Saracens look to exploit home comfort in Euro quarters

Julian GUYER
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With players like Jamie George back in the side after helping England win the Six Nations, Saracens thrashed Bath 53-10 last week

Reigning European club kings Saracens will hope home advantage holds good when they welcome Glasgow to north London for a Champions Cup quarter-final this weekend.

In the past three seasons all but two of the 12 quarter-finals have gone the way of the home side, with only Saracens themselves providing the exceptions.

Saracens, also the current English title-holders, are bidding for a 'double double'.

Last week, Owen Farelli, Maro Itoje, Billy and Mako Vunipola and Jamie George back in the side after they all helped England win the Six Nations, Saracens thrashed Bath 53-10.

But Glasgow produced one of the all-time great European shocks in hammering Leicester 43-0 at the former European champions' home ground in the pool phase.

Glasgow are also less likely to be worried by the artificial surface at Saracens' Allianz Park ground given they too play their home games on a 'plastic' pitch.

"They have got a lot of threats, they are exciting and have backs that can punish you,” said England centre Farrell of Glasgow.

“With (Finn) Russell, (Stuart) Hogg and (Ali) Price pulling the strings for the team, they can make something out of nothing."

The Scottish side will, however, be without Tim Swinson after the lock's red card for a swinging arm tackle in a Celtic league match against Connacht was upheld.

Even before Swinson's ban, Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend was well aware of just how tough it would be to defeat Saracens.

"We know how good they are because they haven’t lost a game in Europe for two years," Townsend told the Guardian.

"This will be the ultimate challenge," added Townsend, who will take over as Scotland coach at the end of the season.

Plenty of international talent will also be on display when the quarter-finals start Saturday with Irish province Leinster up against England's Wasps.

Both clubs top their respective domestic leagues -- the Celtic League and the Premiership.

- Lions audition -

In Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton, Leinster have the likely No 10 for the British and Irish Lions in their upcoming tour of New Zealand.

Meanwhile Leinster's Garry Ringrose, Sean O'Brien and Devin Toner will be looking to press their case, with Wasps also having Lions hopefuls in Elliot Daly, Danny Cipriani, James Haskell and Joe Launchbury.

No wonder former England head coach Stuart Lancaster, now a member of Leinster's backroom staff, said: "If you are a Lions coach you would certainly be looking at games like these where you have a Daly and a Ringrose, Joe Launchbury and Toner."

Saturday's second quarter-final sees another Irish province, Munster, up against French giants Toulouse.

Between them, the two sides have won six European titles.

For Munster, the continued desire to honour former coach Anthony Foley, who died suddenly before a Champions Cup pool match in October, will doubtless help fuel an emotional atmosphere at Thomond Park.

"It had a galvanising effect that changed everything," former Munster and Ireland fly-half Tony Ward told AFP this week of the impact of Foley's death on the current side.

Toulouse are set to be without several players through injury, including France duo Yann David and Christopher Tolofua.

The quarter-finals conclude with an all-French clash between Clermont and Toulon, the three-times European champions, on Sunday.

If any side can buck the trend of home wins in European knockout rugby, it could be Toulon.

Yet when they last visited Clermont in January, Toulon lost 30-6 and this weekend they are set to be without injured Australian playmaker Matt Giteau.

Quarter-finals:

Saturday

Leinster (IRL) v Wasps (ENG) (1415 GMT), Munster (IRL) v Toulouse (FRA) (1645 GMT)

Sunday

Saracens (ENG) v Glasgow (SCO) (1200 GMT), Clermont (FRA) v Toulon (FRA) (1415 GMT)