The Semi-Finals of the European Champions Cup, it’s safe to say, have had somewhat of a French and Gaelic feel about them in recent years but not this year. Following heroics from Exeter in their final group game, romping to a 33-17 victory over the Ospreys, themselves and Northampton secured a Quarter-Final spot to see a total of five English clubs in the knockout stages. The draw guaranteed that there would be an English contingent in the Grand Final on 14th May, with four English clubs being picked on the same side of the knockout-tree, and as we entered this weekend’s Semi-Final matches there was a possibility of an all-English Final with Saracens playing Wasps and Leicester playing Racing 92.
Saracens vs. London Wasps Saturday 23rd April:
Result – 24-17 win for Saracens
Star Player – Maro Itoje – As fierce and menacing as ever. The young lock dominated the line out, a source of great frustration for Wasps throughout the match, and was a nuisance for them in the loose with his defensive speed and counter-rucking. Racing Metro have to contain him if they’re to establish their set piece and get a foothold in the match.
Favourite – Saracens – Despite the enormity of the 23-64 defeat they suffered at the Allianz Arena to Wasps back in February, Saracens looked back to their best as they came into this weekend top of the Aviva Premiership with three wins in their last three matches and were fully expected to win.
Overview – Saracens headed into the clash with Wasps as firm favourites but suffered a nervous start, conceding a try to Dan Robson within 73 seconds after a fantastic piece of counter attacking play from Christian Wade. Owen Farrell’s wayward boot added to Saracen’s woes but after a period of real dominance they made the breakthrough with a try from Michael Rhodes following an athletic charge down on the 28th minute that he was able to regather and score. Saracens deservedly went into half-time with an 8-7 lead after a penalty from Farrell on the stroke of half-time, but having been so inefficient at converting pressure into points left Wasps very much in the reckoning. Farrell’s kicking boot appeared to return at the start of the second half as he moved Saracens 7 points clear with two long-range penalties and looking good for their lead, but after he was shown a yellow card following an illegal tackle on Dan Robson, Wasps were given a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately for Wasps that was about all it was, hope. Simon McIntyre’s reckless sin-bin for kicking out at Maro Itoje saw Wasps down to 14 men, and with a penalty try following not long after for Saracens, ensured the match was slipping away from Dai Young’s men. Ashley Johnson’s try on 75th minute, however, made for an interesting finale but a handling error saw Wasps fall shy of a Saracens side that on the whole deserved to win and make the final. Full time 24-17 to Saracens.
Leicester Tigers vs. Racing 92 Sunday 24th April:
Result – 19-16 win for Racing 92.
Star Player – Maxime Machenaud – Arguably Dan Carter was just as influential on the match but Machenaud’s sniping try after only three minutes set the tone for a match Leicester were left chasing throughout. One of the few French players that stood out in the Six Nations and his partnership with Carter looks menacing.
Favourite – Leicester Tigers – In the Aviva Premiership, similarly to Racing 92 in the Top 14, they have suffered indifferent form, sitting in the final playoff spot with two matches left to play. In Europe, however, they topped a tough group notching five wins out of a possible six and following their insurmountable 41-13 win over Stade Francais in the Quarter-Final, welcomed the challenge Racing 92 posed.
Overview – Maxime Machenaud’s 3rd minute try following a break from the ageless Joe Rokocoko was indicative of how the match would unfold for Leicester who were left chasing from the off. Despite the early excitement, however, the rest of the half saw a calamity of errors from both teams, including a number of penalties that were capitalised on by Dan Carter and Freddie Burns respectively (Owen Williams following Burns’ injury on 34th minute). Half-time 13-6. The second half proceeded in similar fashion for both teams that saw indiscipline, predominantly from Leicester, punished leaving the match at 19-9 to Racing 92 with seven minutes to go. A try from Leicester through Telusa Veainu in the 79th minute added some much-needed excitement to the match but another penalty conceded by Leicester sealed their fate. Full time 19-16 to Racing 92. The match itself won’t be going down into the archives of the European Cup as one for the ages but nonetheless it made for moments of great viewing.
Who do you think will win the Final of the European Champions Cup on 14th May, Saracens or Racing 92?