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Five key head-to-heads for this weekend’s EPCR semi-finals

There are now just four teams left in the hunt for European glory, as the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup’s reach the semi-finals! 

Our semi-final weekend begins on Saturday with three huge games. We first venture to the Stoop as the Sharks take on Clermont Auvergne. This is swiftly followed by a visit to Kingsholm, as Gloucester face Benetton Treviso.

We then turn our attention to historic Croke Park, as Leinster face Northampton Saints at the home of GAA. This game is also a repeat of the infamous 2011 Heineken Cup final, which Leinster won 33-22 despite falling behind.

Rounding off a blockbuster weekend of European rugby, Toulouse take on Harlequins at Le Stadium. This is the first time Harlequins have ever reached the semi-finals of Europe’s premier competition.

There is talent littered across the final four matches of both competitions, but which players will stand out above the rest? Here is our best bet at four key head-to-heads to watch out for this weekend.

Five key head-to-heads for this weekend’s Champions Cup and Challenge Cup semi-finals

Challenge Cup: Chris Harris vs Tommasso Menoncello 

The battle at 13 will be a really intriguing contest at Kingsholm. Chris Harris is slowly starting to recapture his best form, which saw him thrust into the British and Irish Lions squad, but he faces arguablly the form player in the world right now in Six Nations Player of the Tournament Tommasso Menoncello. The exciting Italian back is proving to be a real talent, and is at the core of this exciting Benetton backline. The pair will also likely cancel each other out, with Harris’ defensive exploits against Menoncello’s attacking style. You feel this head-to-head could swing the game for their team.

Champions Cup: Jack Willis vs Will Evans 

Might not be your typical box office battle, like Dupont vs Care, but it will be absolutely vital in the outcome of the game. Jack Willis was already one of the best English players during his time in the Premiership, but since moving to France has, somehow, become even better. his performance in Toulouse’s thrashing of Exeter rubber-stamped how important he is to his team on both sides of the ball. On the flip side, Will Evans is just as important for Harlequins. He leads the way for both tackles made and turnovers won in the Premiership and Champions Cup this season. His ability to lock down other teams could prove so detrimental to a side like Toulouse who live off quick ball.

Champions Cup: Jamison Gibson-Park vs Alex Mitchell

Another exciting battle between the two. Both players are so instrumental to the way their team plays, and play a fairly similar style. They both provide consistent quick-ball for their teams, and have a great link with their fly-half. They can also read the game fantastically well, and have a great ability to snipe around the breakdown and march their team up the pitch quickly. Mitchell got the better of Gibson-Park in the Six Nations, but will he be on the winning side again this weekend?

Champions Cup: Romain Ntamack vs Marcus Smith 

It was a hard call between the X-factor battles at half-back, but Ntamack vs Smith is such a beautifully balanced head-to-head. Both players are instrumental to their team’s attacking systems, but they have both developed their skills in dictating the play too rather than making the plays. Last weekend against Northampton, Smith showed genuine composure which we’ve only seen glimpses of in his career (South Africa in 2022 for instance), but he is starting to allow the players around him to take more of the load, whilst still having his typical brilliant individual moments. Ntamack is exactly the same too, and against Exeter he really controlled the game and allowed the likes of Akhi and Willis to thrive whilst also having his usual flashes of talent. This battle will be fascinating to watch unfold.

Champions Cup: Dan Sheehan vs Curtis Langdon

Mobile hookers are a godsend for any team, but Saturday sees two of the best going at it. Dan Sheehan has set the blueprint for the modern hooker, and he is head and shoulders the best in the world. His has the speed and game reading ability of a back, but coupled with the power and strength of a typical forward he is a true handful. He is also utilised in the wide channels, which allows him to get over the gain line quickly, and create space for players like James Lowe. His opposite number, Curtis Langdon has proved himself to be not only the signing of the season, but arguably the player of the season with his form for Northampton. He is such a dynamic ball carrier, and has genuine speed for a player of his strength and power, which allows him to break through defences with ease. Both players also provide valuable platform from the set-piece too, which will be a massive part of the game on Saturday too.