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Two mouthwatering Euro ‘semis’ this week-end

(Tyler Bleyendaal, a man for the big occasion. Pic: Joe Buckley)
By Frank Quinn
THE European Champions Cup has thrown up some memorable games this season and this week-end’s semi-final pairings are sure to provide high octane excitement: Munster, two times winners v Saracens, the cup holders at the Aviva and Clermont, twice runners-up, v Leinster, three times winners at Lyon.
So the historical cream comes to the top at the business end of the 22nd year of this competition.
There is a possible new champion if Clermont win the semi and the final. All four teams won at the week-end to give themselves a good solid send -off platform
The semis are played in the home country, not the home club, but it is a distinct advantage because of the attraction to home fans and probably full stadiums of around 50,000 at each game. Being well matched, two great games are expected in the one off cup game.
Let’s look at the game in the Aviva Stadium, Saturday 22nd April at 3.15 pm, Munster v Saracens.
The holders, Saracens enjoy a recent super record in the competition, quarter final in 2013, beaten finalist in 2014, beaten semi-finalist in 2015 and the winner in 2016, with Irishman Mark McColl as Director of rugby. To achieve this record they had to win at home and on the road so a full house support for Munster should not frighten them, make them nervous, or interfere with their normal style of play.
In the current season of the Aviva Premiership, they lie comfortably in third place for the play-offs, just two points behind Exeter with two games to play. They played 20, won 15 , drew 1 and lost 4 games in a long season. Like any team at this end of the competition they have a good sprinkling of internationals from a number of countries throughout the match 23, in addition to Owen Farrell (England), one of the most consistent kickers in the game. McColl will not announce his team until near the event, and they will be well prepared. They easily disposed of Glasgow in the quarter final
Munster, two wins in 2006 and 2008, has re-established itself as serious contenders in 2017 under Rassie Erasmus, Head Coach, and they will no doubt draw on the untimely death of the very popular Anthony Foley for added inspiration. Not that they will need much more encouragement in this semi-final.
Munster stand second in the Guinness PRO12 with a guaranteed home advantage at Thomond Park for the semi final (19-21 May), In this season they played 20 games, won 17, and lost 3, with 2 games to go they enjoy a 9 point cushion over third place Scarlets. They scored an impressive 518 points in 20 games. They have qualified for next year’s European Cup
In last week’s win over Ulster, it looks as if Erasmus was looking for a winning combination, playing all the internationals, except Murray and Stander, and Andrew Conway was in the replacements. Tyler Bleyendaal is proving a very successful kicker at out half, and Conor Murray is on the injured list – but hoping to make this very important game. CJ should also be back.
I think that this is a very difficult game for Munster, reluctant as I am to bet against them, I think Saracens will win
The Betting is: Munster 5/4 and Saracens 4/6 for the game. In the other semi Clermont are 4/7 and Leinster 6/4
Outright betting is: Saracens 15/8, Clermont 2/1, Munster 3/1 and Leinster 9/2
From the betting from Paddy Power, we can deduct that they expect an English/French final of Saracens and Clermont
At the Matmut Stadium de Gerland Lyon at 4 pm (5pm Irish) Sunday, ASM Clermont Auvergne V. Leinster
Clermont currently lie second, has played 24 games in the Top 14 – Won 13, lost 8, drew 3, Scored 747 points the highest in the Top 14. there are two rounds to go and they will comfortably qualify for the play-offs for the Cup and they have now qualified for the European Cup next year.
Finalists in 2013 and 2015, they may feel their name is on the cup but they have not proved to be winners yet, their history is that they are the bridesmaids. They are a very formidable side and “at home” in Lyon and start favourites @ 4/7.
They have their fair share of internationals in the French squad for the 6N and will mean business to try to win the European Cup in 2017. In the quarter final they beat triple champions Toulon 29-9.
Leinster will turn up with a freshly rotated squad, having rested the internationals for the win over Connacht last week, it will be made up of 16 from the Irish National Squad, 9 of the Leinster players were in the match winning squad which beat England on the 18th March and finished second in the 6N. They beat Wasps 32-17 in the quarter final at the Aviva.
Leinster top the GuinnessPro12, played 20, won 17, lost 3, they have scored 630 points and are assured of a home Semi-final at the RDS on the weekend of 19-21 May. Like Munster a big double awaits both teams in the two competitions.
With the quality players, including Sexton to come in for this big game I really do fancy Leinster’s chances here against the odds on the basis of an inconsistent Clermont.

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