It’s been eight years since the Premiership had more than three clubs make it to the Champions Cup quarter-finals, but there remain six in play heading in to this weekend’s crunch last-16 ties. 

And the Premiership sides left in Europe’s premier competition this season are in better form, and have far more hope, than in previous years.

A by-product of the sad demise of three clubs in Worcester Warriors, Wasps and London Irish, is that more quality players have been concentrated among fewer clubs, making them far more competitive up against the top French and Irish sides.

Harlequins, Exeter Chiefs, Bath, Leicester Tigers, Saracens and Northampton Saints are each seeking a long run in Europe…

Quins host Glasgow on Friday seeking first quarter-final for 11 years

Head coach Danny Wilson has urged Harlequins to make the most of home advantage when they launch the Champions Cup knockout stage on Friday.

Quins host United Rugby Championship title contenders Glasgow at the Stoop, having reached the last 16 for a third successive season.

They lost on both previous occasions, while it is 11 years since Quins arrived in Europe’s last eight – being beaten by Munster on that occasion.

Having progressed from the pool phase following victories over Racing 92, Cardiff and Ulster, head coach Wilson wants Quins to capitalise on their impressive groundwork either side of Christmas.

“Getting a home knockout game is an achievement,” Wilson said.

“Coming out of the games we had in the group against Toulouse, Racing, Ulster and Cardiff we were over the moon and now we have got to make the most of it.

“I don’t think Quins have ever progressed from a knockout game at the top end of Europe.”

Exeter Chiefs and Bath face off in West Country affair in only all-Premiership clash

Exeter players have had clear-the-air discussions following their crushing Premiership defeat by Sale – a result that Chiefs rugby director Rob Baxter described as “a smack in the face”.

West Country rivals Bath await Exeter in a mouthwatering Champions Cup last-16 clash at Sandy Park on Saturday.

And it will come just six days after the 2020 European champions were destroyed 41-5 by Sale, leaving Exeter two points outside the Premiership play-off zone.

“The players had a fairly long meeting on Tuesday where they wanted to clear the air among themselves and talk bits and pieces through,” Baxter said.

“For a young team, sometimes having a smack in the face just reminds you of how tough it is going to be and how hard you have got to work and cannot take things for granted.

“They wanted to do it, and I thought it was a good idea. It allowed them to clear the air among themselves, and letting the players clear their heads at the start of the week was the important thing.

Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs - Gallagher Premiership - Twickenham Stoop
Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter ahead of the Gallagher Premiership match at the Twickenham Stoop, London. Picture date: Sunday October 22, 2023.
Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter has backed his side to bounce back from a heavy Premiership loss to Sale

“It just felt the right thing to do, it felt we had to let them get it off their chests in their way.

“It wouldn’t have been the same if we had all sat in a meeting with all the coaches. That’s human nature.

“They don’t want to spend the whole week waiting for us to have a go at them. They are better off just knowing that’s not coming and they get it off their chests.”

Leicester and Northampton face Irish heavyweight duo Leinster and Munster

Previous winners Leicester and Northampton face stern tasks to make the quarters, facing Ireland’s top two sides in Leinster and Munster.

Premiership leaders Northampton host two-time winners Munster on Sunday, while Leicester travel to face four-time winners Leinster in Dublin on Saturday.

Saints will be confident of victory, having travelled to Thomond Park and beaten Munster in January – and that after hooker Curtis Langdon was shown a first-half red card too – becoming just the fifth side in history to win at the home of Munster in the European Cup following Leicester, Ulster, Clermont Auvergne and Toulouse.

Munster as a province live for European Cup fixtures on the road, however, and with the likes of Jack Crowley, Tadhg Beirne and Peter O’Mahony full of confidence from Ireland’s Six Nations-winning camp, as well as World Cup-winner RG Snyman fit to start, they will be hungry to cause an upset at Franklin’s Gardens.

The Tigers face a really tough proposition in Leinster at the Aviva Stadium. The Irish province have progressed to the Champions Cup final in the last two seasons, only to lose to La Rochelle on both occasions.

A Leicester win over Leinster in the Irish capital would constitute the shock of the round.

Saracens face tough trip to Bordeaux, but travel with belief

England’s most successful club Saracens (three-time Champions Cup winners), sit third in the Premiership table at the moment, but face a difficult trip away to face Bordeaux-Begles.

Bordeaux have struggled on the road of late, but have been in startling form for a lot of this season, too.

The French side’s backline is star-studded, and full of French internationals in wings Damian Penaud and Louis Bielle-Biarrey, fly-half Matthieu Jalibert and centres Yoram Moefana and Nicolas Depoortere.

Saracens have faced Bordeaux already in Europe this season, succumbing to a crushing 55-15 defeat in January. Mark McCall’s men have improved massively since then, but in Owen Farrell’s final season at the club – the leader and fly-half is out injured with a hamstring complaint in a major blow – they will likely need their best performance of the season to progress.

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