Investec Champions Cup last 16 preview

Investec Champions Cup last 16 preview


Romain Ntamack is set to get his first start for Toulouse this season as the top seeds join 15 other hopefuls in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup.

The five-time winners host Racing 92 – just one place below them in the Top 14 table – in the last of eight unpredictable and exciting games to be played this weekend.

The round begins on Friday night, with a game between the only two sides in the last 16 who have not already faced each other earlier this season.


Harlequins will be hoping they can end their long wait for a first-ever win in a knockout stage tie in Europe’s top tier at 8pm, but face a stern test from Glasgow Warriors who have won eight of their last nine games in all competitions and sit second in the United Rugby Championship (URC).

The visitors welcome back Sione Tuipulotu for a first appearance since January, one of 11 Scotland internationals in their line-up as Quins bring in Irne Herbst and Will Collier to their starting XV.

Former Glasgow boss Danny Wilson, now head coach at Quins, will need his side to show an improved defensive performance after conceding 88 points in their last two games (Picture: Getty Images)


Bulls host Lyon at 12:30pm in the first of many rematches, with the South African side looking to avenge Le Lou’s 29-28 win earlier this season as the pair meet for the fourth time in only two seasons.

That is followed by another rematch, with Stormers meeting reigning champions La Rochelle at DHL Stadium, the same venue where they edged them out 21-20 in round two of the pool stage.

Of the dozen matches so far played in South Africa in the Champions Cup since their clubs joined last season, all have been won by the home side. Either that record, or La Rochelle’s ambition of a third-straight crown, will be dashed at 3pm.

At the same time, Exeter Chiefs take on Bath in a game which visiting coach Johann van Graan admitted was massively important to the 1998 winners in The Rugby Paper last Sunday.

2020 winners Exeter will want to bounce back from a disappointing defeat to Sale Sharks last Saturday, and continue their impressive home form in the tournament that has seen them past Munster and Glasgow.

Saracens suffered a record European defeat when they last went to Bordeaux-Begles, and will be eager to avoid a similar hammering to the 55-15 scoreline they were handed in January. Having shown improved form in the Premiership Saracens are up to third, and should they progress could set up a quarter-final with Harlequins – who they have themselves thrashed twice this season.

The day ends with Leinster taking on Leicester Tigers in knockout action for the third straight season, and this will be the fourth meeting between the two sides in that time period after Leinster dismantled the 2022 Premiership winners 27-10 at Welford Road in January.

The tournament favourites will be back at the Aviva Stadium at 8pm looking to start a third-straight charge towards the final, with Leicester given odds of 9/1 to produce what would be an all-time great European upset.

Garry Ringrose, in possession, scored a double as Leinster thrashed visitors Leicester 55-24 in the quarter-finals at the same venue last season (Picture: Getty Images)


Premiership leaders Northampton Saints will look to follow up their stunning win at Thomond Park earlier in the tournament with another triumph against Munster at 12:30pm.

Saints have won 11 of their last 12 games in all competitions, but will be wary of the reigning URC winners, who have won every game since Fin Smith’s late drop goal took Northampton to victory in January.

The round of action ends with Toulouse hosting Racing 92 at 3:00pm, with the Parisians facing a tall order to overturn their superstar-laden opponents.

After a temporary slump in the league, and just one win in Europe, Racing might have felt they needed a miracle at the start of March, but three consecutive league wins have helped them find their feet.

The half-back pairing of Antoine Dupont and Ntamack will take some stopping though, with the pair set to be named together in a starting XV for the first time since the latter was stretchered off in a World Cup warm-up match against Scotland in August.

Ntamack played his first match in nearly seven months as he came off the bench last week, and will be keen to have a big impact in this all-French contest at Stadium de Toulouse (Picture: Alamy)

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