From the start of this Invested Champions Cup season it has been generally accepted that there’s a big three - Leinster, Stade Rochelais and Toulouse.

The last mentioned have the most stars on their chest - five - confirming the number of times they’ve been the kings of Europe, but they’ve failed to make the last two finals, leaving it instead for the other two to battle it out in the decider.

After their second half annihilation of Exeter Chiefs in their quarter-final though, Toulouse will be strongly favoured to make it into this season’s final, and the smart money should also be on Leinster being their opponents at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on 25 May as the Vodacom United Rugby Championship leaders go out to make it third time lucky.

They were narrow losers to Stade Rochelais in both the last two finals, but didn’t leave anything chance in front of a packed AVIVA Stadium in their quarter-final, with the DHL Stormers’ contribution to the competition being that the two time reigning champions were forced to go to Cape Town to win a tight round of 16 clash the week before.

In both of the finals that Stade Rochelais played against Leinster they came back from deficits to win, and even though the Irish giants were well ahead early in the second half, there would have been recollections in the stands of the French side's comeback from a 17 point deficit in last season’s decider. They also recovered from a 16 point deficit en route to their one point win at the DHL Stadium.

However, having crossed the equator from Cape Town in the week building up to the quarter-final, it was always hard to see Stade Rochelais having the energy to recover this time, and that perception was proved to be correct as Leinster shut them out by playing like the shadow Ireland international team that they are.

Leinster now come to South Africa to play two Vodacom URC games against first the Emirates Lions and then the DHL Stormers and it is going to be interesting to see what squad they send. The first choice Leinster players were engaged in the top-of-the-log Vodacom URC game against the Vodacom Bulls on the Easter Weekend so they’ve had three games in a row.

Conveniently for the DHL Stormers, who’d profit from Leinster fielding a second string team, their Champions Cup semi-final against Northampton Saints is a week after they are in Cape Town - so they might be looking at player management considerations when they play against the inaugural Vodacom URC champions.

Toulouse captain Antoine Dupont goes over for a try against Exeter Chiefs.

Toulouse captain Antoine Dupont goes over for a try against Exeter Chiefs.

On the evidence of the Leinster win over Stade Rochelais, however, there is no debate about the strength of Leinster when they are at full strength, and they are gaining in form with each game they play.

The DHL Stormers would have been without as many as six frontline players had it been them and not Stade Rochelais who went to Dublin this past weekend, so maybe John Dobson’s men dodged a bullet when Manie Libbok missed what would have the winning conversion in the round of 16 match.

Although the Saints, the current leaders in the Gallagher Premiership, were convincing winners against the Vodacom Bulls, who went to Franklin Gardens understrength, they will be underdogs in the early May semi-final, and ditto Harlequins, who produced the shock of the quarter-final round by winning an astoundingly absorbing and entertaining game in Bordeaux by a solitary point.

Indeed, while there were some big wins for the favoured teams, the quarter-finals did show the South African rugby public what there is to be had if the local teams win through to a home playoff. There was so much vibrancy and colour in evidence in Bordeaux, Dublin and for that matter Northampton, and the intimidating and noisy crowd in Toulouse is often remarked on by those who have experienced it.

The current agreement that sees the competition played only in Europe from the semi-final round onwards will fall away when SA Rugby becomes full shareholders next season and maybe with more for the SA teams to aim at there will be the necessary step up in focus on the competition.

At the moment the potential compromise of their Vodacom URC challenge brought about by the travel factor at this stage of the Champions Cup, where venues for the quarter-final round are decided by the games played the week before, mitigates against the South African teams throwing everything at it.

The Bulls are having to answer questions about them fielding an understrength team against Northampton but in reality it appears to be an accepted way of dealing with the challenge of being part of two competitions. As evidenced by the French teams often going understrength for away games.

Although Harlequins will be underdogs in their playoff against Toulouse, no-one gave them a chance of beating Bordeaux, so they won’t travel completely lacking in confidence.

While Leinster are the only remaining Vodacom URC team in the Champions Cup, two of the four sides in the last four of the EPCR Challenge Cup have the Vodacom URC as their bread and butter tournament.

If the Hollywoodbets Sharks win what will be a tough semi-final against Clermont-Auvergne in London, they will be up against one of fellow Vodacom URC team Benetton or the English team Gloucester in the Challenge Cup final in London on 24 May. Clermont got to the next round by destroying Ulster.

Investec Champions Cup quarter-final results
Bordeaux Begles 41 Harlequins 42
Leinster 40 La Rochelle 13
Northampton Saints 59 Vodacom Bulls 22
Toulouse 64 Exeter Chiefs 26

Investec Cup semi-finals

Saturday, 4 May
18h30: Leinster v Northampton Saints

Sunday, 5 May
16h00: Toulouse v Harlequins

EPCR Challenge Cup quarter-final results
Benetton 39 Connacht 24
Hollywoodbets Sharks 36 Edinburgh 30
Clermont Auvergne 53 Uster 14
Gloucester 23 Ospreys 13

EPCR Challenge Cup semi-finals

Saturday, 4 May
13h30: Hollywoodbets Sharks v Clermont Auvergne
16h00: Gloucester v Benetton