With just hours until the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup, all eyes are on whether anybody has what it takes to stop Exeter Chiefs. This Saturday sees two thrilling semi-finals taking place. Racing 92 are the narrow favourites to win a home victory against Saracens. This will be followed by Exeter Chiefs hosting an in-form Toulouse team.
There is little doubting that Exeter Chiefs are going to win the Premiership this season. It’s also the first time that Exeter have managed to reach the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup. This came after Exeter put in a convincing performance to beat Northampton 38-15. Northampton were suffering from a fair share of injury concerns, but they put in a battling performance to hold Exeter to a slender 14-10 lead at half time. But in the end Exeter were simply too powerful with excellent tries from the likes of Jack Nowell and Jacques Vermeulen.
All of this mean that Exeter had finally made the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup after six previously failed attempts. Exeter fans will still be feeling the pain when they narrowly missed out in 2016 thanks to Jimmy Gopperth’s last minute conversion for Wasps.
Hopes are high that Exeter will be able to sweep aside Toulouse on Saturday. But this French team will be difficult to beat. Toulouse made light work of opponents Gloucester, Montpellier and Connacht in Pool 5 and claimed six wins out of six games. As such many of the award-winning bookmakers featured at betting resources will give more favourable odds for Toulouse to win than many rugby fans would have expected. This is especially true as the French team destroyed Ulster 36-8 in the quarter-finals. With top wingers like Cheslin Kolbe in great form, and the expertise of Thomas Ramos, it’s clear that this is going to be no easy game for Exeter.
But the thought of getting to play Saracens in the European Champions Cup final will certainly cause Exeter to raise their game. Saracens are the current holders of the title after their triumph over Leinster in the 2019 final. Interestingly Saracens powered past Leinster again in this year’s quarter final.
This thrilling game saw Saracens emerging triumphant with a 25-17 win despite a very impressive fightback from Leinster. Saracens were winning the game 22-3 at half-time thanks to tries from the likes of Alex Goode. But Leinster never gave up, and the game was brought to a nerve-wracking conclusion with scores from Jordan Larmour and Andrew Porter. But with Alex Goode’s last minute penalty, Saracens managed to book their semi-final appearance against Racing 92.
Racing 92 beat their fellow French team Clermont Auvergne in their quarter final appearance. With impressive tries from the likes of Francois Trinh-Doc and Louis Dupichot, Racing 92 never really looked like losing. Plus any team with the likes of Scotland’s Finn Russell in the line-up is clearly going to take some beating. Saracens will also have to watch out for the Irish international Simon Zebo who looks to have successfully overcome his recent foot injury.
Much has been made of the fact that Racing 92 are bankrolled by the billionaire Jacky Lorenzetti, but the French team could have what it takes to embarrass Saracens. Racing 92 managed to make it to the final of the 2018 European Champions Cup, but lost out to Leinster.
While Racing 92 and Saracens both pose a big threat to Exeter’s cup ambitions, it is ultimately the team’s trophy to lose. The club have been in phenomenal form all season, but they have had a notorious reputation for losing their nerve in big games. The fact that Exeter lost Premiership finals to Saracens in 2016, 2018 and 2019 doesn’t bode well. Plus it’s worth remembering that Exeter also lost their only prior Champions League knockout match against Wasps in the last minute in 2016. But whatever happens, it’s sure to be a fascinating day of rugby.