After the conclusion of the Six Nations, rugby fans turn their attention to the European Rugby Champions Cup this weekend.
However, unlike last season when Pro12 sides didn’t feature at the quarter-final stage, this weekend will see Munster, Leinster and the Glasgow Warriors strut their stuff in the final eight of the competition. Although the Scottish side would need to beat Saracens in order to progress to the last four, it would not be unreasonable to expect both Irish provinces to advance.
Such a scenario would see the much-derided league earn greater credibility and allow the Pro12 to restore some of the confidence it lost after Europe’s leading club competition evolved from the Heineken Cup.
Despite not possessing the resources available to the likes of Toulon, Clermont Auvergne, Toulouse, Saracens or Wasps, each of the Pro12’s three quarterfinalists have squads packed with international talent. Indeed, the Warriors supply the bulk of the Scottish squad, while Munster and Leinster provide Joe Schmidt with a substantial proportion of Ireland’s starting XV.
This essentially means that fans will get the chance to watch the better part of both the Irish and Scottish national teams once again line out this weekend, even though the Six Nations concluded earlier this month.
Nevertheless, Saracens have an intimidating squad at their disposal and Wasps have signed some of rugby’s biggest names in a bid to make their mark on the European game. Likewise, while Toulon might not possess the same calibre of players that lifted three consecutive titles, they nonetheless remain a threat to Clermont on Sunday.
Toulouse too are able to field players such as Richie Gray, Yoann Maestri, Thierry Dusautoir, Gaël Fickou and Yoann Huget. Nevertheless, a combined Pro12 side made up of players contesting this weekend’s quarterfinals is more than a match for equivalent Top 14 and Premiership selections.
|Pro12||Aviva Premiership||Top 14|
|1. Jack McGrath||1. Mako Vunipola||1. Vincent Debaty|
|2. Fraser Brown||2. Jamie George||2. Guilhem Guirado|
|3. Tadhg Furlong||3. Vincent Koch||3. Davit Zirakashvili|
|4. Donnacha Ryan||4. Joe Launchbury||4. Richie Gray|
|5. Jonny Gray||5. Maro Itoje||5. Yoann Maestri|
|6. Peter O’Mahony||6. Schalk Burger||6. Mamuka Gorgodze|
|7. Sean O'Brien||7. James Haskell||7. Liam Gill|
|8. CJ Stander||8. Billy Vunipola||8. Duane Vermeulen|
|9. Conor Murray||9. Dan Robson||9. Morgan Parra|
|10. Johnny Sexton||10. Danny Cipriani||10. Camille Lopez|
|11. Tommy Seymour||11. Chris Ashton||11. Nick Abendanon|
|12. Robbie Henshaw||12. Owen Farrell||12. Matt Giteau|
|13. Alex Dunbar||13. Kurtley Beale||13. Gaël Fickou|
|14. Adam Byrne||14. Christian Wade||14. Yoann Huget|
|15. Stuart Hogg||15. Alex Goode||15. Leigh Halfpenny|
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena