Champions Cup / Challenge Cup Preview

This weekend, all four provinces go into quarter final action with Connacht facing Sale Sharks on Friday evening in the Challenge Cup quarter finals. This will be a great chance for Connacht to get into a European Semi Final and go one better than a few years ago when Toulon beat them in Galway to get through to take on Cardiff Blues in the 2014 Challenge Cup Final.

There first choice half back pairing of Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty are in good form having returned from Ireland duty with a spring in there step. That will not be enough to win them this game that is away from home. Men like Ultan Dillane, James Cannon and Gavin Thornbury will be important because it will take a huge effort from the forwards to see Connacht home in this fixture.

Looking at their performances in Europe, they seem to have reserved their best performances until the European weeks this year. This game won’t be easy although they have already gone to Manchester and let’s hope that experience will stand to them on Friday evening. For both teams they will know by winning this competition that they will get a ticket to the Champions Cup for season 2019/2020.

Andy Friend has done a good job and has Connacht playing really well and although some performances in the Pro 14 have left a lot to be desired, the Challenge Cup campaign has brought some real quality rugby to the fore. This weekend will be a real test of how far Andy Friend has brought this squad this season. A win in Manchester will show how far that they have gone this year. Connacht to win by 3….

Munster take on familiar foes Edinburgh this Saturday at 12.45pm in BT Murrayfield. It is the opening quarter final in this year’s Champions Cup and will hopefully see the return of many Irish Internationals to the Munster 23 in their quest to reach yet another European Semi Final. They have reached this stage in the last few season’s only to be well beaten in those Semi Finals by Saracens and Racing 92 last year. Many of the players have said they don’t want to experience another loss at this stage in 2019 after those two defeats.

Time now for Munster to take that faithful step and hopefully having Joey Carbery back fit will help them to find a way past a gritty Edinburgh side that will have a vocal home support behind them but Munster will be able to count on the red army who will travel in big numbers this weekend in the hope that there side will get past Edinburgh and make another Semi Final that could yet be in the Aviva Stadium depending on the result of the 2nd quarter final at 3.15 between Saracens and Glasgow Warriors. If Glasgow win that tie then Munster will have home advantage in Dublin if they beat Edinburgh.

Edinburgh haven’t been here where this Munster team has been here in the last two years and will hope that experience will help them defeat Edinburgh who won against Leinster at home on Friday evening, good preparation for the upcoming challenge vs Munster.

Munster to win by between 3 and 5 points.

Leinster and Ulster head to the Aviva Stadium this weekend to renew hostilities after the 2012 Heineken Cup Final, Ulster will want to redress that balance and although they won’t be many players on the Ulster side, they will be hell bent on winning this one and with John Cooney and Billy Burns at half back they will fancy taking on the duo of Luke Mc Grath and Jonathan Sexton.

It’s another mini Irish audition with the World Cup in firm focus. All road will lead to the European Semi Finals and with what happened during the 6 Nations, it’s great to see all four Irish sides in action this coming weekend. We will have least 1 side in the quarter finals across both competitions but let’s dream for a second and imagine that 3 out of the 4 sides will get through although one will lose out between Ulster and Leinster…. Roll on 7.45pm on Friday for Connacht to kick start the Quarter Finals weekend…

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