This weekend sees the start of the knockout stages of this season’s European Rugby Champions Cup
All prices are from Bet365
Scarlets v La Rochelle Friday 30th March 5.30pm
The attack minded Scarlets will take on tournament new boys La Rochelle, a side who have been a revelation in the French Top 14 over the past 12 months.
Just four years ago the club, nestled on the west coast of France, were playing in their country’s second tier.
Their emergence as a domestic and now a continental force has been one of the stories of the season, with their attacking ethos winning over a host of admirers and this promises to be an exciting and high scoring quarter final. Scarlets are second in their Pro14 conference whilst La Rochelle are 4th in the Top 14 in France.
Where Scarlets should have the advantage is in playing at home against this French side who lost two of their three away pool stage matches in this competition
Scarlets are 4/9 favourites, La Rochelle 15/8 underdogs and I like Scarlets -3 at 10/11
Munster v Toulon Saturday 31st March 3.15pm
Munster won their pool and earned the third seed and with it gained their considerable home advantage in Limerick for this match against former champions Toulon who were runners up behind Scarlets in their pool. For much of that pool Toulon were unconvincing with two one point wins and two losses and Bath at Scarlets but this is a star studded side of big game players such as Bastauread, who was on great form on the back end of the Six Nations and Chris Ashton.
Munster though will be a tough team to crack as they are experienced and strong in the forward place.
Munter have been installed as 4/9 favourites, Toulon 15/8underdogs and though I think Munster should progress the +6 at 10/11 on the point handicap is hard to ignore
Clermont Auvergne v Racing 92 Sunday 1st April 1pm
Clermont have finished runners up in three of the last five ERCC competitions and won a very tough pool ahead of Saracens and have been returning to their bet in the Top 14 with key players returning from injury whilst Racing from Paris finished behind Munster in their pool to secure a best runners up spot and are above Clermont in the top 14 in third place.
It is Clermont’s big game pedigree and now fit squad that should make the different here though and that is reflected in them being priced up 4/11 favourites and -6 on the points handicap at 10/11. Racing are 9/4 underdogs. Clermont for me, but not at -6, so no bet.
Leinster v Saracens Sunday 1st April 3.30pm
Saracens are double defending champions whilst Leinster go into the knockout stages as top seeds, a team containing the core of Irish national side supplemented Academy talent such as Larmour and Byrne.
Akey to this game will come in player workload and freshness. For while Leinster’s key players rested after the grand slam win Saracens English contingent, minus Farrell, were pressed back into Aviva action game v Quins last weekend and a week later they have to front up at the Aviva Stadium against one of the top sides in this year’s competition, it’s a tough prospect.
This season there has been a shift in the balance of power in the ERCC with only one English team in the Quarterfinals and three from the Pro 14 plus the usual strong French contingent
Leinster won 6 of 6 in a pool containing Aviva champions Exeter, Glasgow and Montpellier and are top of Pro 14 conference ahead of fellow European QF Scarlets. Saracens crept into the quarters as one of the three best runners up, in an indifferent season by their standards where they have lost 6 aviva premiership games where their squad has been regularly injury hit .
What Saracens have in their favour, and will probably help them keep the march close is that they are streetwise with huge experience in knockout rugby and big game players but have to overcome fatigue and Leinster’s home advantage which is considerable. Leinster are 4/11 outirght and -7. The bet I like is them to cover this spread at 10/11.