Last Weekend’s European rugby quarter-finals were a brilliant watch, and I was enthralled by the Champions Cup penalty shootout win for Toulouse against Munster, but this weekend I expect the performance levels to increase further.
This is the pinnacle of the club game and the teams are just one win away from the finals later this month in Marseille.
In the Champions Cup, Leinster host Toulouse tomorrow in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, which will have seen more than 120,000 fans pass through it across three weeks. Munster hosted Toulouse there last week and next week Leinster entertain Munster. Such high numbers are testament to the quality of Irish support, if anything.
This is the glamour tie of the semi-finals. Toulouse won their fifth title last year and Leinster are now bidding to equal that tally. I think the winner of this match will win the tournament.
Champions Toulouse limped past Munster but Leinster are another level above, so it’s going to be tough for them. The French are a quality outfit but we saw last week against Leicester how Leinster can blow you away early on.
Though it may not be as attractive to the British viewer, La Rochelle’s clash with Racing 92 on Sunday is an intriguing one. Both sides have the power game needed to compete in the French leagues but also the skill to breeze past opponents.
Playing in Lens offers no advantage for either side – would-be home team Racing have had to move because of a hip-hop concert at their stadium.
La Rochelle have been on the up now for a few years and are within touching distance of a second consecutive Champions Cup final.
Head coach Ronan O’Gara used to be employed by the Parisian outfit and he, too, has come on leaps and bounds.
That said, in my eyes this match will decide who finishes second in the competition.
It’s a Challenge
In the Challenge Cup it’s a huge day for Saracens tomorrow. They’re bidding for a double this season and standing between them and a place in the final is Toulon.
The French side struggled against London Irish but rode the clover-clad storm to clinch the victory.
Saracens are serial winners, though, who are hungry to win in Europe and domestically. And they can. They’ll likely make the final to face either Lyon or Wasps.
Lyon have the brute strength across the park, including in their Fijian freak Josua Tuisova.
If it was in Coventry I would back Wasps but I’m not sure they’ll deal with the French power over in Lyon.
European Champions Cup rugby is special, and this is our last chance to enjoy pre-final knockout action before South African sides join next season.
It will be an exciting addition, but the United Rugby Championship needs to rethink their qualification.
I know the winner of each regional conference qualifies for Europe, but this season that means the eighth-placed Scottish side – either Edinburgh or Glasgow – will miss out to a lesser-placed Welsh side who topped their poor conference.
It’s a dire time for rugby in Wales and being handed a place in rugby’s top competition without merit stinks.
World Cup wonder
It is great to see that England have been handed the Women’s Rugby World Cup for 2025. The game in England is growing and it’s beginning to ooze the quality we’ve known it’s had for years.
Two record crowds in the Six Nations were great, sure, but even better was the other sides starting to change their approach.
Some are offering full contracts, others part-time. Some are looking into changes and others are growing their investment.
England are favourites to be champions in this year’s showpiece event which will be held in New Zealand.
I cannot wait to see 82,000 fans pack out Twickenham in just a few years time.
Rugby has had a lot of negative headlines recently when it comes to discipline, concussion and others.
It’s nice, then to have a positive narrative to inspire my daughters is great.
Roll on 2025.
Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development and behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.