European Rugby Champions Cup: Holders Saracens to keep defence alive with Ospreys win

Saracens' Champions Cup defence is on the line
Saracens' Champions Cup defence is on the line
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Simon Mail previews the fifth round of the Champions Cup pool stage which includes crucial matches for holders Saracens and Wasps...

"Saracens have the edge in recent meetings after winning all four previous clashes against the Ospreys in Europe. Sarries have momentum on their side, with key players such as Maro Itoje returning from injury, which suggests the holders can claim the win they need."

Bath v Scarlets
Friday, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 2

The first match of the weekend is a crucial clash which pits pool five leaders Bath against the third-placed Scarlets - a side just one point behind their opponents. The Premiership side have given themselves a great chance to reach the knockout stage after their 26-21 home win over Toulon in their last Champions Cup match. Back-to-back wins over Benetton Treviso have also kept the Welsh side in the hunt.

Bath warmed up for this match with an impressive six-try win at Worcester last weekend and Todd Blackadder's side should come into this game full of confidence. The Scarlets lead the way in Pro14 Conference B but have already lost twice in this competition including the 18-13 home defeat against Bath. The hosts could have the edge at the Rec although the Scarlets' defeats have both been by no more than five points so another narrow loss is a likely outcome.

Exeter v Montpellier
Saturday, 15:15
Live on BT Sport 2

Exeter face a must win match against Montpellier as they bid to finish as one of the best runners-up. The Chiefs suffered back-to-back defeats to Leinster which has given control of the pool to the Irish club. But Rob Baxter's side still have hope of overhauling a second-placed Montpellier side sitting four points clear. Exeter started the year with a 28-20 defeat at Newcastle but still lead the Premiership.

The Chiefs will have their hands full against the Top 14 leaders although Exeter have the advantage of already winning against them after their dramatic 27-24 victory in France in October. Their superb record at Sandy Park also could give them the edge, where they have lost just once this season, although this fixture has always been closely fought. Seven points is the biggest margin between them in three meetings and a slender Exeter success is worth backing to keep their European hopes alive.

Harlequins v Wasps
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Action

The Stoop hosts an all Premiership clash this weekend but only one side still have hopes of qualification after Harlequins lost their first four matches. The picture is more promising for Wasps though after winning two of their four games. It leaves Dai Young's side third in their pool but only three points off second-placed Ulster with a home game to come against them in the final match.

The question of motivation has to be a major factor here, with so much incentive for Wasps against a Quins side with only personal pride to play for. The visitors are also in strong form having won seven of their last nine matches in all competitions. Wasps hammered Harlequins 41-10 in the home game and are fancied to cover a seven-point handicap to set up a potentially decisive clash against Ulster next week.

Northampton v Clermont
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Arena

Northampton's European hopes have long gone after defeats in their four Champions Cup matches. But the Saints go into this match lifted after ending their miserable seven-match losing run with a late 22-19 home win over Gloucester last weekend. The result could have a significant effect on the rest of the season and ensured an immediate impact under new technical coaching consultant Alan Gaffney.

Opponents Clermont look nailed on for a knockout spot after winning all four of their matches in the competition this season. This included a 24-7 home win over Northampton and a stunning 46-14 victory at Saracens. But the Saints could be a different proposition after last week's victory and it may have given them the belief to keep this close. Clermont have lost their last two matches including a 58-6 hammering at Racing 92 and the hosts could be worth backing with a five-point handicap advantage.

Ospreys v Saracens
Saturday, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 3

With Clermont dominating the pool, the Ospreys and Saracens meet in a game which is likely to decide the runner-up. The Men in Black need to win with the Welsh side holding a two-point advantage over them and the pressure will be on defending champions Saracens. The visitors have overcome a seven-match losing run with three successive wins culminating in a comprehensive 38-15 win at Wasps last weekend.

The Ospreys started the season extremely poorly but have improved significantly with four wins in their last five games. Saracens have the edge in recent meetings after winning all four previous clashes in Europe. Sarries have momentum on their side, with key players such as Maro Itoje returning from injury, which suggests the holders can claim the win they need. But there were only two points in it, during their 36-34 win in October, so a narrow away success could be on the cards.

Castres v Leicester
Sunday, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 2

Two sides struggling to qualify for the next round meet in France this weekend with Castres taking on Leicester. The hosts are third in the pool but are four points adrift of second-placed Racing with the Tigers a further point behind. Only two big wins are likely to give either team any hope although realistically this could be beyond them already. Castres, fourth in the Top 14, have a strong home record, losing just once this season.

Leicester have been unconvincing recently and only ended a six-match losing run with a scrappy 19-15 home win over Premiership bottom side London Irish last weekend. The Tigers have been beaten in their last four away matches and will do well to avoid another defeat in France. With a strong record at Stade Pierre-Fabre, Castres are fancied to come out on top and can cover a seven-point handicap.


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