Five things to watch this weekend

It's another busy weekend of rugby action coming up with the semi-finals in both the PRO12 and the Premiership, Super Rugby well underway and the final leg of the World Sevens Series in London. [more]

Five things to watch this weekend

It’s another busy weekend of rugby action coming up with the semi-finals in both the PRO12 and the Premiership, Super Rugby well underway and the final leg of the World Sevens Series in London.

Can the away semi-final curse be broken in the PRO12?

Ulster and Glasgow Warriors are probably sick of hearing it, but as we prepare for the last four clashes in the PRO12, we’re still awaiting a first victorious road team at this stage of the competition.

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Last year both Ulster and the Ospreys came desperately close, so will this season be the one where someone finally does it?

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Ulster will have the first crack, as they take on Leinster on Friday night in Dublin, but Leo Cullen’s side have an exceptional home record.

They have also had the wood on Ulster in knock-out games in previous seasons, including in a European final, but Les Kiss’ side arrive in great form.

Paddy Jackson will be relishing the chance to go up against Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton while there should be some blockbuster battles in the pack.

The other semi-final pits the league’s surprise package, Connacht, against defending champions Glasgow Warriors.

Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki could be key for the home side, offering a hugely talented midfield pairing, while Glasgow will look to the likes of Stuart Hogg for inspiration from full-back.
Euro kings look to back up Lyon crown

Saracens claimed a maiden European Champions Cup title last weekend with victory over Racing 92, and they now have to get right back on it to keep their double hopes alive.

Their Premiership semi-final against Leicester should be an intriguing battle, with the Tigers looking to prove they can down the table toppers.

Leicester’s chances will come down to taking their chances, with the centre pairing of Manu Tuilagi and Peter Betham crucial, along with the ever-dangerous Telusa Veainu.

For Saracens, an unchanged team from their Lyon success will have to cope with the mental comedown from last weekend, but if there is one man who knows how to do it, Mark McCall would seem to be the one.

Fresh from being named Premiership director of rugby of the season, the former Ireland centre will have his team raring to go on Saturday.
New boys Exeter dreaming big

Exeter Chiefs have enjoyed a landmark season, reaching the knockout stages of the Champions Cup for the first time, while also finishing in the Premiership’s top four.

A maiden semi-final will be played against Wasps at Sandy Park, and the teams should know each other well by now.

Exeter won both games in the regular season, but in the aforementioned Champions Cup quarter-final, a late Jimmy Gopperth conversion denied the Devon side.

They’ve sprung something of a surprise with their team selection, Thomas Waldrom having to settle for a place on the bench but there is plenty of firepower waiting in the wings for the Chiefs if it gets tight.

Wasps will be hoping for one more match out of star duo George Smith and Charles Piutau before they depart for Suntory Sungoliath and Ulster respectively next season.

Chiefs out for redemption

After going down to the Highlanders two weeks ago, the Chiefs have had to stew while they wait for another crack.

According to coach Dave Rennie a few players were given a message after that loss, and the Rebels might be the team who pay the price this weekend.

As ever co-captains Sam Cane and Aaron Cruden will be key as the Chiefs try to keep pace with the Crusaders in the race for a home quarter-final by finishing top.

Despite the expected rain, this should be quite a spectacle with plenty of All Black talent on show.
The Hayne Plane lands in London

The Paris leg of the World Rugby Sevens series was a roaring success, with Samoa stunning Fiji in the final.
This weekend Ben Ryan has called in an unexpected recruit, former NRL superstar Jarryd Hayne in a late bid to make the Olympics.

After a one-year stint playing American Football, Hayne has switched his attentions to sevens in the hope of heading to Rio.

He will have a big role to play with the likes of Leone Nakarawa and Josua Tuisova back at their clubs after last week.

One other player worth watching will be Racing 92’s Juan Imhoff, a XVs superstar with a skillset that could be made for the shorter format of the game.

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