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Rugby Union: European Champions Cup - Munster & Harlequins Fancied to Fight Back


Exeter are the toughest of opponents and share many of the characteristics of their top coach, Rob Baxter, who, as a player, was as hard as they come.

And that ruthlessness and never-say-die attitude will be needed in abundance on Saturday afternoon at Thomond Park(15.00) where the Chiefs have the formidable challenge of beating Munster if they are to reach the last eight.

Exeter won the first leg by only 13-8 at Sandy Park, but now they not only have to confront one of Ireland’s strongest sides, but also have to cope with a huge crowd in Limerick.

In the Pool stages, Munster won all their four games, and the champions in 2006 and then in 2008, fear no one at home where they’ll be a crowd of more than 25,000.

As Exeter’s Irish opposition are in familiar surroundings and as Munster should be capable of overtaking a narrow lead of only five points, you’d put your money on them going through.

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Having said that Munster’s display at Sandy Park was below their best, but it’s unlikely they’ll be as ordinary this Saturday.

With so much to play for, watch out for a match winning contribution from Ireland scrum half Conor Murray, and in the Exeter team Scotland’s full back, Stuart Hogg, scorer of one of the Chiefs’ tries in the first leg, is a threat that Munster need to deal with.

Can Harlequins Produce Another Thrilling Fight Back at The Stoop?

Arguably the most attacking and entertaining team in the Premiership, Harlequins are the recovery specialists and never accept that they’re going to lose despite what the scoreboard may suggest.

In the first game in Montpellier, who are currently the best club side in France and justifiably lead the Top 14, Quins fought back so impressively from being 34-0 down that although their French opponents lead 40-26, the London team certainly have given themselves the opportunity to cause a major shock.

One thing’s for sure at The Stoop, kick off 12.30, is that former England scrum half, Danny Care, will be leading the Quins’ full-on assault, and he’ll be supported enthusiastically by England’s number eight, Alex Dombrandt, and fly half Marcus Smith.

In any knock-out game, winning from 14 points behind is hard enough, but when you’ve to do it against top class opponents, who’ve lost only six Top 14 games this season, it’s harder still.

However, punters should be prepared to gamble on Harlequins winning, and you can predict strong individual performances from Dombrandt, Smith and South African centre Andre Esterhuizen.

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Montpellier scored five tries in the first leg, and were genuinely shocked by the power of the recovery delivered by Quins in the second half in which they broke through the French defence four times to set up what could be an amazing return game at The Stoop.