European Rugby Champions Cup: Back Wasps to clinch semi-final spot with Exeter win
Simon Mail previews the European Champions Cup quarter-finals and thinks Wasps can make home advantage count and defeat Premiership rivals Exeter...
"Dai Young's Wasps have won their last four games and ten of their last 11 matches in all competitions."
Wasps v Exeter
Live on BT Sport Europe
Wasps have been in relentless form lately and appear well placed to reach the semi-finals of the Champions Cup. Dai Young's side have won their last four games and ten of their last 11 matches in all competitions. This has thrust Wasps up to third in the Premiership and helped them qualify for the knockout stage of this tournament after topping a very strong pool featuring Toulon and Leinster.
Exeter are also enjoying no shortage of success this season sitting second in the Premiership. The Chiefs have been extremely impressive domestically but also managed to reach the last-eight of this competition after a miraculous final day in the pool. Rob Baxter's side defeated the Ospreys 33-17 and only progressed after Clermont slipped up at home to Bordeaux in the most unlikely outcome.
The Chiefs have won three of their last four games so both sides come into this tie in excellent shape. Exeter claimed a notable 41-27 win at the Ricoh Arena in December but the tables could be turned this weekend. Wasps are playing with so much confidence and have already beaten champions Toulon in front of their own fans. The hosts have momentum on their side and are taken to edge past Exeter and book a place in the last-four.
Back Wasps to win by 1-12 points in the Sportsbook at 29/20
Saracens v Northampton
Live on Sky Sports 2
Saracens were the only team to win all six of their pool games in the competition this season with their form and draw seeing them installed as the new tournament favourites. The Men in Black have been superb both in Europe and in the Premiership where the domestic champions are leading the table. Sarries lost in the Champions Cup final two years ago and have reached at least the semi-finals in the last three seasons so winning the trophy is the logical next step.
Northampton have not had the consistency and quality of their opponents this season but are hoping they can make a late surge in the Premiership and pull off an upset in the all-Premiership clash this weekend. The Saints finished second in their pool behind Racing Metro but Jim Mallinder's side qualified as one of the best runners-up.
These two sides are certainly no strangers to each other with Northampton pulling off a 20-15 away win as recently as last month. But Saracens were undoubtedly weaker without their 6 Nations internationals and with a full strength side out will expect to reverse the result. Confident wins over Exeter and Bath have followed since their return and Sarries can keep on track for a first Champions Cup trophy by edging out the Saints.
Back Saracens to win by 1-12 points in the Sportsbook at 6/4
Leicester v Stade Francais
Live on BT Sport Europe
Leicester have enjoyed a rich history in European competition but have not been a significant factor in recent seasons. The Tigers will be desperate to make an impact this year and have given themselves a chance after securing a home quarter-final tie. Leicester topped their pool after finishing ahead of their last-eight opponents so this match will throw up few surprises.
Stade Francais have struggled domestically with the defending champions languishing 12th in the Top 14 this season. But Stade Francais qualified from their Champions Cup pool by finishing behind Leicester with four wins from six matches. Their focus will be on upsetting the odds against the Tigers and keeping their season alive after a disappointing campaign in France.
The teams exchanged one win apiece during the pool stage. In the opening game, Leicester defeated Stade Francais 33-20 but the result was overturned in France where the hosts prevailed 36-21. The Tigers pride themselves on a superb record at Welford Road and this could prove the decisive factor. Leicester have won 12 of their 13 home games this season and the last three have been by no more than 12 points. The hosts should keep this run going with a narrow quarter-final victory.
Back Leicester to win by 1-12 points in the Sportsbook at 29/20
Racing Metro v Toulon
Live on Sky Sports 2
The final quarter-final tie is a French showdown pitting the dangerous Racing Metro against defending champions Toulon. Racing Metro are attempting to achieve their best run in the competition after a last-eight defeat to Saracens 12 months ago. The team advanced to this stage after topping Northampton's pool with four wins.
Toulon have dominated this competition with three successive triumphs coming into this year. But all runs have to come an end and there is a feeling this side has peaked and will struggled to defend their trophy this time. Toulon struggled through the pool stage after being well beaten at Wasps and were fortunate to edge past both them and Bath at home.
The fact Racing Metro come in as favourites shows there is a fallibility about Toulon which has simply not existed in recent seasons. There has been nothing to choose between them in the Top 14 this year with Racing sitting third just two points ahead of their opponents. Toulon won 21-20 at Racing last month and there is every reason to think it will be similarly tight in this European clash. But the Parisians have a top class squad, featuring World Cup winner Dan Carter, which looks capable of ending Toulon's grip on the trophy at the quarter-final stage.
Back to Racing to win by 1-12 points in the Sportsbook at 6/4
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
2015/16 Rugby P/L