Leinster v Saracens, Aviva Stadium (Saturday, 3pm)

Last year's Heineken Champions Cup finalists clash again. But the Saracens side Leinster faced in Newcastle in May 2019 will be at a very different ebb emotionally on Saturday.

The reigning champions have had an eventful period off the field, to say the very least, with enforced relegation from the Premiership for salary cap breaches, meaning this quarter-final is the English club's last meaningful match for the next year at least.

On the field, they have to contend with the blow of losing Owen Farrell to suspension as they visit the Aviva Stadium.

 Saracens and England's Maro Itoje during the last Champions Cup final

But Leinster will be wary and not just because Saracens came out on top in their last encounter.

As Donal Lenihan put it on the RTÉ Rugby Podcast this week, Saracens will have "an emotional energy going into this game that will certainly make it far more competitive than anything Leinster have faced over the last 12 months".

The former Ireland captain believes that "the carrot of playing Leinster in a quarter-final has actually sustained them over the lockdown".

That being said, Leinster should be confident, based on the way they have gone about their business on the pitch since losing that last Champions Cup final.

Leo Cullen's squad won every game in the truncated Guinness Pro14 campaign, capped off with victory over Ulster in last Saturday's decider, with Johnny Sexton mostly rested, and had also done the same in Europe before the pandemic halted the competition.

Six pool wins from six had thrust Leinster into the quarter-finals, against a Saracens team that finished second in Pool 4 behind Racing 92 but ahead of Munster with two defeats. 

TEAM NEWS

Cullen has restored Sexton to the starting team as expected but Seán Cronin is an intriguing recall at hooker in place of Rónan Kelleher, who miscued at times at the line-out last weekend.

Alex Goode takes the place of the suspended Farrell for Saracens in a strong starting side.

Leinster team: Jordan Larmour, Hugo Keenan, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (c), Luke McGrath; Cian Healy; Seán Cronin, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Will Connors, Jack Conan

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Ed Byrne, Michael Bent, Ryan Baird, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Rory O'Loughlin.

Saracens team: Elliot Daly, Alex Lewington, Duncan Taylor, Brad Barritt (c), Sean Maitland; Alex Goode, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Vincent Koch, Maro Itoje, Tim Swinson, Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Tom Woolstencroft, Richard Barrington, Alec Clarey, Callum Hunter-Hill, Calum Clark, Aled Davies, Manu Vunipola, Dominic Morris.

ONLINE

Live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News Now app. 

RADIO

Live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1 with Michael Corcoran joined by Donal Lenihan.

TV

BT Sport 3 will broadcast live coverage.

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Toulouse v Ulster, Stade Ernest-Wallon (Sunday, 12.30pm)

Eight days after falling short against Leinster, Ulster will be aiming to circle the wagons again and upset the applecart on French soil.

Their last two fixtures in the Pro14 have been all about stirring comebacks - to Edinburgh's frustration in the semi - and bright starts, as happened against Leinster in the decider before the latter reeled them in and coasted clear.

Dan McFarland's side fared reasonably well in the Champions Cup pool stages, winning five of six to qualify for the last-eight behind Clermont Auvergne.

Toulouse, however, were Leinster-like in winning six from six in a pool featuring Connacht, Gloucester and Montpellier.

James Hume and Ulster fell short last Saturday against Leinster

Their talent is self-evident with names like Cheslin Kolbe, Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont rolling off the tongue and Ulster's defence is sure to be severely tested, although interestingly Toulouse fashioned fewer tries in the pool stage than the other table-toppers.

The European aristocrats, whose pedigree had diminished somewhat for the years prior to last season's semi-final run, are in the early stages of the new Top 14 season and come into Sunday's game off the back of a home win over Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle, a week after a narrow three-point defeat away at Clermont on matchday one. 

Toulouse have moved the game to the more compact Stade Ernest-Wallon due to local restrictions and will have up to 5,000 fans in attendance.

TEAM NEWS

Last week, McFarland admitted the choice he had to make between Alby Mathewson and John Cooney for the starting Ulster scrum-half spot was the "most difficult selection decision" that he had ever been involved in.

The Irishman lost out on that occasion but is back to start this weekend.

Ulster team: Michael Lowry, Rob Lyttle, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Tom O'Toole, Alan O'Connor, Iain Henderson (c), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.

Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Marty Moore, Sam Carter, Kieran Treadwell, Alby Mathewson, Matt Faddes, Matthew Rea.

Toulouse: Thomas Ramos, Yoann Huget, Sofiane Guitoune, Pita Ahki, Cheslin Kolbe; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Charlie Faumuina, Rory Arnold, Joe Tekori, Jerome Kaino (c), Francois Cros, Selevasio Tolofua.

Replacements: Julien Marchand, Rodrigue Neti, Dorian Aldegheri, Emmanuel Meafou, Alban Placines, Zack Holmes, Alexi Bales, Matthis Lebel.

ONLINE

Live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News Now app. 

TV

BT Sport 3 and Virgin Media 1 will broadcast live coverage.

Racing 92 saw off Lyon domestically on their return to Pro14 action

Remaining Quarter-Finals

The other fixtures this weekend see an all-French quarter-final between Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan's Racing 92 and Clermont Auvergne, while Exeter and Northampton do battle in an all-Premiership encounter for the chance to face Ulster or Toulouse. 


Clermont v Racing 92, Parc des Sport Marcel Michelin (Saturday, 5.45pm)

Exeter v Northampton, Sandy Park (Sunday, 5.30pm)


Racing, who would face Leinster or Saracens in the semi should they beat Clermont, suffered a blow with confirmation that Kurtley Beale has been suspended for three weeks after a red card against Montpellier last weekend.

Zebo had not featured for Racing in the Top 14 as he recovered from a foot injury but has been named to start, although team-mate and fellow former Munster stalwart Ryan, who started in the second row against Lyon on 5 September before missing the following week's action, is back in the Racing squad among the replacements.

Follow the Champions Cup quarter-final between Leinster and Saracens (3pm Saturday) with our live blog on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app or listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1.

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