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Big weekend ahead in European rugby tournaments

Rugby union fans are in for a treat this weekend, with the semi-finals in the Heineken Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup scheduled to take place.

The two most successful clubs in the history of the Champions Cup remain on course for what many fans would argue is the dream final.

Toulouse and Leinster have each lifted the trophy on four occasions and are odds-on favourites to win their respective semi-finals against Bordeaux-Begles and La Rochelle.

In the Challenge Cup, Ulster and Bath are fancied to progress to the final for a match-up that would generate huge excitement amongst the fans.

However, Leicester Tigers are expected to make things difficult for Ulster, while it would be foolish to write off Montpellier’s chances against Bath.

Read on as we take a closer look at the four semi-finals and predict which teams we believe will book their place in the finals.

Toulouse vs Bordeaux-Begles

The four-time winners of the Champions Cup were pushed hard by Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals, before eventually securing a 21-12 victory.

Romain Ntamack was the star or the show, kicking seven penalties during the contest to steer his team through to the last four.

Toulouse have previously won four of the six semi-finals they have played on French soil, with their only defeats coming against Brive (1998) and Munster (2000).

Their main task this weekend will be keeping Matthieu Jalibert quiet, with the Bordeaux-Begles fly-half currently the leading scorer in the competition with 63 points.

However, Toulouse ran out 45-23 winners when the two sides met in France Top 14 in December and they are strongly fancied to record another victory here.

La Rochelle vs Leinster

Leinster booked their place in the last four with an impressive 34-22 win over reigning champions Exeter at Sandy Park earlier this month.

They showed tremendous spirit to recover from 14-0 behind, with James Lowe and Jordan Larmour leading the fightback with two tries apiece.

While Leinster are favourites to reach the final, their previous semi-final record in France is a massive cause for concern.

They have won just once at this stage of the competition on four previous visits to France, and the home side will fancy their chances of upsetting the odds.

La Rochelle have been beaten just once at home this season and could be the value bet to make it through to their first Champions Cup final.

Leicester Tigers vs Ulster

Leicester and Ulster are bidding to join a select group of four clubs who won the Challenge Cup and European Cup double.

Bath, Leinster, Northampton and Wasps are the only teams to achieve the feat, and that factor undoubtedly adds some extra sparkle to this tie.

The two teams have never met previously met in this competition, but have faced each other 10 times in Europe’s top flight.

Ulster lead the head-to-head by seven wins to three and will be confident of enhancing that record at Welford Road.

They triumphed 14-13 on their most recent visit in a Champions League quarter-final tie in 2019 and should possess to much class for the home side on this occasion.

Bath vs Montpellier

Bath have reached the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup on six previous occasions, winning four and losing two, and they will be expected to make home advantage count this weekend.

The two sides have met twice before in the Challenge Cup, with Bath winning both pool matches during the 2006/07 campaign.

Bath progressed to the last four with a disciplined display against London Irish, while Montpellier reached this stage by beating Benetton.

The French side have struggled on the road this season, winning just three out of 10 away matches in France Top 14.

On that basis, Bath should have enough about them to reach the final of this competition for the first time since 2014.

Prediction: Home advantage could be crucial in the Champions Cup, with Toulouse and La Rochelle fancied to make it through to the final.

Ulster can put one on the board for away teams in the Challenge Cup, but Bath are expected to be the third home team to win this weekend.

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