Simon Mail previews this weekend's Champions Cup semi-finals with Saracens facing Munster and holders Leinster taking on Toulouse...
"Premiership champions Saracens are the only side remaining in this year's competition to be unbeaten."
Saracens to edge out Munster
Saracens v Munster
Live on BT Sport 2
Saracens face Munster in a heavyweight European semi-final clash this weekend at the Ricoh Arena. Both teams have won the Champions Cup twice although Saracens have more recent success to fall back on after winning the tournament in 2016 and 2017. The Premiership champions are the only side remaining in this year's competition to be unbeaten.
With a 100 per cent record in this season's Champions Cup, Saracens are seen by many as the team to beat this year. After defeating Glasgow twice during the pool stage, Mark McCall's side scored seven tries as they clinched a 56-27 quarter-final over the Warriors. Saracens were beaten 23-21 in the league at Bristol last weekend but the team were much changed ahead of this crucial tie.
Munster came through the pool stage in top spot after avoiding defeat against Premiership leaders Exeter and their only loss came in Castres. In the quarter-finals, Munster were pushed all the way by Edinburgh as a late Keith Earls try edged them to a 17-13 victory. Munster are in excellent form after winning 11 of their last 12 matches, with their only loss during that run coming at the Scarlets.
This is a repeat of the semi-final from two years ago when Saracens defeated Munster 26-10 at the Aviva Stadium. Sarries have won the tournament twice and lost in the final once in the last five years so this is a club used to success at this stage. Munster have not reached the showpiece game since their triumph in 2008 and their opponents' experience and squad depth could give them the edge. Saracens are fancied to maintain their unbeaten run and reach another final although Munster should push them hard so a win by no more than 12 points looks likely.
Champions to clinch return to final
Leinster v Toulouse
Live on BT Sport 2 and Channel 4
Leinster were outstanding last season on their way to a fourth European crown. After some mesmerising rugby, the side battled to a 15-12 final win over Racing 92. The champions have not consistently matched last year's performances this season although they remain on course to defend the trophy with a last-four tie against four-time winners Toulouse.
Their 52-3 drubbing of Wasps in their pool opener was a statement of intent and they qualified in top spot. But Leinster were far from at their best in their quarter-final and rode their luck at times during their 21-18 home win over Ulster. Leo Cullen's side have only won one of their last four matches and were beaten 39-24 at home to Glasgow last week in the Pro14, so their current form is not entirely convincing.
Toulouse also have a rich history in the competition, although the last triumph came nine years ago, and the French side have shown signs of a renaissance this season. In their last-eight tie, Toulouse demonstrated great character to win 22-21 at Racing 92 despite the first-half dismissal of Zack Holmes. The Top 14 leaders come into this match in superb form with their dramatic 47-44 win over Clermont last weekend their ninth victory in the last ten matches.
These two teams are very familiar with each other after trading one win apiece during the pool stage. Toulouse edged to a 28-27 win in France back in October but Leinster ran out 29-13 victors in January's return match. The visitors bring more momentum into this fixture although the champions will be very tough to beat at the Aviva Stadium. It should be much closer than the last meeting between the sides but Leinster are backed to progress to the final again with a tight victory in Dublin.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
P/L 2018-19 season