Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Leicester Tigers v Racing Metro | Sunday 24 April | The City Ground | 16:15
Our second semi-final will see a ferocious Leicester outfit take on a Dan Carter-led Racing Metro side at the City Ground in Leicester. Both teams come into this one off the back of impressive showings in the quarter-finals with Racing seeing off defending champions Toulon while Leicester hammered Stade Francais 41-13.
With both teams boasting some world-class rugby players among their ranks, this promises to be an absolute cracker of a game.
To Win (80 Mins)
Leicester 11/10 | Draw 35/2 | Racing 8/10
The men from the east midlands have endured a bit of a topsy-turvy start to their domestic campaign but were brilliant in Europe where they managed to rack up five victories on their way to topping pool four of the Champions Cup.
While they had a bit of a poor start to their Aviva Premiership campaign, they have turned a corner since talisman Manu Tuilangi returned to the fold in mid-January. The abrasive centres' return has coincided with a slew of victories for the Tigers; the most recent of which saw them down Northampton by six points last Saturday.
Tuilangi isn’t the only Leicester back who’s is enjoying a rich vein of form. His partner, former Wallaby, Peter Betham seems to have acclimitised to the league in recent weeks. The outside centre looked a bit suspect on defense earlier on in the campaign but now seems a man reborn.
Leicester's back three of Matthew Tait, Telusa Veainu, and Vereniki Goneva are a potent force on the counter. Their link up play could spark what would be a historic win for the Tigers this weekend.
It is not just the Leicester skinnies who’ve made an impact, however. The Tigers tight five – who strangely struggled to dominate the set piece during the early phase of their domestic campaign – have been immaculate in recent weeks.
While their front row of Argentine anchor Marcos Ayerza, energetic hooker Harry Thacker, and hardman Dale Cole, are all brilliant scrummagers, it’s their work in the loose that’s really impressed. All three men have terrific work rates which will help negate the sluggishness of Leicester’s backrow.
Flanker Mike Fitzgerald has predominately played as a lock for his previous clubs, and while number eight Opeti Fonua is an absolute beast, he’s definitely not winning any hundred meter dashes with that 134-kilogram frame of his.
So it’s going to be up to Lachlan McCaffrey and the likes of Henry Thacker and Manu Tuilagi to ensure Leicester get a foothold at the breakdown. This is going to be easier said than done however, as Stade possess a brilliant loose trio.
While I wouldn’t go as far as to call Racing a one man team, they are heavily reliant on Dan Carter. The All Black legend has been in sensational form for his new club during his debut season, and is the main reason for Stade’s lofty position in the French Top 14 as well as their journey to the semi-finals of the Champions Cup.
Carter managed to grab himself 45 points during the pool phase of the Champions Cup. While he isn’t the tournament’s most prolific point scorer - that honour goes to Saracens’s Owen Farrell – he has still slotted 12 conversions and sevens penalties.
Carter’s supporting cast are going to have to come to the party as they did against Toulon in the quarter-finals. Wingers Joe Rokocoko and Juan Imhoff enjoyed stellar outings in the aforementioned quarter. Imhoff actually opened the scoring for Stade in that game while Rokocoko was a beast on defense.
Forgotten man of South African rugby, Johan Goosen also put in an admirable performance against Toulon. The former Free State Cheetah’s ability to knock over long range goal kicks could prove vital for Stade this weekend.
As I mentioned earlier, Stade have a very capable loose trio. Former All Black Chris Masoe the epitome of physicality, while Wenceslas Lauret and Bernard le Roux are capable of turning the breakdown in to a bun fight.
Verdict: Racing 8/10
Racing have enjoyed an excellent run to the semi-finals that's seen them win four out of their six group stage fixtures, and knock defending champions Toulon out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage. I don’t think Racing are done yet either and I suspect, when all is said and done, this weekend that Racing will have booked there place alongside Saracens in the final.
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