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Dublin: 3°C Thursday 4 March 2021

More than just Leinster: 6 reasons you should be watching A LOT of rugby this weekend

It’s gonna be another great weekend of rugby, we can just feel it.

YEAH, YEAH YEAH. Leinster v Bath is set to be a humdinger, but what if it’s not? The rain could tumble down and drag the game into the mire. We could be treated to a Leinster of 2009 vintage rather than 2011. Bath could be content to rumble into territory and back George Ford to out-kick Ian Madigan… what then?

Well, I’ll tell you what: then we’ll have three more massive Champions Cup quarter-finals to look forward to, but first…

1. Connacht!

Obviously, the Challenge Cup is a tournament not many people care a great deal about. But that hasn’t stopped Connacht from going out to put on a show in every game they play.

Robbie Henshaw Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Tomorrow night (19.45, SkySports), Pat Lam’s young swashbucklers are in Gloucester to try and add another scalp to their European collection. The Pro12 may be, by a distance, the Westerners’ priority, but they’ve been this season’s entertainers in two competitions and with Robbie Henshaw bedding back into his provincial systems, there’s more fun-to-watch rugby afoot.

2. Is the Champagne rugby still flowing?

Sitting in the RDS last Friday night it was impossible not to be pleased with the state of rugby. Six days after the Six Nations produced a finale for the ages, Leinster and Glasgow shared eight tries and 68 points. In Limerick, Munster left it late, but still put 42 points on Connacht. Saracens put up achieved the same tally against Harlequins while both Ospreys and Northampton crossed the 50 mark.

Niko Matawalu Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Saturday 21 April could prove to be a watershed moment for European rugby, the day when players proved they were capable of sustaining thrilling, attacking rugby throughout.

Or maybe it was a flash in the pan and we’ll be back to attritional, knockout rugby from here on in in the Champions Cup. Either way, it’s bloody entertaining.

3. Don’t forget about J-Sex

Easter Sunday lunch (12.45, BT Sport) looks set to be a, erm… cracker as Ireland’s finest living out-halves join forces in an effort to take down the evil empire of Saracens.

Ronan O'Gara and Jonathan Sexton Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Jonathan Sexton helped guide Racing Metro to an away win over Bayonne after he was done celebrating a Six Nations title, but will be hoping Paris in the springtime offers more opportunities to showcase his wares with the ball in hand.

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4. Clermont

It’s going on seven years since Clermont lost a European tie at Stade Marcel Michelin and, love or loath the Massif Central club, big days at that ground are one of the game’s most stunning spectacles.

b99b9139-d544-42e7-9f7b-d352a110f0ac Source: LeTroyen

After progressing from the pool stage at Munster’s expense, the Top14 side again find themselves in the position of being the most impressive team in the competition. Yet the question remains, will they ever make it over the finish line?

Northampton will represent bullish opponents on Saturday (17.45 SkySports), but even with a question mark over Camille Lopez’ fitness you sense the game will come down to whether Clermont click.

5. Will Saracens’ long odyssey continue?

This time last year we thought Mark McCall’s men were on their way out of the competition after being drawn away to an in-form Ulster. Then that whole Jared Payne incident happened.

Rugby Union - Aviva Premiership - Saracens v Harlequins - Wembley Stadium Source: Paul Harding

The Premiership’s second-placed side are aiming for their third consecutive European semi-final. That’s verging on Munster levels of being frustratingly close to the holy grail. To reach that promised land the ‘wolf pack’ will have to do it the hard way – on the road in France in both the quarter and semi-final.

Though playing in Paris, Racing Metro are perhaps the least daunting of the four quarter-final hosts so Sarries – apparently never short on self belief – will relish the challenge of taking down the Irish and Welsh powered club.

6. Is there any stopping the champions?

Toulon round off the weekend at home to Wasps (Sunday 15.15). But Coventry’s newest club don’t stand a chance against the mega rich side aiming to go back-to-back-to-back, do they?

Mathieu Bastareaud arrives for the match Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

A brief history of Leinster’s European rivalry with Bath

All Black Charles Piutau to join Ulster next year

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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