European Cup - teams and predictions
QUARTERFINALS: A Toulouse team powered by France international halfbacks Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack are capable of outwitting rival French giants Clermont in a mouth-watering Champions Cup clash on Sunday, according to former coach Guy Noves.
Toulouse and Clermont are two of five Top 14 clubs in the Cup last-eight, with La Rochelle playing Sale on Saturday and Bordeaux-Begles taking on Racing 92 in a second all-French showdown.
Reigning champions Exeter host Leinster on Saturday to round out the fixtures.
Noves, a one-club player for Toulouse between 1975-88, went on to coach the side for 22 years, winning the French championship nine times and the European Cup four times.
“What’s sure is that Toulouse can harbour great ambition, and why not win the European Cup?” Noves told AFP when asked about the French side’s 40-33 victory at Munster last week.
Turning to Sunday’s quarterfinal, Noves downplayed any potential home advantage, saying playing in empty stadiums made for a level playing field.
“Clermont are unfortunately a team which has lost five Top 14 finals against Toulouse and which finds it tough to get through knock-out games.
“I see Toulouse winning it even if it won’t be simple because Clermont remains a great team. Toulouse, however, has players capable of making a massive difference in knock-out stages.”
Noves, who was sacked as France coach in December 2017 after just seven victories in 21 Tests, added: “Toulouse are like chameleons, capable of changing their skin come knock-out rounds.”
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Clermont scraped past Wasps, 27-25, to make the quarters, and Dupont (24) and Ntamack (21) will likely be up against the veteran former international pairing of Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez, both 32.
“I don’t know if it’s a clash of generations: there’s experience on one side and freshness on the other,” Toulouse coach Ugo Mola said.
“Experience is like entry to a nightclub: as long as you’re not a regular, you don’t get in.
“Let’s give Dupont and Ntamack time to give themselves this experience to become regulars in these matches. The Parra-Lopez combination has already proven itself by winning, our halfbacks not yet. This may be the time.”
Champions Exeter put their wavering domestic form behind them to outpower Lyon 47-25 last weekend, and coach Rob Baxter was quick to play down the prospect of taking on Leinster, who are chasing a fifth European title, their fourth having come in the 2017/18 season.
“It’s a very significant challenge, but is it any bigger than last season?” mused Baxter. “You’ve got to get perspective and move on from the history of seven, eight, nine or 10 years ago.
“If we talked about history then Exeter would never be near the final of the Premiership or a European Cup. We’ve now won both. So it’s about the here and now and the here and now is that we have an expectation to do well.”
* Home clubs have a 76 percent success rate from the 96 tournament quarterfinals which have been played to date.
* Sunday’s showdown against ASM Clermont Auvergne at Stade Marcel-Michelin will be Toulouse’s 18th quarterfinal appearance and they have never been defeated at this stage of the tournament by another French club.
* The last time Exeter Chiefs and Leinster met was in the 2017/18 pool stage when Leinster won both matches before going on to lift the trophy in Bilbao.
* If selected for the quarterfinal matches, Stuart Hogg of defending champions, Exeter Chiefs, and Racing 92’s, Maxime Machenaud, will make their 50th tournament appearances.
* Clermont have played in 10 quarterfinals to date, and of their five defeats, four have been by French clubs – Racing 92 twice, Castres and Toulouse.
* La Rochelle and Sale Sharks, who clash at Stade Marcel Deflandre on Saturday, met twice in last season’s pool stage with the home club winning on each occasion.
* Sale’s one previous quarterfinal appearance was in 2006 when they were defeated by Biarritz Olympique.
* Bordeaux-Bègles and Racing 92 will be going head-to-head for the first time in European competition.
* This will be La Rochelle’s first Champions Cup quarterfinal at home. In their one previous appearance in 2018, they lost 29-17 at Parc y Scarlets.
If the scores are tied at the end of full time, then 20 minutes (two periods of 10 minutes) of extra time will be played. If at the end of extra time the scores are still level, then the winners will be the team that has scored the most tries in the game, including extra time.
If the teams are level on points and tries at the end of extra time, then the winners will be determined by a place-kicking competition as follows: Each team will be asked to nominate THREE goalkickers. The kickers need not to be predetermined, but they must come from the players on the pitch at the final whistle. No substituted or dismissed player will be permitted to take part. The end at which the competition takes place will be determined by a toss of a coin. The team to kick first will also be determined by a toss of a coin. Each kicker will have two kicks from designated positions on the 22 and 10-metre lines and after each team has completed their six kicks a winner will be declared. If the teams remain deadlocked, the competition will continue on a sudden-death basis.
Champions Cup quarterfinal teams and prediction
Saturday, April 10
La Rochelle v Sale Sharks
(Stade Marcel-Deflandre – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 UK time; 14.00 GMT)
Both sides are hoping to win the competition for the first time.
The Premiership side will be buoyed by their emphatic triumph over Scarlets in the Round of 16 – a scintillating six try performance and 32-points from AJ MacGinty the catalyst for victory.
La Rochelle, meanwhile, secured their last-eight berth with a 27-16 win over Gloucester at Kingsholm and will be eager to defeat English opposition for the second consecutive round, this time on home soil.
@rugby365com: La Rochelle by 11 points
La Rochelle: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Tawera Kerr Barlow, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Grégory Alldritt, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Romain Sazy (captain), 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Reda Wardi.
Replacements: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Arthur Joly, 19 Thomas Lavault, 20 Wiaan Liebenberg, 21 Thomas Berjon, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Pierre Aguillon.
Sale Sharks: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Byron McGuigan, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jean-Luc du Preez, 5 Josh Beaumont (captain), 4 Jacobus Wiese, 3 Willgriff John, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Bevan Rodd.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 James Phillips, 20 Cameron Neild, 21 Raphael Quirke, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Luke James.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Pierre Brousset (France), Thomas Charabas (France)
TMO: Brian MacNiece (Ireland)
Exeter Chiefs v Leinster
(Sandy Park – Kick-off: 17.30; 16.30 GMT)
It is the reigning champions Exeter Chiefs against the four-time competition winners Leinster – a monumental clash.
Exeter came back from 0-14 down to beat Lyon in the Round of 16, while Leinster overcame Montpellier (35-14) and Northampton Saints (35-19) in the pool stage.
The two sides have met four times in Europe’s elite competition – most recently in the 2017/18 pool stage – with Leinster coming out on top on each occasion.
Exeter though are unbeaten in their last 11 completed games in the Champions Cup, and have won their last eight home games in the competition.
@rugby365com: Exeter by five points
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Tom Francis, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Ian Whitten.
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Dave Kearney.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)
Sunday, April 11
Bordeaux-Bègles v Racing 92
(Stade Chaban-Delmas – Kick-off: 13.30; 11.30 GMT)
This will be the first meeting between Bordeaux-Bègles and Racing 92 in European competition.
Bordeaux-Bègles have won their last four games in the Champions Cup, their best run in the competition; they have scored 35+ points in each of their last two games, as often as in their first 21 matches in the competition.
Bordeaux-Bègles have lost five of their six games played against a fellow Top 14 team in the Champions Cup, including all three home games.
Racing 92 have won seven of their last 10 away games in the Champions Cup, one more win than in their first 23 away games in the competition.
@rugby365com: Racing by five points
Bordeaux-Begles: 15 Romain Buros, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Yoram Falatea-Moefana, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Maxime Lucu, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Guido Petti, 6 Cameron Woki, 5 Cyril Cazeaux, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Clement Maynadier, 1 Jefferson Poirot (captain).
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Lekso Kaulashvili, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Thomas Jolmes, 20 Alexandre Roumat, 21 Yann Lesgourgues, 22 Ulupano Seuteni, 23 Nans Ducuing.
Racing 92: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Louis Dupichot, 13 Olivier Klemenczak, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Antoine Gibert, 9 Maxime Machenaud (captain), 8 Jordan Joseph, 7 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Boris Palu, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Replacements: 16 Teddy Baubigny, 17 Guram Gogichashvili, 18 Georges Henri Colombe, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Ibrahim Diallo, 21 Teddy Iribaren, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Donovan Taofifenua.
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Tual Trainini (France), Cédric Marchat (France)
TMO: Ian Tempest (England)
ASM Clermont Auvergne v Toulouse
(Stade Marcel-Michelin – Kick-off: 16.00; 14.00 GMT)
Clermont Auvergne and Toulouse have faced each other once previously in the Champions Cup, during the 1999/00 quarterfinals, Toulouse winning 31-18.
Clermont Auvergne has lost their last two home games in the Champions Cup, as many as in their previous 37 home games in the competition. They are yet to lose three consecutive home games in the competition.
Clermont Auvergne has lost their last two home games against French opposition in the Champions Cup, both against Racing 92, after winning six of the previous eight.
Toulouse has won eight of their 10 away games in the Champions Cup since the beginning of the 2018/19 season, more than any other team in that span. They had lost seven of their previous eight games on the road in the competition.
Toulouse has only lost two of their 16 games played against fellow French teams in the Champions Cup and are undefeated in their 10 games played in the knockout stage against other Top 14 teams.
Toulouse will play their 18th quarterfinal game in the Champions Cup (won 11 lost six), equalling the current record of games played at that stage, set by Munster – who they knocked out in the Round of 16.
@rugby365com: Clermont by eight points
ASM Clermont Auvergne: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 George Moala, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Camille Lopez (captain), 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Fischer, 6 Judicaël Cancoriet, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Peceli Yato, 3 Cristian Ojovan, 2 Adrien Pélissié, 1 Peni Ravai.
Replacements: 16 Etienne Fourcade, 17 Daniel Bibi Biziwu, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Thibaud Lanen, 21 Arthur Iturria, 22 Sébastien Bézy, 23 Tim Nanai-Williams.
Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Zack Holmes, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Francois Cros, 6 Selevasio Tolofua, 5 Richie Arnold, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Julien Marchand (captain), 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Clément Castets, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Thibaud Flament, 21 Alban Placines, 22 Baptiste Germain, 23 Yoann Huget.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Ludovic Cayre (France), Jonathan Dufort (France)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)
Source: @ChampionsCup & AFP