European Champions Cup Semi Final Review

The 2016-17 European Champions Cup has reached the semi-final stage and with just four teams left in the competition, each team will feel they have one hand on the trophy. However, there is one team which is currently standing head and shoulders above the others and that’s Saracens.

The North London club comprehensively defeated Glasgow in the quarter-final 38-13 but even the scoreline does not tell the story of the match and the way Saracens took control. The home team scored four tries in the match and could easily have doubled that total, with last gasp tackling denying Chris Ashton on more than one occasion.

To put the result into perspective, the same Glasgow team defeated Leicester 43-0 at Welford Road only a few months ago but did not stand any chance against the might of this Saracens team. The only remaining English club in the tournament will now face Munster in the semi-final, with the match played at the Aviva Stadium.

A packed Irish crowd will obviously favour Munster, who have reached their 12th European Champions Cup semi-final. Munster outscored Toulouse by four tries to one in their quarter-final at Thomond Park. The match was close at half-time with the score 13-9 to the home team but with the wind at their backs in the second half, Munster came out and pulled away from their opponents, with a try from the outstanding CJ Stander helping to build momentum.

Wasps travelled to the Aviva Stadium to play Leinster in the quarter-final but suffered the same fate as the English national team a few weeks earlier, losing 32-17. Ireland’s defence was superb as they ended England’s Grand Slam dream but in contrast, it was the Leinster attack which shined in this game. Leinster full-back, Joey Carbery caught the eye and was at the heart of many good Leinster attacking moves, two of which ended in a try.

Leinster will travel to the Matmut Stadium de Gerland for their semi-final match against Clermont Auvergne. The French club defeated their fellow countrymen, Toulon, 29-9 in a match which ended with few surprises. Neither club have been particularly good on the eye this season and there was nothing exciting about the way the match developed. The weather will be used as an excuse but it was Clermont who found the extra gear to pull away in the second half, including a very good late try to seal the win.

Looking at the four remaining teams and the cream has risen to the top in the European Champions Cup this season. Given the way they cruised through their match against Glasgow, Saracens are quite rightly the team to beat. Leinster will fancy their chances of defeating Clermont, despite the match being in France, especially after their victory over Aviva Premiership table-toppers, Wasps.

Players to look out for in the semi-finals include Munster’s CJ Stander, who made the difference in their quarter-final win. The South African born back-row has superb handling ability, which has made him a regular in Ireland’s team and a hugely dangerous player in knockout rugby. Other players who have the potential to drive their team to final include Maro Itoje and Chris Ashton of Saracens, the consistent Leinster youngster Garry Ringrose and the physicality and acceleration of Clermont’s Noa Nakaitaci.

The 2016-17 European Champions Cup semi-finals are going to be two great games, in front of capacity crowds. Who is going to step up to the plate and carry their team through to the final in Murrayfield?