European Champions Cup: Jeremy Guscott's quarter-final game-breakers

Stuart Hogg
Glasgow's Stuart Hogg (left) and Saracens' Chris Ashton (right) should light up Sunday's 'Battle of Britain' quarter-final

When you get to the last eight of an elite competition like the Champions Cup, the brutal attrition of the group stages means the remaining sides are guaranteed to be strong from one to 15.

In the sort of claustrophobically tight encounters you tend to get in the knockout stages you need to have a game-breaker, someone who can win the game with a single moment of sublime skill, or through a towering performance of continual excellence.

As the cream of Europe prepares for battle once again, these are the men (if picked) that might make the difference for their sides in the weekend's quarter-finals.

Johnny Sexton (Leinster)

Johnny Sexton
Sexton is aiming for his fourth Champions Cup title after wins with Leinster in 2009, 2011 and 2012

Such is his crown-jewel status at Leinster that senior coach Stuart Lancaster has said they will limit Sexton's game time to keep to keep him fit and firing for the rest of the season and the British and Irish Lions tour beyond.

There is no way Sexton will miss Saturday's meeting with Wasps though.

His last appearance was a fortnight ago in Ireland's Six Nations finale win over against England. Lancaster will be hoping for a similar masterclass in game management this weekend.

Champions Cup quarter-finals
Leinster v WaspsAviva StadiumSaturday, 15:15 BSTLive on 5 live sports extra and BBC Sport website, live text on website
Munster v ToulouseThomond ParkSaturday, 17:45 BST
Saracens v GlasgowAllianz ParkSunday, 13:00 BSTLive on 5 live sports extra and BBC Sport website, live text on website
Clermont v ToulonStade Marcel-MichelinSunday, 15:15 BST

It is like having a coach in playing kit. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Leinster playbook, is notoriously demanding of his team-mates and he has the impeccable technical skills to push the team forward.

He might be feeling a bit bruised or battered after the Six Nations, but there is nothing more exciting than steering this exciting Leinster side, currently top of the Pro12, to reboot yourself mentally and physically.

Christian Wade (Wasps)

Christian Wade
Wade is level with Kenny Logan as Wasps all-time leading try-scorer with 79

Christian Wade is just pure X-factor. Even in the top-class field brought together by the Champions Cup quarter-finals, Wade has the ability to be a level above the rest as an attacking threat.

When his pace is at full throttle, when his step is at his sharpest, he becomes almost untouchable. Whatever your defensive plan, you cannot contain him for a full game.

The bad news for Leinster is that he seems to be in exactly that sort of form. His brace against Worcester put him further clear at the top of the Premiership try-scoring charts and he believes he is playing the best rugby of his career.

At only 5ft 8in, he is not the biggest. But, so far, no team has managed to pick on him with the high ball.

Peter O'Mahony (Munster)

Peter O'Mahony
O'Mahony is also a useful line-out option for Munster

You know what you are getting with Peter O'Mahony.

The flanker will lay it all on the line for Munster, delivering a huge work-rate, putting himself into places where it really hurts and being a constant nuisance to the opposition.

He does not scorch down the line, beat three defenders and score a try, but his work in the shadows is just as effective and just as difficult.

The only game he started for Ireland was the closer against England and it was exactly the sort of dogfight that suits him - hence him winning man of the match. Toulouse's big, physical pack will keep battering away, but that is exactly the sort of physical confrontation O'Mahony relishes.

As captain he has been the embodiment of the spirit that has seized Munster after the death of coach Anthony Foley in October.

Chris Ashton (Saracens)

Chris Ashton
Ashton has scored 34 tries in Europe's top-flight competition, with only former Toulouse wing Vincent Clerc, on 36, ahead of him in the all-time list

This is Ashton's farewell campaign for Saracens before he heads to Toulon at the end of the season.

In some ways. he is like an old-fashioned number nine in football, perhaps what would have happened if Roy of the Rovers had turned to rugby instead.

He does not have electric pace, but he has an insatiable appetite for the ball and makes intelligent runs off his wing to come looking for it.

He has the killer instinct for computing the quickest route from where he receives the ball to the tryline. This Saracens side is ruthlessly efficient and his nous ensures their pressure is converted into points.

Stuart Hogg (Glasgow)

Stuart Hogg
Hogg is the youngest player to reach 50 Scotland caps

Glasgow are reportedly going to have as many as 5,000 travelling fans at the Allianz Stadium for their tilt at the defending champions.

It is evidence of the bright new dawn that head coach Gregor Townsend has ushered in at Glasgow and no-one is a bigger draw than full-back Stuart Hogg.

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Glasgow must have belief - Townsend

The 24-year-old won the Six Nations player of the tournament award for the second season running last week - the first player to retain the award since Ireland legend Brian O'Driscoll in 2009 - summing up his consistent brilliance for Scotland.

That sort of accolade brings pressure, but Hogg has continued to show the scintillating pace, sparkling feet and relentless will to win as his profile has grown.

The slight question marks about his game have been as the last line of defence and under the high ball. Both of those will be tested by Saracens and I'm sure the Lions selectors will be watching with interest.

Nick Abendanon (Clermont)

Nick Abendanon
Abendanon's two England caps came in 2007 as a 20-year-old

I saw a fair bit of Nick Abendanon at Bath, before he ended nine years at the Recreation Ground with a move to Clermont in the summer of 2014.

He was loved at Bath. He was a player who always wanted to attack. He has no fear of failure, a beautiful flowing running style and an ability to step off both feet.

I didn't think there was much room for improvement in an already-excellent player, but he has reinvented himself in France.

Firstly he has been given the confidence of being allowed to do what he wants. And secondly he has better players around him who have given him better quality ball and offered better running lines to work with too.

He scored tries in four of Clermont's six pool games and is only one behind Leinster's Isa Nacewa - the tournament's top try-scorer so far this year.

Jerry's picks to progress





Saracens celebrate
Saracens triumphed 21-9 in an attritional meeting with French side Racing 92 in last year's final

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