One of the most dramatic weekends of European rugby in recent memory has set up some very tasty Champion’s Cup semi-finals. Munster got the job done in Edinburgh, to set up a meeting with Saracens, who demolished Glasgow. Leinster saw off the challenge of Ulster in an absolute cracker in the Aviva, to book their spot against Toulouse, after the French club pulled off a dramatic one point win away to Racing. After such thrilling rugby this weekend which team is looking the hottest?
Sarries are just looking so good right now. Putting 56 points on a team as good as Glasgow is no mean feat, and they managed this without their most important player Owen Farrell. Saracens were the only club to win all of their pool games, and just have depth and danger all over the park. Liam Williams has been one of the best in the world in his position for the past two or three years and people have been calling for Alex Goode to be playing for England for as long. He showed his versatility this weekend by taking over at 10 when Owen Farrell got called away to the maternity ward, running plays like a guy who plays 10 week in week out. Saracens have X-factor all over the
The champions were run close this weekend by Ulster, but are still a dangerous proposition. Perhaps not quite on the same level as they were last year, Leo Cullen’s charges have a more difficult task ahead of them this year, as they welcome a Toulouse side in flying form to the Aviva. Leinster’s backline depth has been criticised recently, with some people saying that their “stand-ins” (the likes of Dave Kearney, Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin) are not up to scratch for top tier European rugby. Of course reading this you think back to Leinster’s pool game against Toulouse in the RDS, where all these “stand-ins” played and Leinster won comfortably. A fairly safe bet for the final, with a full compliment.
Toulouse are back big time this season. Beat the champions in their first pool game, and defeated Racing in a thriller in the U Arena at the weekend after losing Zach Holmes for a high tackle in the first half. The French giants are flying in the Top 14 this year, they are ten points clear at the top of the table with only two losses from 20 games. They will not fear coming to Dublin, but you would think home advantage will play a big part for Leinster.Embed from Getty Images
Munster are up against it, to put it simply. They will be travelling to the Ricoh Arena to take on Saracens. Munster last played Sarries in the Aviva in 2017, at the same stage of the competition, losing 26-10. It is hard to see Munster coming away with the win here but Munster have a habit of pulling off wins when you don’t expect. Munster are in great form, but Saracens just look unbeatable these daysEmbed from Getty Images
Ulster name team for Northampton Quarter-Final trip
Michael Lowry is named to start at full-back, and is joined in the back three by Jacob Stockdale and Robert Baloucoune. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume will form the midfield duo, and Billy Burns and John Cooney are the starting half-backs.
In the front row, Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring and Marty Moore retain their starting berths. Alan O’Connor will partner Kieran Treadwell in the second row. Last week’s Player of the Match, Sean Reidy, will start at blindside flanker, with Jordi Murphy skippering the team at openside and Nick Timoney at Number Eight.
John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea and Greg Jones will provide the forward reinforcements from the bench, with Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan and Ethan McIlroy named as the back line options.
Ulster team to play Northampton Saints, Challenge Cup Quarter-Final, Saturday 10 April at Franklin’s Gardens (kick-off 8pm, live on BT Sport):
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy (Capt.), Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.
Big names miss out for Ulster
The back line sees just one change from the side that played Toulouse last Friday. Michael Lowry, Jacob Stockdale and Matt Faddes all retain their positions in the back three. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume are the starting midfield duo. Billy Burns returns at fly-half and will captain the side; he will partner John Cooney at scrum-half.
The front row remains unchanged for this game. Rob Herring is named at hooker, with Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore packing down at loosehead and tighthead prop. Alan O’Connor will partner with his brother David – who will make his first Heineken Champions Cup start with Sam Carter missing out through concussion. Sean Reidy has been selected at blindside, with Jordi Murphy returning at openside. Nick Timoney comes in to start at Number Eight to replace the injured Marcel Coetzee.
John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, and Greg Jones are the forward bench options. Academy player, Ethan McIlroy could make his European debut if called upon from the bench, and is named alongside Alby Mathewson and Ian Madigan in the back line replacements.
Ulster team to play Gloucester, Heineken Champions Cup Round 2, Saturday 19 December 2020 at Kingsholm Stadium, kick-off 3.15pm, live on BT Sport / beIN Sport:
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns (Capt.), John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, David O’Connor, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.
Ulster name strong side to face Toulouse
In the back three, Jacob Stockdale returns from international duty to the left wing, joining Michael Lowry at full-back and Matt Faddes on the right wing. In midfield, Stuart McCloskey also returns from the Ireland squad to partner with James Hume. Ian Madigan has been named at fly-half alongside John Cooney at scrum-half.
Having made his international debut against Scotland last week, Eric O’Sullivan, comes in to take the starting berth at loosehead prop. Rob Herring also returns from Ireland duties and is named at hooker, with Marty Moore retaining his position at tighthead. Alan O’Connor will partner with Sam Carter, who will lead the side from the second row. Sean Reidy and Jordi Murphy are named at blindside and openside, with Marcell Coetzee completing the pack at Number Eight.
John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, and Matty Rea provide the forward options, with Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore and Craig Gilroy offering back line cover from the bench.
Ulster team to play Toulouse, Heineken Champions Cup Round 1, Friday 11 December 2020 at Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 8pm, live on BT Sport / beIN Sport:
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Ian Madigan, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (Capt.), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, Matty Rea, Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore, Craig Gilroy.