The Champions Cup quarter-finals take place this weekend and Simon Mail previews the four ties including the huge clash between Exeter and Leinster...
"Leinster have won all four previous meetings against Exeter, with the last three contests settled by no more than ten points."
Exeter v Leinster
Live on BT Sport 2
Holders Exeter face massive test
Defending champions Exeter face a huge test this weekend when they host Champions Cup favourites Leinster in a mouth-watering quarter-final. The Chiefs landed their first European triumph last season after their victory over Racing 92. Exeter completed a Premiership and Champions Cup double in the most successful year in the club's history.
Rob Baxter's side have not had it all their own way this season, with the Chiefs 12 points behind Premiership leaders Bristol after losing five of their first 15 matches. Exeter managed to overcome a slow start last weekend, trailing 14-0 at home to Lyon in their last-16 European tie, as Jonny Hill scored twice in their 47-25 victory at Sandy Park.
Leinster bid to reclaim crown
Leinster have already wrapped up their title defence of the Pro 14 after defeating Munster in the final last month. Leo Cullen's side have now set their sights on more European success.
Leinster have won a record-equalling four Champions Cups, with their most recent triumph coming in 2018 after overcoming Racing 92.
With just two defeats all season, Leinster are the form horses and their relentless consistency has earned their status at the top of the betting. Leinster progressed to the last-eight without even playing last weekend, after a squad member from opponents Toulon tested positive for Covid-19. It was not the ideal way to prepare for this clash but the visitors do have the advantage of being fresher for the tie.
The betting is extremely close for this showdown, with Leinster marginal favourites to win. Leinster have won all four previous meetings against Exeter, with the last three contests settled by no more than ten points. Without the fervent Chiefs support, their home record has not been as strong with Northampton and Bristol winning at Sandy Park this season. Leinster's big game experience in Europe and consistency could give them the edge and the visitors are backed to edge through to the semi-finals.
La Rochelle v Sale
Live on Channel 4 and BT Sport 2
Sharks face French challenge
Sale set up a quarter-final against La Rochelle after a rampant 57-14 win at the Scarlets. Alex Sanderson's side scored six tries as they destroyed their opponents to continue their progress under the new director of rugby.
The Sharks are third in the Premiership and are playing with confidence as their attacking style pays off.
La Rochelle are dangerous opponents with the French club currently second in the Top 14. In the last round, La Rochelle eliminated Gloucester after edging to a 27-16 win at Kingsholm. First-half tries from Dillyn Leyds and Arthur Retiere helped them overcome the Premiership side and set up a last-eight tie with Sale.
The Sharks have to be taken seriously as a genuine threat after their demolition job in Wales but this presents a significant step up. La Rochelle overcame Sale last season in a 30-23 win and it could be similarly tight this weekend. Sale should push them close but the hosts are backed to secure a win by no more than 12 points.
Bordeaux v Racing 92
Live on BT Sport 2
Racing's experience could tell
In the first of two all-French contests on Sunday, Bordeaux host Racing 92. Bordeaux claimed a notable win in the last round, defeating Premiership leaders Bristol 36-17. Mathieu Jalibert scored 22 points including a try in the victory. Racing 92 booked their quarter-final spot by thrashing Edinburgh 56-3. Teddy Thomas scored two of their seven tries as they swept aside their Scottish opponents.
Racing 92 have come close to getting their hands on the Champions Cup, losing in three of the last five finals.
This includes last season's loss to Exeter and Racing 92 will be desperate to lift the trophy after a series of near misses. Their experience at the business end of the tournament should prove valuable and the visitors are taken to cover a three-point handicap against Bordeaux.
Clermont Auvergne v Toulouse
Live on BT Sport 2
French giants face quarter-final clash
Another heavyweight clash completes the quarter-final line-up with Clermont Auvergne taking on Toulouse in a Gallic duel. Clermont rode their luck to reach this stage after needing a last-gasp try from Kotaro Matsushima to snatch a 27-25 victory at Wasps. Toulouse produced an impressive performance, with Antoine Dupont scoring twice, to win 40-31 at Munster.
Clermont are the nearly men of the Champions Cup but Toulouse are proven champions, with the four-times winners threatening over the last season to return to their former glory years. With a wealth of young France stars, such as Dupont and Romain Ntamack, Toulouse look well placed to go close to a fifth cup triumph. Their win at Munster sets them up well for this and Toulouse can claim a narrow win to secure a place in the last-four.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
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