Simon Mail previews the semi-finals of the Champions Cup this weekend with Munster facing champions Saracens and Clermont taking on Leinster...
"Two-time winners Munster appear to be close to their best again after a number of barren years in the competition and will need to be to end holders Saracens' trophy defence."
Munster v Saracens
Live on BT Sport 3
The first semi-final of this season's Champions Cup is a heavyweight European showdown between two sides in superb form. Two-time winners Munster appear to be close to their best again after a number of barren years in the competition and will need to be to end holders Saracens' trophy defence. The Aviva Stadium is the venue for this weekend's tie and it has all the makings of a classic encounter.
Munster come into this match with plenty of momentum after five successive victories. The side, second in the Pro12, were far too strong for Toulouse in the quarter-finals at the start of this month as they eased to a 41-16 win at Thomond Park. Munster also crushed Leicester 38-0 in the pool stage and claimed home and away victories over last year's finalists Racing 92.
Saracens won their first Champions Cup last season after their final triumph over Racing and the Men in Black have gone 16 games without defeat in the competition stretching back two years. Mark McCall's side outclassed Glasgow Warriors 38-13 in the last-eight and head into this match off the back of four consecutive wins.
Munster have the belief and quality to threaten Saracens' exceptional run in the competition. The team have been inspired this season and channelled their emotion positively following the sudden death of head coach Anthony Foley in October. Saracens are one of the toughest teams in Europe to defeat but Munster, backed by a huge following, could be the side to end their hold on the trophy.
Back Munster to win at [2.68]
Clermont Auvergne v Leinster
Live on Sky Sports 3
The second semi-final takes place in Lyon where Clermont will be hoping playing in France can give them the edge over Leinster. Clermont have come so close to landing the top prize in Europe but endured years of disappointment after losing twice in the final since 2013. If the nearly men of the Champions Cup are to finally get their hands on the trophy they will have to get past one of the major forces in the competition.
Leinster are three-time winners of the tournament with their last success coming five years ago. Since then their form at the highest level has suffered but the signs are Leinster are close to peaking this season. Sitting top of the Pro12, the team were too strong for Premiership leaders Wasps defeating them 32-17 in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup.
Clermont have been threatening to land the trophy for years and the French side are again looking strong contenders this season. The Top 14 outfit, who are second in their domestic league, raced through their pool with five wins from six matches before brushing aside former champions Toulon 29-9 in the last-eight.
Leinster come into this match unbeaten in 12 games having won their last eight matches. There is a momentum and belief in the side which could carry them through to another final and certainly will not fear the trip to France. Clermont have suffered so many near misses in the competition and this weekend's favourites could again buckle under the pressure. Leinster appeal at the prices and are worth backing to close in on another European title.
Back Leinster to win at [2.54]
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2016/17 Rugby P/L