Seven must-watch head-to-heads in the Champions Cup quarter-finals, including Jamison Gibson-Park v Tawera Kerr-Barlow

Adam Kyriacou
Leinster's Jamison Gibson-Park faces off with La Rochelle's Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Leinster's Jamison Gibson-Park faces off with La Rochelle's Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Ahead of this weekend’s Investec Champions Cup quarter-finals, we pick out seven vital head-to-heads that could have a big say in which teams come out on top.

We’ve settled on two apiece from the Bordeaux-Begles v Harlequins, Leinster v La Rochelle and Northampton Saints v Bulls games and one from Toulouse v Exeter Chiefs.

Is there a particular head-to-head battle you’re looking forward to? Tell us below.

Bordeaux-Begles v Harlequins

Yoram Moefana v Andre Esterhuizen: The midfield tussle between these two high quality international specimens will be worth the entrance fee alone. Moefana, like many of his team-mates, was on song last weekend against Saracens and is such a silky yet destructive centre who is flourishing in this exciting Bordeaux-Begles side. He will hope a similar platform is laid by his pack and if Moefana can enjoy front-foot ball he should create for those outside him. Esterhuizen simply must shut down the France international at source and also give Moefana a headache defensively whenever Harlequins get their hands on the ball. The Springbok’s physicality and well balanced midfield relationship with Marcus Smith is vital to the English side’s hopes of causing an upset, but UBB and Moefana seem destined for the semis.

Louis Bielle-Biarrey v Louis Lynagh: One absence from the Bordeaux-Begles teamsheet that will have seen Harlequins fans no doubt breathe a sigh of relief was that of global superstar Damian Penaud. However, Bielle-Biarrey can bring nightmares to opposition defences due to his raw speed, quick thinking and footballing ability. This weekend’s battle with Lynagh will be one to savour as the France and Italy wingers are electric wide men who need no invitation to put the pedal to the metal. Harlequins simply must starve Bielle-Biarrey of as much ball as possible or he will punish them while for Bordeaux they will be wary of how lethal both Quins wings are off Smith’s attacking threat.

Leinster v La Rochelle

Jamison Gibson-Park v Tawera Kerr-Barlow: Moving on to Dublin and the battle between two former Super Rugby giants, Gibson-Park and Kerr-Barlow, catches the eye. Gibson-Park has forged his own path since moving to Ireland and has become one of the best number nines in the world. Meanwhile, Kerr-Barlow has done the same albeit solely at club level, helping La Rochelle win back-to-back Champions Cup titles. New Zealand’s loss has certainly been these two clubs’ gain. Gibson-Park, 32, is oozing confidence right now as his impact off the bench a fortnight ago against the Bulls was backed up with a hat-trick last week against Leicester Tigers. Both are key players at the Aviva.

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

Joe McCarthy v Will Skelton: We have touched on two of the smallest players on the field and now to the biggest. McCarthy and Skelton will lock horns in an earth-shuddering clash on Saturday. La Rochelle have recently bested Leinster up front and the rise of McCarthy has been viewed by some as being the missing piece of the jigsaw for the province in terms of physicality. Now is the time to see if that’s the case as Leinster need McCarthy to match if not better those in yellow in the engine room or they could once again come unstuck against Ronan O’Gara’s men. How much the absence of an all-international front-row will hurt La Rochelle remains to be seen but with the likes of Skelton, Gregory Alldritt, Levani Botia and Uini Atonio on the field, there is plenty of muscle to flex, with McCarthy v the Wallaby a titanic meeting.

Northampton Saints v Bulls

Juarno Augustus v Cameron Hanekom: Two players who did not start their respective round of 16 fixtures get the nod on Saturday evening at Franklin’s Gardens as Augustus and Hanekom collide at number eight. 26-year-old Augustus is a man mountain who will relish this opportunity against his fellow countrymen, notably former Stormers team-mate Nizaam Carr. But it’s his head-to-head against young Hanekom that we are focussing on as the promsing Bulls star gets the nod due in no small part to Jake White’s bold travel decision. Both Augustus and Hanekom will be all-action throughout as we expect them to rack up the carries in a battle for metres that could be pivotal.

Curtis Langdon v Akker van der Merwe: Elsewhere in the forward pack there’s a fascinating battle at hooker where Langdon takes on Van der Merwe, aka the ‘Angry Warthog’. There is footage of Langdon on social media demonstrating his impressive pace and workrate in last week’s round of 16 win over Munster (shown below) and his stock has certainly grown since making the move to Montpellier and then Northampton Saints. Facing him is the destructive South African, who funnily enough is another ex-Sale Sharks hooker. There’s few more wonderful sights in rugby union than Van der Merwe in full flow and it will be a great watch seeing these two mobile front-rowers collide.

Toulouse v Exeter Chiefs

Francois Cros v Ethan Roots: The final quarter-final takes place on Sunday as Toulouse face off against the underdog Exeter Chiefs at Stade Ernest Wallon. There is boat loads of talent in this Toulouse side, typified by Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack in the half-backs, but writing off Exeter would be foolish as they are growing in confidence as a young group. Roots’ physicality has already been rewarded by England during the Six Nations and his battle with France back-row Cros will be one to savour. Exeter simply must gain parity up front in order to limit the impact of Dupont and company and Roots is key to upsetting the hosts’ momentum. However, there’s so much physicality in this Toulouse pack and winning one battle could plug just one of several holes this French side will no doubt pierce in the Chiefs’ defence.

READ MORE: Champions Cup teams: Five takeaways as French powerhouses flex their depth, Leinster’s bold call and Bulls shift focus