We are right at the sharp end of the Champion’s Cup, with the two semi-finals set to be played this weekend in Ireland and France. While it is disappointing that none of the South African squads made it out of the quarters, this should still be a great weekend of high-quality rugby.
Here is a look at the semi-final matches with odds from BetXchange.
Leinster VS Toulouse – Aviva Stadium, Dublim
When: Saturday, April 29
With all due respect to the second semi-final on Sunday, this is the match that everyone is waiting for. Toulouse boasts the best rugby player on the planet – and perhaps one day one of the greatest ever – in scrum half Antoine Dupont. Leinster counters with a rugby machine that is as well-oiled and slick as any in the world, and they have made winning this trophy a priority after not claiming it since the end of the 2017-18 season.
The key to this game is how Leinster does against the physicality of Toulouse in the tight exchanges. For all that Toulouse does with the ball in hand and their quality strike players, their sheer size will give Leinster problems. The Irish side has the bulk of the Ireland pack, but players like Caelen Doris and Josh van der Flier are not massive by the standards of top-end rugby.
Toulouse has massive units – led by the gigantic Emmanuel Meafou – which presents a problem for Leinster. They will want to slow down the speed of the Toulouse ball, but if the French side is accurate in their trucking and getting over the gainline using their size in their carries, then Leinster will be in trouble.
Playing in the friendly confines of the Aviva helps, but losing James Lowe along with the influential Johnny Sexton is another issue. It goes against the trend, but I like Toulouse to win this outright.
La Rochelle VS Exeter – Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
When: Sunday, April 30
Given the salary cap disparity between English clubs and those in the rest of Europe – specifically the French – it is amazing that Exeter has made it to this point in the comp. This season, they have underperformed in the Premiership, seemingly saving their best for European nights.
They will have to beat a French side with a player who almost guaranteed Champions Cup success as he has moved around Europe. Giant Aussie lock Will Skeleton has won three of the last six Champions Cups and is looking to make his fourth final in five years here.
La Rochelle has already beaten three English teams to get to this point, defeating Northampton and Gloucester before taking down Sacarcens in the quarter-final stage.
Exeter will see this as their last dance, given the number of club stalwarts leaving at the end of the season. That will give them an initial boost, but I think that La Rochelle will have far too much size and physicality as the game progresses to set up an all-French Champions Cup final in 2023.