European Rugby Champions Cup Preview, Betting & Odds

The Red Army squaring up to the Wolf Pack sounds rather like a scene from TV blockbuster Game of Thrones.

Even HBO’s finest would be hard pressed to write a script as potentially bruising as what will unfold in Dublin this weekend, when Munster cross swords with Saracens.

It’s been nine years since the two clubs last fought it out in a European Cup semi-final.

The Red Army vanquished Sarries 18-16 en route to lifting the trophy for a second time, but absence has not made the heart grow fonder and Saturday’s Anglo-Irish showdown at the Aviva will be nothing if not a war of attrition.

The contrasting trajectories of the two clubs since that 2008 meeting has seen Munster struggle to reach the same heady heights on the European stage, while the Wolf Pack have emerged as top dogs in England.

Munster’s Champions Cup pedigree is peerless.

This weekend will be the province’s 12th appearance in the last four and 158th game in total in the competition – both tournament records – while they’ve won five of their seven previous clashes against their English opponents.

Form however favours Sarries. The defending European champions are unbeaten in 16 consecutive appearances in the tournament and Mark McCall’s side also holds the whip hand in recent clashes with the Irish province, winning two of the last three.

This makes Sarries favourites to send Munster packing on Saturday at 17/25 while Rassie Erasmus’ boys are 23/20 to dethrone the reigning champions. An improbable draw in Dublin and the agony of extra time is a long shot at 20/1.

Sunday’s second semi-final sends Leinster over to France to tackle Clermont Auvergne in a repeat of the clubs’ last four meetings in 2012.

The Irishmen won that one 19-15 on their way to a third title but the odds suggest this year it will be champagne rather than Guinness flowing freely after the final whistle.

Clermont’s recent form has been patchy at best with three victories in their last six but they underlined the attacking threat they posed last weekend with a 59-18 thumping of Grenoble – they’re the top scorers in the Top 14 this season by a distance – and have appeared in two of the last four finals, although they did lose both.

The Vulcans certainly know how to get the job done at the last four stage.

Leinster’s quest for a fourth European crown, which would equal Toulouse’s record haul, looks in rude health.

Leo Cullen’s team were last beaten in any competitive fixture on Boxing Day, a run of 12 games, and having convincingly dispatched Premiership leaders Wasps in the last eight, the province will not be short of confidence.

The Frenchmen on home soil however are still rated the more likely to book their place in the final at 5/9 while Leinster are 11/8 to be on their way to Edinburgh and Murrayfield next month.

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