The season is nearly at an end and most players are looking forward to a holiday before the dreaded pre-season training. Unless you’re Andy Goode and you tactically retire, only to make a startling comeback two weeks into the next season. But don’t cry. The season isn’t over yet as we still have the the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup to watch between Saracens and Wasps and Leicester and Racing 92.
Before we look at the teams and their prospects for getting into the final, this Champions Cup has already brought about great results for British rugby. This Champions Cup semi-final sees three English teams enter into the fray, so there will be an English team in the final. In order to get to this stage, Leicester Tigers had to beat Stade de Francais; they did, and by a margin rarely seen when an English team faces a French one – 41 – 13. So on to the previews. Leicester vs Racing 92 is going to be an interesting and potentially electric affair. After their staggering victory over Stade, Leicester have silenced their critics and proven that they are on rampaging form. However, Racing 92 surprised everyone and beat three times reigning champions Toulon in the last 10 minutes. We have a three time champion versus a team who annihilated the formidable Stade.
However, after a hard game, Racing have lost the reliable boot of Dan Carter to a leg injury, but have the boots of Machenaud and Delon Armitage to fall back on. Even so, losing a player like Carter is going to effect any team let alone one who scraped through to the semi’s on the strength of their penalty kicking. Saracens vs Wasps is also going to be a fascinating spectacle. Last week saw Wasps snatch victory from the claws of Exeter Chiefs. In the first half Wasps were trailing 14-6 and this gap widened in the second half until the final 15 minutes when Wasps came back firing with two tries from Charles Piutau take the total up to 23- 24 where Jimmy Gopperth converted the last try to take the game.
Wasps continually pounded the Chiefs’ defence to the extent that sheer fatigue as well as clever tactics gave Wasps the game and denied Exeter their first semi-final in the European Championships. Saracens on the other hand, have been and continue (even with a win) to be sub-par, with many rightly saying it was the notable absences of North, Hartley, Wood and Brookes that gave Saracens the win. Like Exeter, fatigue plagued Northampton to the extent that Saracens could stage a comeback in the form of Owen Farrell who kicked 19 points and tries from the duo of Chris Ashton and Chris Wyles.
In this contest, it seems that Wasps will have the upper hand but as both teams won from opponent fitness issues and/or notable absences then this game might literally come down to who is better on the day. We have Racing 92 vs Leicester Tigers, a classic underdog vs favourite contest which has all the credentials be a nail biting affair that produces a plethora of fast paced and skilled rugby. On the other we have the two, ‘should we really be here teams’, Saracens and Wasps who just made it through the semi’s, although Saracens were helped by notable absences in the Saints side. Whatever happens the end of the season is surely going to go out with a bang.
Image courtesy of Mik_P.