Heineken Cup takes centre stage again
With just days to go now before the kick-off of the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, eight elite clubs with 16 European titles among them are counting down to what promises to be yet another unforgettable weekend of world-class rugby.
Please find attached an updated Heineken Cup quarter-final pack with previews of the four big matches as well as key statistical and other tournament information. In-depth match pack previews of each of the quarter-finals will follow tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday.
With sell-out attendances guaranteed at all four quarter-final venues, the list of contenders for Heineken Cup silverware reads like a veritable who’s who of the European game.
The knockout stage gets underway on Saturday with the heavyweight clash of Munster Rugby and Toulouse which marks the first visit of the French four-time champions to Thomond Park.
Munster, who will be smarting following their 22-18 defeat by Leinster Rugby last weekend, topped Pool 6 and qualified as fourth seeds. The champions from 2006 and ’08 are appearing in a 15th Heineken Cup quarter-final, and a 26,600-capacity crowd which will include 3,000 travelling fans from Toulouse is set to witness a mouthwatering confrontation between two of the great European clubs.
Next up is the much anticipated meeting of ASM Clermont Auvergne and Leicester Tigers at the Stade Marcel-Michelin cauldron where Clermont, who lost 26-24 to Brive on the road last weekend, hold an astonishing 74-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
Tigers Director of Rugby, Richard Cockerill, will be returning to the French club for whom he played five Heineken Cup games during the 2002/03 season while the home side, who qualified as No 2 seeds, will be looking to atone for the disappointment of last season when they were edged out in the final by Toulon.
Saturday’s series of matches concludes with a repeat of last year’s quarter-final between Ulster Rugby and Saracens. The current Aviva Premiership leaders – now seven points clear following their 32-20 win over London Wasps – will be hell bent on registering a similar result to 2013 when they defeated the Irish province at Twickenham Stadium, however, Ulster and their passionate supporters will have other ideas with the game staged on this occasion at the revamped Ravenhilll Stadium.
Those supporters will probably be mindful of the curse of the 100 per cent pool record! No club in the history of the Heineken Cup which was won all six of its pool matches has gone on to lift the trophy in the same season. The 100 per cent pool record has been achieved 13 times – most recently last season by Clermont and Harlequins – but those six-out-of-six clubs have never tasted success in the same year.
The quarter-finals weekend will be wrapped up in style with reigning Heineken Cup champions, Toulon – 32-28 winners over Toulouse last weekend – taking on reigning Amlin Challenge Cup champions, Leinster Rugby, at the atmospheric Stade Felix Mayol on Sunday.
Leinster will be buoyed by their victory over rivals, Munster, at the Aviva Stadium, and the first meeting of the clubs will feature two greats of the game with either Jonny Wilkinson or Brian O’Driscoll signing off on their European careers at the final whistle.