It’s Big Cup time again! Quarter finals week, which our experts can confidentially reveal means that there are four of them. Here’s what’s going to happen and when…
Not the not the Heinie Quarter Finals
QF2 Sat 12:45 Edinburgh (4) v (5) Munster
TV: BT Sport 3/Channel 4 (UK), Virgin Media (IRE), beIN Sports (FRA)
Venue: BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (FRA)
Seeding theory has it that this should be the tightest game of the four quarter-finals, as both teams won their pool, Edinburgh only getting the home game by virtue of finishing fourth rather than fifth. They haven’t played each other in the Big Cup since 2014, when Munster won comfortably, and if European pedigree is anything to go by, Munster (certified Heineken Highnesses) shouldn’t have too much difficulty in brushing aside Edinburgh on one of the latter’s infrequent trips beyond the pool stage. But pedigree isn’t everything, and form outside the cup has to be taken into account.
Sadly for Edinburgh, Munster are doing better there too: second in their conference with 13 wins out of 18 to Edinburgh’s fourth and nine—and when they played each other in the league in November, Munster won 44-14 at Thomond Park. Still, Edinburgh are at home, it’s a cup game, anything can happen….
Prediction: …but it probably won’t. Munster, comfortably enough.
QF1 Sat 15:15 Saracens (1) v (8) Glasgow
TV: BT Sport (UK), beIN Sports (FRA)
Venue: Allianz Park, Barnet
Referee: Nigel Owens (WAL)
Saracens won the pool stage easily, lacking only two bonus points to have obtained the perfect 30. They’re multiple winners of the big cup, and they lead Glasow eight games to one in this competition head-to-heads. Glasgow lost two of their pool games, and they were both to Saracens, which isn’t helpful—it’s a good job Cardiff and Lyon were more forgiving otherwise the Weegies might have found it harder to get the final qualifying spot.
On the face of it, history suggests this should be a relatively straightforward win for Sarries, no? No. Partly because it’s only a month since another English team learnt the error of taking too much for granted, and partly because Glasgow are a very good side capable of beating anyone on the day. They’re top of their PRO14 conference (13 wins from 18), and have won their last four games on the bounce, scoring 30+ points each time. They’ll relish the chance to give young Owen something else to be cross about—ask their flanker, Ryan Wilson. Furthermore, Saracens have shown worrying signs of being a bit flaky recently—they lost to Baff a couple of weeks ago, for goodness’ sake.
Prediction: At home and with their proven nous when it comes to cup rugby, Saracens should still win, but it won’t be by much.
QF4 Sat 17:45 Leinster (2) v (7) Ulster
TV: BT Sport (UK), beIN Sports (FRA)
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Referee: Romain Poite (FRA)
This is looking a bit of an uphill struggle for Ulster. They’re away to reigning Champions, Leinster—never an easy prospect at the best of times. The two teams have only played each other once before in the cup, and that was the 2012 final, when the Dubliners won 42-14. The teams are in the same conference in the PRO14 and Ulster are second to Leinster, but they’re 18 points behind and have won four fewer games. Head to head, they’ve played once so far in the Infinity, on 5th January, when Leinster won 40-7 at home.
Now, admittedly, Irish rugby’s been through a bit of a bad patch in the last couple of months, so Leinster may be feeling a little fragile and Ulster can…. Oh. Still, it’s a cup game and Ulster will have unimpeachable Underdog rights and therefore are guaranteed to put in a classic ferocious and underdogged performance, hanging on at the last for a famous win.
Prediction: A narrow Ulster win, because wouldn’t it be great?
QF3 Sun 15:15 Racing 92 (3) v (5) Toulouse
TV: BT Sport (UK), beIN Sports/FR2 (FRA)
Venue: Paris La Defense Arena, Paris
Referee: Luke Pearce (ENG)
Last year’s (narrow) losing finalists against once-mighty-but-perhaps-fading Toulouse. They both lost a game in the pool stages (and both in the fourth week), but Racing were better at getting bonus points (six to one). They’ve never played each other in the Big Cup it seems; in the Top 14, Toulouse are currently leading the table, with 76 points (16 wins out of 20), while Racing are in fourth on 56 points with 12 wins. Head to head this year, Racing beat Toulouse at home (37-10) and lost away (29-34).
Prediction: Not too much to go on and it all depends which deciding factor turns up: league form or home advantage. Am, stram, gram, pic et pic et colégram, bour et bour et ratatam, am, stram, gram… Toulouse to win by one or more points.
Finally, a quick recap of the rules:
If the ties are level, they play extra time of 10 mins each way. If still level, then the winner is whoever has scored most tries in the game, then a penalty kick-off.
The winner of Quarter Final 1 gets the home semi-final against the winner of QF2; the winner of QF3 is at home to the winner of QF4.
All broadcast matches
Free to air channels are in bold.
Not Brexit Day 29th March
06:35 Hurricanes v Crusaders, SR (Sky Sports Arena)
08:45 Waratahs v Sunwolves, SR (Sky Sports Action)
19:10 Cardiff v Bridgend, Principality Premiership (BBC 2 Wales)
19:45 Sale v Connacht, Little Cup (BT Sport 2)
Saturday 30th March
06:35 Blues v Stormers, SR (Sky Sports Action)
08:45 Reds v Rebels, SR (Sky Sports Action)
12:45 Edinburgh v Munster, Big Cup (BT Sport 3, Channel 4)
13:05 Sharks v Bulls, SR (Sky Sports Arena)
15:15 Saracens v Glasgow, Big Cup (BT Sport 3)
17:45 Leinster v Ulster, Big Cup (BT Sport 3)
20:15 Worcester v Harlequins, Little Cup (BT Sport 3)
21:40 Los Jaguares v Chiefs, SR (Sky Sports Red Button)
Sunday 31st March
12:45 La Rochelle v Bristol Bears, Little Cup (BT Sport 3)
15:15 Racing 92 v Toulouse, Big Cup (BT Sport 3)
18:00 Clermont v Northampton, Little Cup (BT Sport 3)
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