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The best club rugby weekend of the year is upon us - Here's who could decide it

Can Jonathan Davies finally bring his international form to his club side?

THE CLUB RUGBY weekend of the year is almost upon us and we can hardly wait. The excitement is dulled a little by a mediocre enough Challenge Cup quarter-final line-up now that teams no longer drop down from the marquee tournament.

But the slate of Champions Cup games is pretty tasty and we’ve taken a look at a few key men who we can’t wait to watch.

Here is a reminder of the quarter-final ties:

Leinster v Bath – 15.15

Clermont v Northampton – 17.45

Racing Metro v Saracens – 12.45

Toulon v Wasps – 15.15

Josua Tuisova – Toulon

tuisova

The 21-year-old wing has been in scintillating form for the French galacticos in recent weeks, leaving the Toulouse rearguard for dead twice in last weekend’s defeat. Tuisova has actually been with the team since July 2013 but with so much competition for places on the wing, he has had to wait a bit.

Wasps score a lot of points, but their defence is leaky enough so Sunday’s game could be ideal for him.

Matt Giteau – Toulon

Rugby Union - Heineken Cup - Pool 6 - Cardiff Blues v Toulon - Cardiff Arms Park Source: PA WIRE

We all know what Gits can do but given that Freddie Michalak is starting at ten for Toulon this weekend, Bernard Laporte will be thrilled to have the Australian in his matchday squad for the first time since November.

At the start of the season, Toulon seemed to get even better with Giteau running the show as opposed to Wilkinson. Nobody is doubting how good Sir Jonny was for the French side, but the former Wallaby’s play-making abilities seemed to bring out the best in his outside backs.

Michalak can be quite erratic – especially from the tee – so even if Giteau only gives Toulon 30 minutes at the Stade Felix Mayol, it should be enough to see his side into the next round.

Kyle Eastmond – Bath

Rugby Union - Aviva Premiership - Wasps v Bath Rugby - Adams Park Source: Nigel French

Eastmond got injured at exactly the wrong time – had he stayed fit it is likely that he would have partnered club-mate Jonathan Joseph in the English midfield during the Six Nations. It is funny how these things work out. Now people are almost foaming at the mouth in praise of Joseph but over the course of the season, Eastmond has been just as good. It will be interesting to see how Ian Madigan and Ben Te’o cope with the Bath duo tomorrow.

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Ben Te’o – Leinster

teo

Bath coach Mike Ford talked a lot about playing league convert Sam Burgess at centre earlier in the week before ultimately naming him on the bench. He likely wouldn’t have lined up across from Te’o anyway but was the Kiwi included to potentially combat Slammin’ Sam?

Te’o has shown flashes of greatness like the above running line but Gordon D’Arcy probably would have represented a safer call for Matt O’Connor. How Te’o performs opposite Jospeh will have a big bearing on tomorrow’s outcome.

Teddy Thomas – Racing Metro

Ireland Rugby France Source: Associated Press

After running all over Australia in the autumn and Northampton in Racing’s final Champions Cup pool game, Thomas’ Six Nations was prematurely ended by a Mike Ross snag tackle. He hadn’t looked as potent against Scotland the week before either and he needs a big performance to wipe away the memory of getting reeled in by a 35-year-old tighthead prop.

Jonathan Davies – Clermont

Jonathan Davies and Sam Tuitupou Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Davies’ first year in France has been the classic case of Welsh homesickness we have seen over the last few years. Gethin Jenkins and Dan Lydiate are brilliant in the red jersey but couldn’t carry their form into the Top 14. Will Davies be any different?

The Welshman has been left out of the side for some big games but Franck Azema has given him a vote of confidence by picking him over club legend Aurélien Rougerie to face Northampton and he needs a big performance.

Chris Ashton – Saracens

Source: BT Sport/YouTube

Chris Ashton is quietly having one of the best season’s of his career. His support play – always one of his best features – has been radar-like this year and he has scored a lot of tries by appearing on his team-mates shoulder at the perfect time.

Another good European performance against Racing will force himself further into Stuart Lancaster’s plans. At what stage will the England coach just have to ignore Ashton’s antics and be forced to pick him?

Alex Corbisiero – Northampton

Rugby Union - Aviva Premiership - London Wasps v Northampton Rugby - Adams Park Source: David Davies

The Saints are entering the coliseum that is the Stade Marcel Michelin and will need a five-star performance from their pack. We can expect Courtney Lawes and Samu Manoa to deliver big shifts but how loosehead prop Corbisiero performs will be huge. He is one of the best scrummagers in the world – his monstrous performances in the Lions series helped swing proceedings – and it will be interesting to see if the injuries he has had this season curtail him in any way.

Who do you think will have a big impact on the outcome this weekend?

Originally published at 19.12 on 3 April.

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