Semi-Finals take Centre Stage across Europe
It’s the business end of the domestic season with the Guinness Pro14 and Aviva Premiership Semi-Finals the rugby talking point this weekend.
There are four mouth-watering games, starting in Scotstoun as Glasgow welcome Scarlets on Friday night. On Saturday, Saracens will host Wasps in a titanic game at Allianz Park. Next up is an all Irish derby in the second Guinness PRO14 Semi-Final as Leinster and Munster do battle in the RDS in Dublin while Exeter will hope to reach the final once again, with in-form Newcastle standing in their way.
Glasgow Warriors v Scarlets, Friday 19:45
Scarlets will certainly have to defend their Guinness PRO14 title the hard way, with an away Semi-Final in Glasgow.
The current Champions knew early this week they would have to do without the services of 2013 and 2017 British & Irish Lion Leigh Halfpenny who tore his hamstring. However, the men in red are still littered with international stars with the likes of Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans, Gareth Davies, Ken Owens, Aaron Shingler and John Barclay all starting. The home-side, who will be very aware of the attacking threat that the men from across the severn possess, have plenty of fire power themselves. Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and DTH van der Merwe combine for a potent back three that will need to be kept in check.
Finn Russell, who played for the British & Irish Lions last summer in New Zealand, starts at fly-half in what will be his final home game before he moves to France in the summer. Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson, Tim Swinson and Jonny Gray make up an all Scottish tight five. Expect fireworks in Glasgow!
Saracens v Wasps, Saturday 12:30
This has all the ingredients to be a cracking game with both sides desperate to reach the Final in Twickenham on May 26th.
Jackson Wray will make his 200th appearance for Saracens as he starts at open side alongside Billy Vunipola and Nick Isiekwe in the back-row. Saracens have named a very strong tight five with British & Irish Lions George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola joined by Springbok prop Vincent Koch. Owen Farrell starts at fly-half with Alex Lozowski and Brad Barritt in the centres.
Danny Cipriani will hope to bring Wasps to the Final one last time before his move to Gloucester in the summer. The away sides biggest threat is surely their backline with the likes of Willie le Roux, Christian Wade, Juan de Jongh, Jimmy Gopperth, and Elliot Daly dangerous from anywhere on the pitch.
Leinster v Munster, Saturday 15:15
Fresh from their Champion Cup heroics, Leinster face rivals Munster at the RDS. Head Coach Leo Cullen has made several changes from Bilbao in a bid to freshen up his side. Stalwarts Jonathan Sexton and Robbie Henshaw are both out due to injury with Jack McGrath, Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan all drafted into the starting XV. Club legend Isa Nacewa will captain the side for the final time at the RDS, with the Final – should they get there – taking place at the Aviva Stadium.
Munster have selected a strong side with Lions Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Conor Murray and Keith Earls all starting. Simon Zebo will play his final game against the men in blue before his move to France in the summer and will be looking to go out on a high.
Munster coach Johann van Graan is confident Munster know what to expect against the now four-time European champions.
He said: “This is a club that believes in themselves. We cannot control the opposition. In this case it is Leinster and while we give them all the credit that is due, the players believe it themselves.”
“I think that’s one of the main words that we used in our previews, ‘intelligent’.
“They’re a team that don’t seem to focus too much on emotion and that’s a sign of a really good team.”
Exeter v Newcastle Falcons, Saturday 15:30
Exeter and Newcastle will know who will be waiting for them in the Aviva Premiership Final come kick off at Sandy Park.
The home side have plenty of internationals in their ranks including Lachie Turner, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Nic White, and Sam Simmonds. Head Coach Rob Baxter is expecting a tough game. “We have had our usual look at Newcastle. They have obviously had a good season. To get into the top four is an achievement in itself. We are very aware of how hard you have to work to get in the top four, but what we have really focused on is ourselves.”
Newcastle have plenty of threats with Vereniki Goneva, who has been in sublime form all season starting on the wing and Josh Matavesi at inside cente. The men in black will be counting on all the experience of Toby Flood who will deputise from fly-half.