Heineken Cup 2014: Predictions for This Weekend's Semi-Finals

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

LIMERICK, IRELAND - APRIL 05: JJ Hanrahan of Munster and Schalk Ferreira of Toulouse during the Heineken Cup Quarter Final match between Munster and Toulouse at Thomond Park on April 5, 2014 in Limerick, Ireland. (Photo by Patrick Bolger/Getty Images)
Patrick Bolger/Getty Images

In what will be the last incarnation of the Heineken Cup semi-finals before the Rugby Champions Cup takes over next season, Saracens, Clermont Auvergne, Toulon and Munster line up as this season's final four.

The French outfits head into this weekend's fixtures as favourites to emerge triumphant and once again match up in what would be a second rendition of last season's final.

However, as we all know, the odds don't always speak the truth. Read on for some predictions ahead of this coming weekend's titanic encounters, some more difficult to envision than others.

 

Saracens vs. Clermont, Twickenham

Saracens Strike First Blood

CLERMONT-FERRAND, FRANCE - APRIL 05:  Clermont Auvergne supporters celebrate during the Heineken Cup quarter final match between Clermont Auvergne and Leicester Tigers at Stade Marcel Michelin on April 5, 2014 in Clermont-Ferrand, France.  (Photo by David
David Rogers/Getty Images

Vern Cotter has rested some of his key players in Top 14 competition over recent weeks in order to boast as fit a squad as possible for his European trials, but the side has ever looked strong in Heineken Cup competition.

Clermont have scored the first try in their last two outings in the tournament, against Leicester Tigers and Racing Metro, with Harlequins the last side able to show more initiative.

Fans can rest assured that the match is in safe officiating hands, too, after Nigel Owens confirmed that he'll be in charge of the game:

However, it will be another English side, Saracens, who cross the whitewash first this week, having scored the first try in all of their European outings so far this season and in fine defensive form against Ulster in the quarters. 

 

Saracens To Win By Five

BARNET, ENGLAND - APRIL 13: David Strettle of Saracens in action during the Aviva Premiership match between Saracens and Northampton Saints at Allianz Park on April 13, 2014 in Barnet, England.  (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)
Pete Norton/Getty Images

Saracens' group plight and the fact that they finished as high runners-up behind Toulouse in their pool gave a deceiving impression of the squad's strength.

But it's in this crucial, title-deciding part of the season that the Premiership team have shown themselves to be most dangerous in previous campaigns, especially when at full strength.

One major boost for the side is the confirmed fitness of fly-half Owen Farrell, per the Daily Mail's Chris Foy:

Ten points clear at the top of their domestic league, Saracens can afford to commit their full arsenal to the cause this Saturday, and while Clermont will undoubtedly take the risk and do the same, home advantage may also prove decisive against a French outfit which sometimes struggles in foreign territory.

 

Toulon vs. Munster, Stade Velodrome

High-Scoring Display Sees 45+ Points Haul

LIMERICK, IRELAND - APRIL 05: Damien Varley and Ian Keatley of Munster celebrate victory after the Heineken Cup Quarter Final match between Munster and Toulouse at Thomond Park on April 5, 2014 in Limerick, Ireland. (Photo by Patrick Bolger/Getty Images)
Patrick Bolger/Getty Images

Despite their nigh unstoppable form this season, Toulon actually held one of the worse defensive records coming out of the pool phase, conceding 104 points in total, the worst of any group winner by some 27 points.

Ironically enough, the second-worst defence of any group winner was Munster, conceding 77 points after their first six matches, which makes for an intriguing and potentially open battle on Sunday.

Paul Williams of Rugby World pointed out that Toulon made their way past Leinster in their quarter-final without even bringing a certain South African speedster off the bench:

Defending champions Toulon are well-known to have one of the most stacked attacking rosters in the land, and so it's not difficult to envision them scoring high, but Munster's 47-point display against Toulouse shows they're also capable of huge damage.

 

Toulon Win By 10

TOULON, FRANCE - APRIL 06:  Drew Mitchell of Toulon is mobbed by team mates after scoring a try during the Heineken Cup quarter final match between Toulon and Leinster at the Felix Mayol Stadium on April 6, 2014 in Toulon, France.  (Photo by David Rogers/
David Rogers/Getty Images

In the end, however, it will be Toulon making their way to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and given a chance to defend the trophy they won by a margin of 16-15 against Clermont last year.

Against Leinster in the previous round, Bernard Laporte's side showed that they can be devastating and frenzied in the fashion with which they go about their business, but there's a professional and calculated look throughout this squad, with too much experience and prestige to be otherwise.

Munster will be next to feel the wrath of the French titans in front of a Marseille crowd, and it won't be the closest of results.