ERC quarter-finals – the world is watching Ulster Rugby I XV v Saracens

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The eyes of the rugby world turn to Europe this weekend as the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup take centre stage for what promises to be another compelling series of matches between some of the game’s most illustrious clubs.

With as many as 156 countries taking live TV coverage of the Heineken Cup, the world’s most competitive club rugby tournament has three former champions in Leicester Tigers, Munster Rugby and Ulster Rugby, plus elite players from 15 nations, in the last eight, while the contenders in the strongest ever Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final line-up boast 14 European titles among them.

From England’s west country, via Clermont-Ferrand and Twickenham, to Toulon on the French Riviera, the colour, passion and quality of the knockout games will pave the way towards next month’s Dublin 2013 finals when the winners of both tournaments will be decided.

The success of English and French clubs, with three Heineken Cup quarter-finalists each, has earned their countries in the region of €1,350,000 (euro) in meritocracy payments in addition to their share of the ERC’s central distribution for 2012/13, while Ireland will receive approximately €900,000 (euro) extra.

Each place in the Heineken Cup knockout stage will earn a club’s country close to €450,000 (euro) with an estimated €6.3m (euro) in meritocracy payments shared across the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals.

The Heineken Cup quarter-finals kick off on Saturday with the French derby between ASM Clermont Auvergne and Montpellier which marks the first tournament knockout fixture to be staged at Stade Marcel Michelin. Regarded by Europe’s most experienced coach and a four-time Heineken Cup winner, Guy Noves, as favourites to lift the trophy this season, Clermont will be defending a remarkable 57-game home unbeaten record in all competitions.

The all-French tie will be followed by the meeting of in-form Saracens and the 2012 defeated finalists, Ulster Rugby, at Twickenham Stadium. With more than 34,000 tickets already sold for the game, the UK record for a tournament quarter-final of 37,881 set last season at Murrayfield by Edinburgh Rugby and Toulouse is likely to be broken.

On Sunday, a packed Twickenham Stoop will witness the head-to-head of reigning English champions, Harlequins, and Munster Rugby, who are the only club in the history of the tournament to have won three quarter-finals away from home. No 1 seeds Harlequins, along with undefeated Clermont, will be mindful of the fact that no club which has won all six pool matches has gone on to lift the trophy in the same season.

The weekend will be rounded off by the mouthwatering Anglo-French clash between the Jonny Wilkinson-led Toulon and one of the Heineken Cup’s most enduring clubs, Leicester Tigers. Not alone does the game promise a seismic confrontation, but to celebrate a first tournament quarter-final at Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon have a created a fans’ village for visitors and home supporters alike in the surrounds of the stadium.

In a departure from 2009, the Lions squad for this summer’s tour of Australia will be announced after the Heineken Cup semi-finals on 27 and 28 April, and to assess current form, Head Coach, Warren Gatland, will be on hand at no fewer than five of ERC’s quarter-finals.

With live TV coverage of all eight matches, he action starts this evening at Kingsholm with the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final between 2006 winners, Gloucester Rugby, and reigning champions, Biarritz Olympique.


Amlin Challenge Cup: Gloucester Rugby v Biarritz Olympique PB, Kingsholm (20.00)
Sky Sports/Eurosport France

Amlin Challlenge Cup: London Wasps v Leinster Rugby, Adams Park (20.00)
Sky Sports

Amlin Challenge Cup: Perpignan v Toulouse, Stade Aimé Giral (21.00)
FR4/Sky Sports

Amlin Challenge Cup: Bath Rugby v Stade Français Paris, Recreation Ground (13.00)
Sky Sports/Eurosport France

Heineken Cup: ASM Clermont Auvergne v Montpellier, Stade Marcel Michelin (16.40)
FR2/Sky Sports/Sky Italia

Heineken Cup: Ulster Rugby v Saracens, Twickenham Stadium (18.30)
Sky Sports/Canal+/Sky Italia

Heineken Cup: Harlequins v Munster Rugby, Twickenham Stooop (14.00)
Sky Sports/Canal+/Sky Italia

Heineken Cup: Toulon v Leicester Tigers, Stade Félix Mayol (17.30)
FR2/Canal+/Sky Sports/Sky Italia

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