Odendaal, who misses out on the chance to play against the team he once captained due to a hamstring injury.

Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White was adamant his team has a realistic chance of winning and is not in Northampton to make up the numbers.

“Every competition I have ever coached in, I coached to win,” he told @rugby365com.

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“It’s a slap in the face to say it’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams.”

He pointed out that in the first URC season, this was the bulk of his starting XV.

“I would like us to become a powerhouse team, where it doesn’t matter which team you put on the field.

“These guys have a wonderful opportunity to play in the quarterfinal of the European Cup and make memories.”

Turning to the Saints, White said they are powerful in all aspects of the game.

“They are the form team in England,” he said, adding that of the eight teams five have won Europe’s premier competition – including Northampton.

“We are one of the teams who have not won it before.

“They won because they have been able to create depth over a long period and this is only our second season in Europe.

“Last year we were knocked out by Stade Toulousain in the Round of 16 and this year we made the quarterfinals – which is already progress.

“The challenge is to see if this group can take us into the top four.

“What a wonderful opportunity it is for these guys, who have been selected to do a job for the Bulls.”

(Jake White previews the Franklin’s Gardens face-off…)

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* The Dublin feature will bring a measure of revenge to the table – Stade Rochelais having beaten Leinster in their last two play-off encounters.

The Irish province got a measure of revenge earlier this season, winning their Pool meeting 16-9 at the Stade Marcel Deflandre in December, but will be eyeing a bigger prize this weekend – a fourth straight semifinal berth.

Once again, however, Stade Rochelais coach Ronan O’Gara has faith in his squad to continue their impressive run in the knockout stages of EPCR’s elite competition.

“I’m back home here to prepare for a game where we have a good chance of progressing and where we think we have achieved a remarkable run of victories in knockout rugby,” the French team’s Irish coach said.

“We want that to continue, but the support has blown us away,” he added.

Back row forward Josh van der Flier was keen to emphasise that the Pool stage victory over this weekend’s opposition will mean nothing come Saturday.

“It’s not letting that [the past] get to your head because it’s easy for it to happen,” Van der Flier said.

“It’s only human if you make a mistake and something goes wrong, you look back on who it was against or whatever.

“I think from our point of view, and certainly the attitude in the meetings that we have had (this week), it wouldn’t seem that that’s the case.

“I think everyone is pretty excited and it doesn’t feel like there is a big burden on people’s shoulders either. We are just pretty excited about the opportunity.

“If you are to win a tournament, you always want to have played the best and be able to have beaten the best, so that’s the challenge this week.”

* Five-time Champions Cup quarterfinalists Harlequins head to the South-West of France to take on Union Bordeaux-Bègles on Saturday aiming to reach the semifinals for the first time.

The Premiership team previously reached the last eight in 1996-96, 1997-98, 2008-09 and 2012-13, but failed to advance further and they’ll once again be up against it at the Stade Chaban-Delmas.

Harlequins director of rugby Billy Millard is aware of the threat coming from the French opposition, with the likes of internationals Damian Penaud and Louis Bielle-Biarrey ever threatening in their star-studded line-up.

“There are definitely guys in the building who we are managing at the moment,” said Millard.

“Post any Six Nations, there are a group of players who need a rest and there is another group who are in a different world.”

The loss of Care is a blow despite Porter’s obvious class, with all the experience needed against a Union Bordeaux-Bègles team that scored six tries against Saracens last weekend.

“To be the first Quins team to get a knockout win in the Champions Cup, that’s something we’re really pleased with and we’ll celebrate. But obviously it doesn’t get much harder than Bordeaux away,” said coach Danny Wilson.

“We previewed Bordeaux before (the round of 16 game), as a coaching and analyst group. They are quite an impressive outfit, very powerful team, play a fair amount of rugby, defensively outstanding and difficult to break down. Away from home, that’s a real challenge.”

* It’s business as usual for the pink city at this time of year.

Stade Toulousain are in the Champions Cup knockout stage, flying high in the Top 14, providing a healthy chunk of the France team and scoring tries for fun at times.

Their Round of 16 tie with the capital’s big-name team, Racing 92, on Sunday at Stade Ernest Wallon gives Toulousain a chance to assert a little authority on both EPCR and domestic fronts, and start the build-up to a critical pair of months for this once-in-a-generation team.

Racing 92 is also in form after a horrible start to their season, with three wins on the bounce coming into this one.

Centre Gaël Fickou reckons that, despite Stade Toulousain’s obvious calibre, Racing 92 is peaking at the right time.

“A season is not linear. We’re coming off a run of three wins and even if we’re not playing perfectly yet, it’s encouraging,” Fickou said.

“Now we have our first match of the finals in Toulouse on Sunday and it’s up to us to negotiate it as best we can,” he added.

“We’re not going to Toulouse with our heads down. We’re going to put up a great fight.”

All the quarterfinal teams and predictions are below

Champions Cup road to the final

Saturday, April 13

Union Bordeaux-Bègles v Harlequins
(Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 UK time; 14.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Bordeaux by eight points

Teams

Bordeaux-Begles: 15 Romain Buros, 14 Pablo Uberti, 13 Nicolas Depoortere, 12 Yoram Moefana, 11 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10 Matéo Garcia, 9 Maxime Lucu (captain), 8 Tevita Tatafu, 7 Pete Samu, 6 Antoine Miquel, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Cyril Cazeaux, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Maxime Lamothe, 1 Lekso Kaulashvili.
Replacements: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Ugo Boniface, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Guido Petti, 21 Bastien Vergnes, 22 Yann Lesgourgues, 23 Madosh Tambwe.

Harlequins: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Louis Lynagh, 13 Oscar Beard, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Will Porter, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Will Evans, 6 Chandler Cunningham-South, 5 Stephan Lewies (captain), 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Will Collier, 2 Jack Walker, 1 Fin Baxter.
Replacements: 16 Sam Riley, 17 Simon Kerrod, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Irne Herbst, 20 George Hammond, 21 Max Green, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Luke Northmore.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Federico Vedovelli (Italy), Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)

Leinster v Stade Rochelais
(Lansdowne Road, Dublin – Kick-off: 17.30; 18.30 French time; 16.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by five points

Teams

Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Jamie Osborne, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris (captain), 7 Will Connors, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Josh van der Flier.

La Rochelle: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 UJ Seuteni, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Antoine Hastoy, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Grégory Alldritt (captain), 7 Levani Botia, 6 Judicael Cancoriet, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Louis Penverne.
Replacements: 16 Quentin Lespiaucq, 17 Alexandre Kaddouri, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Thomas Lavault, 20 Paul Boudehent, 21 Yoan Tanga, 22 Teddy Iribaren, 23 Ihaia West.

Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Andrew Jackson (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)

Northampton Saints v Bulls
(Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton – Kick-off: 20.00; 21.00 SA time; 19.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Northampton by 12 points

Teams

Northampton Saints: 15 James Ramm, 14 George Hendy, 13 Tommy Freeman, 12 Fraser Dingwall, 11 Ollie Sleightholme, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Sam Graham, 6 Courtney Lawes (captain), 5 Alex Coles, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Trevor Davison, 2 Curtis Langdon, 1 Emmanuel Iyogun.
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Temo Mayanavanua, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Lewis Ludlam, 22 Tom James, 23 George Furbank.

Bulls: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Sebastian de Klerk, 13 Henry Immelman, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Izak Burger, 8 Cameron Hanekom, 7 Mpilo Gumede, 6 Nizaam Carr (captain), 5 JF van Heerden, 4 Janko Swanepoel, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Francois Klopper, 19 Merwe Olivier, 20 Reinhardt Ludwig, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Cornal Hendricks.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Ludovic Cayre (France), Luc Ramos (France)
TMO: Thomas Charabas (France)

Sunday, April 14

Stade Toulousain v Exeter Chiefs
(Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 UK time; 14.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Toulouse by 15 points

Teams

Toulouse: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Juan Cruz Mallia, 13 Paul Costes, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Alexandre Roumat, 7 François Cros, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Emmanuel Meafou, 4 Richie Arnold, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Rodrigue Neti, 18 Joel Merkler, 19 Thibaud Flament, 20 Joshua Brennan, 21 Paul Graou, 22 Thomas Ramos, 23 Santiago Chocobares.

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Josh Hodge, 14 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Tom Cairns, 8 Ross Vintcent, 7 Christ Tshiunza, 6 Ethan Roots, 5 Dafydd Jenkins (captain), 4 Rusi Tuima, 3 Ehren Painter, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Danny Southworth, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Lewis Pearson, 20 Greg Fisilau, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Will Haydon-Wood, 23 Zack Wimbush.

Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eoghan Cross (Ireland), Andy Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Mark Patton (Ireland)

@king365ed
@rugby365com

* Additional reporting by @ChampionsCup

 

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