The European Champions Cup final at BT Murrayfield next month (Saturday 13 May) is set to be a showcase of the best of British and Irish rugby.
Over a third of the 41-man British & Irish Lions squad named yesterday for this summer’s 2017 tour of New Zealand come from three of the competing home nation sides in this weekend’s Champions Cup semi-finals.
Munster’s three – Conor Murray, CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony – host the 'Sarries Six' – Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Vunipola brothers Billy and Mako) at Thomond Park, before Leinster’s five (Tadhg Furlong, Robbie Henshaw, Jack McGrath, Sean O’Brien and Jonny Sexton) travel to face French side ASM Clermont Auvergne - meaning a maximum of 11 of the current crop could make next month's grand finale.
Munster will kick-off the penultimate round when they welcome holders Saracens to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in a fortnight's time (Saturday 22 April).
It will be irishmen's 12th European Cup semi-final, the most of any club in the tournament’s history, while Saracens have reach the last four four for the sixth time, and the fifth season in a row (equalling their opponent's tournament record between 2000 and 2004).
Munster's pedigree in the champiomship is well-known with the semi-final their 158th game in the competition - the most of any club - and will be the eighth meeting between the sides: Munster have won five of the previous seven clashes (L2), although those two defeats were in their last three meetings.
Saracens travel to Ireland rich in form with wing Chris Ashton needing just one try to become the outright top try scorer in European Cup history (currently level with Vincent Clerc on 36).
Both sides have particulalry stingy defences. Munster (5) and Saracens (8) have conceded fewer tries than any other side this season, with both teams yet to concede a first half try, while star men Owen Farrell of Saracens and Munster's Tyler Bleyendaal are this season's tournament top scorers with 97 and 94 points respectively.
The following day ASM Clermont Auvergne host Leinster Rugby at the Matmut Stadium de Gerland (Sunday 23 April, kick-off 4pm) in what will be Leinster’s ninth appearance in the semi-finals. Only fellow semi-finalist Munster (12, including this season) and Toulouse (10) have reached the last four more.
This is the ninth meeting between the two in the competition. No clubs has faced Clermont more often than Leinster.
This will be their 150th tournament match, becoming the third club - after Toulouse and Munster - to reach this milestone. The three-time champions have won 97, drawn five and lost 47 of their previous 149 games.
Clermont have reached the semi-finals for the fifth time, with their previous four games at this stage all coming since the beginning of 2011/12 (W2, L2).
Leinster (37) and Clermont (34.3) have averaged the most points per game this season so expect an exciting affair.
Important ticket info: As soon as the finalists are known, the two clubs are given exclusive access to tickets to allow their supporters the chance to buy. This means ticket sales will close to the general public at midnight on Friday 21 April. If there are any seats left after the finalists have been given access, the public sale will re-open on Monday 24 April. Tickets have been on sale since June last year and, with tens of thousands of tickets having already been sold, we strongly advise anyone who is planning to come along to BT Murrayfield but haven’t yet bought their tickets, to do so before Friday 21 April. If you leave it until after the semi-finals, there’s a chance there won’t be any seats left!