Top of the English Premiership with 17 wins from 20 games, Leicester Tigers are in cracking form and will be approaching their Heineken Cup game against Clermont Auvergne in South West France optimistically. (3.15pm KO, Sunday)
The French club’s form in the top 14 has been mixed with 11 wins and 11 defeats, but they prepared satisfactorily for the Tigers’ visit by winning 41-10 against Brive at the weekend.
When it comes to European form, again it’s been rather disappointing…only one victory, two defeats and a draw. In sharp contrast, Leicester enjoyed four wins in four matches before reaching the last 16.
Clearly, Clermont Auvergne will be hard to beat at home, but Tigers, European Champions in 2001 and 2002 and semi-finalists in 2007 and 2009, will rightly be hopeful of flying back with a victory which can then be substantiated in the return game at Welford Road a week later.
With winger Chris Ashton on fire and fly half George Ford kicking accurately, the Tigers are worth backing to achieve a triumph in France against opponents who are mid-table in the top 14.
Tigers’ coach, Steve Borthwick, has transformed his club and it’s not beyond them to do the double..winning both the Heineken Cup and the Premiership.
Harlequins in France (1pm, Sunday)
Harlequins,the defending Premiership champions and well placed to make the play-offs, are also in France.
Quins, third in the Premiership with 13 wins out of 20 games and heading for the top four play-offs in June, travel to Montpellier, a coastal city near the Mediterranean in South West France.
This promises to be one of the best matches of this round. Montpellier are currently the best league team in France. They lead the top 14 on 68 points, five points in front of Bordeaux-Begles, having won 14 of their 22 games and losing six.
Quins will do well to return home to Twickenham with a victory, but promise to be highly competitive, and with home advantage in the next game, they could well go through to the last eight at the expense of Montpellier.
The French club go into the first leg boosted by a 23-13 win at Perpignan, but Quins will have noticed that their opposition’s form in the Heineken Cup has not matched what Montpellier have been achieving in the Top 14.
In Europe, before this round, Montpellier won two and lost two, and with Quins’ England players back in the side, such as fly half Marcus Smith and forward Alex Dombrandt, it’s perfectly possible that they could grab a shock-win in France.
With an excellent 41-14 victory against London Irish behind them in which they scored seven tries, Quins are full of self-belief and believe they are equipped to win the European Champions Cup for the first time.
Exeter Chiefs v Munster (5.30pm, Saturday)
Two former Heineken Cup champions clash at Sandy Park where Exeter chiefs and Munster do battle.
This contest between two ferocious packs of forwards will be a power struggle between heavyweights who’ve won the European Champions Cup in previous campaigns.
Exeter in 2020 and Munster back in 2006 and then 2008 achieved their success with the talented sets of forwards and so it continues.
Exeter may well be favourites to win at home in the first leg, but in the second at Thomond Park in Limerick, you’d expect Munster to score enough points to go through.
Having said that, Exeter will have analysed the video of Munster’s 34-19 defeat by Leinster at Thomond Park and will arrive there knowing that the Irish giants cane be beaten at home.
The Chiefs’ forwards like Jacques Vermeulen and Patrick Schickerling both scored in the recent win by 42-22 against Bath at Sandy Park, and with fly half Sam Simmonds and full back Stuart Hogg now at their creative best, Exeter have the potential to be successful against Munster who’ll in all probability have Irish internationals Conor Murray, Joe Carberry and Peter O’Mahony in their impressive squad.
* Rugby odds correct at the time of writing. All odds subject to change.