European Champions Cup semi-final preview: Can Saracens stop Wasps' Christian Wade? Will Dan Carter roll back the years at Leicester?

 
Joe Hall
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Worcester Warriors v Wasps - Aviva Premiership
Christian Wade scored a record-equalling six tries against Worcester last weekend (Source: Getty)

English rugby's rapid renaissance following last year's World Cup humiliation continues this weekend with three Premiership Rugby teams in the European Champions Cup semi-finals.

Saracens host Wasps at the Madejski Stadium in Reading on Saturday before Leicester play Racing 92 of France a day later in Nottingham. Here's what to look out for:

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Best of British as Saracens meet Wasps

Premiership Rugby's top two teams, an imperious Saracens and a resurgent Wasps, go head-to-head for a place in the Lyon final.

Everywhere you look in the statistics for domestic or European competition, these two sides tend come out on top.

Saracens are the highest point scorers in Europe while Wasps top the list in England. Respectively the boast of Europe's best goal kicker, Owen Farell, against its toughest tackler, George Smith.

Of the 15 players nominated for European player of the year, seven are drawn from these two teams.The oinly shame is that they meet before the final.

Christian Wade: Try machine

Christian Wade is second-highest try scorer in Premiership Rugby this season, behind Exeter No8 Thomas Waldrom, after a thrilling, record-equalling six-try display against Worcester last weekend.

Possessed of electric pace, motor-speed footwork and incisive finishing, Wade can be an unstoppable try-scoring machine on his day yet has only one full England cap to his name and was hardly discussed as a possibility for England’s Six Nations squad.

Doubts surround his defensive reliability, but should he produce another devastating attacking display in a high-profile European Cup semi-final, Eddie Jones may finally have to take notice.

The English response to Jones' vibes

England head coach Jones has warned that some members of his triumphant Six Nations squad are in danger of missing the cut for this summer's Australia tour after having "played quite poorly" for their clubs since.

England players Joe Launchbury, James Haskell, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, George Kruis, Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje could all go head-to-head this weekend and will be spurred on to produce a performance by Jones's remarks.

If they do not, there is no shortage of players on the fringes of the squad who could in the queue with a good game including Wade, Nathan Hughes, Will Fraser and Joe Simpson.

The back row breakdown battle


Nathan Hughes will soon be eligible to play for England (Source: Getty)

England No8 Billy Vunipola will face off against pretender to his throne Nathan Hughes, the Fiji-born Wasps No8 who has been in scintillating form this season and becomes eligible for England later this year.

Helping their respective sides get on the front foot at the breakdown will be key in determining which side gets to assert themselves on the game; Wasps need plenty of ball in hand to stop Saracens' suffocating kicking game coming out on top.

Still the best in the world? Dan Carter comes to Leicester

In the other semi-final between Leicester Tigers and Racing 92, the focus will be on two-time world player of the year Dan Carter who will add a sprinkle of stardust to proceedings at Nottingham Forest's City Ground.

Far from whiling away his post-All Blacks in Paris, Carter seems determined to retain his status as the best fly-half in the world and has already earned a new Adidas endorsement deal and a European player of the year award nomination for his efforts. Stop Carter, and Leicester will have one foot in the final.

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