Rugby Union: Heineken Cup & Amlin Challenge Cup Quarter Finals Predictions

Continuing our new regular feature, our rugby columnist Jeff Ball makes his predictions for this weekend’s round of matches which include Exeter Chiefs away to Stade Francais, Harlequins against Toulon and Saracens at home to Clermont Auvergne

Continuing our new regular feature, our rugby columnist Jeff Ball makes his predictions for this weekend€™s round of matches which include Exeter Chiefs away to Stade Francais, Harlequins against Toulon and Saracens at home to Clermont Auvergne. Let us know your predictions either in the comments below or on Twitter @Ballintouch The Premiership takes a week off this week to let the knock out stages of both European Cup competitions take place. The English sides are poorly represented with Saracens being the only one in the last eight in the Heineken Cup, but Exeter Chiefs, Harlequins and Wasps all feature in the Amlin Challenge Cup. There are some fascinating match ups in both competitions in what promises to be an interesting rugby filled weekend. Key: Amlin Challenge Cup (AC) Heineken Cup (HC) ThursdayStade Francais v Exeter Chiefs (AC) The weekend kicks off with what is a historic first ever European quarter final for the Chiefs in what is one of the biggest potential upsets from this week€™s fixtures. Exeter have continued to develop since their promotion and find themselves in good form and with the prospect of a play-off place growing with each game. Rob Baxter has stuck with the same side that beat London Irish last week. While the Chiefs side is a team of grafters with no big names, the exact opposite can be said of Stade Francais. Diminished due to financial constraints and hovering around mid-table in the league, the Parisians can still call on the likes of Sergio Parisse, George Smith and Felipe Contepomi. The Parisian crowd will expect an easy win against this team of players they will not have heard of, but Exeter€™s work ethic and good form could see them upsetting the locals and the odds. Prediction: Exeter Chiefs by less than 7 Check back later for the rest of our predictions as and when the teams are announced FridayToulon v Harlequins (AC) The Premiership leaders take on the who€™s who of world rugby as Harlequins make the trip to the South of France to play €˜Jonny Wilkinson€™s€™ Toulon. The big spender Frenchmen have all the big guns out, with Wilkinson being joined by Giteau, Bastareaud and Palisson in the backs, while Hayman, Steffon Armitage and van Niekerk are in the pack. Their quest for the title sees them third in the league but some way off leaders Toulouse. They had a fairly easy ride through the group stages bar a loss in an arctic-like game at the Falcons in December. Harlequins will be feeling confident having beaten main title challengers Saracens at Wembley in front of 80,000+ last week and name a strong team. However, injuries to Chris Robshaw and Nick Evans could prove crucial, especially with the noise and pressure the home fans are sure to apply. Another big win in someones back yard may be just beyond Quins in a game which promises to have intriguing battles all around the field. Prediction: Toulon by less than 7SaturdayLondon Wasps v Biarritz (AC) Wasps will be keen to provide some respite from the on-going league relegation fight they find themselves in and push into the semi-finals. Their form in the Amlin Challenge Cup and against French teams has been good and they name another young side as Christian Wade returns to the wing from injury. Biarritz haven€™t had quite the season they would have wanted and have the luxury of naming Imanol Hardinordoquay on the bench. His fellow French international Dimitri Yachvili captains the side. Despite recording a crucial win last week against Gloucester, Wasps are still creaking and Europe is not their main focus. Biarritz have strength throughout the side and seem more likely to edge a tight game. Prediction: Biarritz by less than 7Edinburgh v Toulouse (HC) A massive game for the Scottish side and Scottish rugby in general as no Scottish team has reached the Heineken Cup Semi Finals ever before. The Edinburgh PR team have been in overdrive trying to get a new Scottish attendance record of 36,000+ which will ensure it will be quite an atmosphere. Edinburgh will need all the help they can get against a Toulouse side that has reached the semi-finals four times previous and dspite missing a couple if big names, still names a side made up of French internationals and then some. Edinburgh will need the likes of Tim Visser and Ross Rennie in top gear. Ultimately I expect Toulouse€™s experience to see them clear. Prediction: Toulouse by more than 7Leinster v Cardiff Blues (HC) Cardiff have been in the headlines of late for all the wrong reasons. The sacking of Gavin Henson and long term injuries to Sam Warburton and Jamie Roberts leaving them depleted. Nonetheless, they still have the likes of Leigh Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert to call on against the defending champions. Leinster at home are a fearsome prospect in a competition they know better than almost anyone. The wealth of experience in the side is impressive and terrifying and the likes of Brian O€™Driscoll, back after injury, will feel confident of progressing in front of their own fans. Prediction: Leinster by 7 or more SundayMunster v Ulster (HC) Munster go into this all Irish affair with no the greatest of form, but the Heineken Cup always seems to bring the best out of them. Ulster beat them in the league at the end of last year and Munster will be keen to make amends. Ulster have retained a settled side from last week€™s win over Aironi and have plenty of quality through the side. The likes of Tom Court will be keen to show he is better than €˜that€™ match against England while Ruan Pienaar will be expected to pull the strings. Munster meanwhile will expect the evergreen Ronan O€™Gara to do what he has done so many times before. Munster are favourites, just and will likely make the 16th man of the Red Army count. Prediction: Munster by less than 7Saracens v Clermont Auvergne (HC) An interesting match this one, England€™s champs in 2011 against France€™s in 2010. Saracens are putting out a strong side with all their England internationals featuring. Likewise Clermont€™s team sheet has a fair few the casual fan will recognise from the Six Nations, as well as Welshman Lee Byrne and All Black winger Sitiveni Sivivatu. Both sides are very strong and Saracens are guaranteed to make it into a battle. Home advantage should help and the English side should edge it. Prediction: Saracens by less than 7Brive v Scarlets (AC) Closing the weekend is the Scarlet€™s trip to Brive. Rhys Priestland is still not 100% fit so Stephen Jones will be conducting the action from fly half for the Welshmen, while Matthew Rees and Ben Morgan will look to take on another solid French pack. Ex-Saints man Shane Geraghty starts for Brive and will be keen to remind those back in England what he can do. Both sides are meandering around mid table in their respective leagues and it could come down to who wants it more. Given they are at home, I€™m going for the French side. Prediction: Brive by less than 7

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Follow @BallInTouch on Twitter to keep up to date with all the latest rugby news and columns. Jeff Ball is a Geordie with a Newcastle Falcons season ticket, a rugby coaching badge, a bias for Newcastle United on Playstation games and was terrified by Jurassic Park as a child. For more of his personal musings following him on Twitter @JeffreyBall If you have any comments about this story please post a comment.