19 stars who can prove their Test credentials in the Champions Cup quarter-finals

Dylan Coetzee
Split with Will Evans (Harlequins), George Hendy (Northampton) and Jamie Osborne (Leinster).

Split with Will Evans (Harlequins), George Hendy (Northampton) and Jamie Osborne (Leinster).

The business end of the Investec Champions Cup heats up even further this weekend as eight teams remain in the quest for European glory.

While the primary focus is to advance to the next stage, there are some players on the cusp of international selection and Planet Rugby takes a closer look at some stars whose Test prospects could be boosted by strong performances in the knockouts.

QF 1: Bordeaux-Begles v Harlequins

The first quarter-final has a host of players within reach of the Test scene. Bordeaux playmaker Mateo Garcia, uncapped for France, comes off a stunning effort in the round of 16 where he bagged a brace in a big performance, making Planet Rugby’s team of the week. So too did the electric running Nicolas Depoortere who will be desperate to double down and add to his limited Les Bleus caps by producing another potent display. Meanwhile, front-row Carlu Sadie will be desperate to show his impact off the bench with spots in the Springboks front-row set to be opening over the next Rugby World Cup cycle.

For Harlequins, there are also a couple of stars on the edge of the Test arena led by Will Evans who has the most ridiculous engine as his 20+ tackle count from last weekend shows. His work rate is outrageous and could catch the eye of England boss Steve Borthwick. Many have called for Cadan Murley to wear the Red Rose and he is certainly in the conversation, still, he will need to produce some big moments in knockout games to usurp one of the talented backs in the squad. Finally for Quins is Tyrone Green where it is now or never for the star to represent the Springboks before he qualifies for England next year – an option he is open to.

QF 2: Leinster v La Rochelle

It is a massive quarter-final for Ross Byrne who has fallen below Jack Crowley in the Ireland pecking order despite having looked like the ideal replacement for Johnny Sexton for quite some time. A game of this magnitude is an ideal chance to showcase his big-match temperament and give Andy Farrell something to think about. In the centres, Jamie Osborne has been knocking on Ireland’s door and it only feels like a matter of time until he represents the Six Nations champions.

For the Champions Cup holders front-row Louis Penverne is a rapidly rising star and has Test rugby written all over him. Facing up against Leinster will be a critical gauge of just how close he is to playing for Les Bleus, with the intensity of the club arena not getting much greater than this. That makes the clash equally important for Antoine Hastoy who has been key to La Rochelle’s success in recent times and another big performance on an occasion like this could help add to his limited France caps.

Quiz: Can you name every World Rugby Player of the Year?

QF 3: Northampton Saints v Bulls

Saints’ hero against Munster, George Hendy, gets a start this week after scoring a magical brace and will be a player to keep an eye on as he grows. The wing could use that performance to catapult his career. It is an important game for the young star as it is for fly-half Fin Smith who is there and thereabouts in the England picture.

The Bulls may have left 11 starters at home but still boast quality with young number eight Cameron Hanekom in outstanding form this season and well on the Springboks’ radar. He will be looking to add to it on the big stage while 19-year-old JF van Heerden impressed Jake White in the second-row last week. Veteran Akker van der Merwe could be eyeing a big outing to fill the lack of depth for the Springboks at hooker.

QF 4: Toulouse v Exeter Chiefs

Toulouse is loaded with superstars but also developing stars with back-row Alexandre Roumat exactly that and showing some red-hot form at the moment which could aid his quest to add to his limited Les Bleus caps. So too is the elusive running Matthis Lebel who looked dangerous every time he touched the ball last weekend and it would be tough to count against him being a try threat this weekend.

For Exeter, Fijian-born but England-qualified Rusi Tuima has been robust and effective in the second-row using his gargantuan frame. He has played for England at age group levels and looks destined for the Red Rose. His teammate Josh Hodge is a real prospect and his form in recent seasons has had him well in the Test selection picture but is yet to earn his first cap for England. A big play-off performance could well aid his cause.

List of Test prospects by country:

France: Mateo Garcia, Nicolas Depoortere (both Bordeaux), Louis Penverne, Antoine Hastoy (both La Rochelle), Alexandre Roumat and Matthis Lebel (both Toulouse)

England: Will Evans, Cadan Murley (both Harlequins), George Hendy, Fin Smith (both Northampton), Rusi Tuima and Josh Hodge (both Exeter).

South Africa: Carlu Sadie (Bordeaux), Tyrone Green (Harlequins), Akker van der Merwe, Cameron Hanekom and JF van Heerden (all Bulls)

Ireland: Ross Byrne and Jamie Osborne (both Leinster)

READ MORE: England and France stars out of opening Champions Cup quarter-final while Bulls prioritise URC as Springboks left at home