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French Top 14

English, Irish and French sides dominate European Challenge and Champions Cup semi-finals.

We preview the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup semi-finals.

Ihaia West - Challenge and Champions Cup SF
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Following what has been a Covid-disrupted season, the European Challenge and Champions Cup head into their respective semi-finals.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Champions Cup

Toulouse v Bordeaux Begles

Saturday 1 May
Stade Ernest-Wallon
16:00

To Win (80 Mins)

Toulouse 1/8
Draw 28/1
Bordeaux 54/10

There’s a French derby up first with reigning Top 14 champions Toulon taking on a solid Bordeaux Begles outfit.

The two side shave registered some extremely impressive results since the Champions Cup entered its play-off phase with Toulouse beating Munster 33-40 following that up with a 12-21 win over domestic rivals Clermont. While Bordeaux beat Gallagher Premiership leaders Bristol 36-17 and then edged compatriots Racing 24-21.

In terms of their most recent results, Toulouse hammered Racing Metro in a Top 14 fixture this past weekend while Bordeaux enjoyed a domestic bye week.

Head-to-head results between the sides favour Toulouse as this weekend’s hosts have won four of the last five encounters between the duo with their most recent win coming last December where they claimed a 45-23 victory at this weekend’s venue.

Verdict: Toulouse 1/8

This should be an absolute cracker of a game with both sides possessing very talented squads. My money is on Toulouse claiming the spoils in an end to end fixture.

La Rochelle v Leinster

Sunday 2 May
Stade Marcel Delfrandre
16:00

To Win (80 Mins)

La Rochelle 43/20
Draw 21/1
Leinster 4/10

Next up we’ve got La Rochelle taking on reigning PRO14 champions Leinster.

The hosts have enjoyed a fantastic time of it on both the domestic front – they currently reside in second place – and in Europe where they beat Gloucester 16-27 and the Sale Sharks 45-21. They also head into this one off the back of a solid Top 14 victory that saw them beat Lyon 38-23.

Leinster had a far easy time of it in the Champions Cup Round of 32 as they were awarded a default win over Toulon due to the French club experiencing COVID cases. They then produced a very good performance with the Irish side knocking out reigning champions the Exter Chiefs with a 22-34 victory at Sandy Park.

Unlike their opponents, they head into this one off the back of a defeat as they went down 3-27 to Provincial rivals Munster in the opening round of the Guinness PRO Rainbow Cup. That said, they fielded a much-changed XV against Munster’s full-strength side- something to keep in mind. 

Verdict: La Rochelle 43/20

While Leinster are a fantastic side – easily one of the top 3 in Europe – I reckon they are going to struggle against a La Rochelle team who are in red-hot form at the minute. 

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Challenge Cup

Leicester Tigers v Ulster

Friday 30 April
Welford Road
21:00

To Win (80 Mins)

Leicester 7/4
Draw 20/1
Ulster 49/100

We kick things off with an Anglo Irish affair as the Gallagher Premiership’s Leicester Tigers welcome PRO14 side Ulster to Welford Road on Friday evening.

The hosts have enjoyed a decent enough domestic campaign and currently reside in eighth spot on the Gallagher Premiership table having won eight of their 17 games. They’ve had a fairly easy time of it in the Challenge Cup as they comfortably beat Irish side Connacht 48-32 and then registered a 39-15 win over the Newcastle Falcons in the quarter-finals.

Ulster have just started a new tournament as they got their Guinness Rainbow Cup campaign off to a less-than-ideal start this past weekend as they went down 24-26 to Connacht on home soil. They will be looking to continue their solid run of Challenge Cup knock-out results which has seen them beat Harlequins 21-57 and Northampton 27-35.

Verdict: Leicester 7/4

I fancy an upset here. Ulster have been really good on English soil thus far but I just feel they may well come unstuck against a fired-up Leicester Tigers outfit.

Bath v Montpellier

Saturday 1 May
The Recreation Ground
16:00

To Win (80 Mins)

Bath 1/3
Draw 20/1
Montpellier 5/2

Our next fixture is an Anglo-French affair that pits Gallagher Premiership side Bath up against French Top 14 outfit Montpellier.

The hosts head into this one as heavy favourites with the bookmakers, which is no surprise considering the contrasting seasons the two outfits have had with Bath flying high in the English Premiership and Montpellier still not fully clear of the relegation battle.

Both outfits were in solid touch during the last two Challenge Cup knock-out rounds with Bath beating Zebre 27-35 and London Irish 26-13, whilst Montpellier beat Glasgow 26-21 and Treviso 31-25.

In terms of their most recent outings, Bath head into this one off the back of a surprise 39-29 Gallagher Premiership defeat to Wasps, while Montpellier’s Top 14 fixture was called off.

Verdict Bath 1/3

While Montpellier have come into some decent form near the tailend of the season, they’re a side known for struggling away from France. As such, I’m all over Bath taking the spoils here.

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