Euro quarter-final line-up confirmed
January 24, 2009
© Getty Images
The quarter-final line-up for this season's Heineken Cup has been confirmed following the completion of the last round of pool matches.
Top seeds Cardiff Blues will play Toulouse, defending champions Munster take on Magners League rivals Ospreys, Harlequins play host to Leinster and Leicester Tigers face Bath in an all-Premiership tie.
England are guaranteed a semi-finalist while with old foes Leicester and Bath set to go head-to-head over the weekend of April 10-12. Bath's 3-3 draw against Toulouse - the lowest-scoring game since Heineken Cup rugby began in 1995 - in monsoon conditions at the Recreation Ground meant they won Pool Five but they finished as fifth seeds and missed out on a potential home tie.
The sides have already met in the Guinness Premiership and the Anglo-Welsh Cup this season, with Leicester claiming a dramatic injury-time victory when they last faced each other just three weeks ago. Harlequins' first quarter-final appearance since 1998 will see them host Pool Two winners Leinster, while Heineken Cup holders Munster host the Ospreys and Toulouse visit top seeds Cardiff Blues.
Toulouse, runners-up in Bath's group, are the solitary French survivors, progressing as eighth seeds in a competition that saw fellow French clubs like Stade Francais, Biarritz and Clermont Auvergne fall inside the distance.
Cardiff Blues and Ospreys carry the Welsh flag into the last eight while Irish sides Leinster and Munster complete the celtic contingent. Quins qualification makes it three English sides in the quarter-final mix.
On confirmation of the draw, Bath head coach Steve Meehan said, "Leicester will bring out the best in Bath, and vice-versa. "To reach the last eight in Europe represents a pretty good effort. Our target at the beginning of the season was to finish top of our group, and one of the sides in our group was Toulouse.
"We will have a few players back from injury for the Leicester game, and the squad will be better prepared. I am sure it will be a very competitive game. We have not played anywhere near the standard that we did against Toulouse out there in the first match last October, and if we can get back to that form, we will see how far we can go."
The Tigers will possibly consider switching the tie to Leicester City's Walkers Stadium, while Quins could contemplate a Twickenham move for their Leinster showdown although they have previously stated that any home quarter-final would be played at The Stoop.
Munster's Thomond Park home in Limerick though will prove a monumental test for the Ospreys. The Irish giants have lost only once there in the tournament's history - Leicester beat them in 2007 - and Munster will start as firm favourites, despite Ospreys boasting a star-studded squad.
Toulouse, Heineken Cup winners in 1996, 2003 and 2005, face a repeat of last season's quarter-final clash against the Blues. On that occasion, Toulouse strolled to a 41-17 victory on home soil, but the rematch looks a far tougher proposition, given Blues' current rich vein of form and the probable Millennium Stadium venue.
"This team is all about big games, and it will be a big game for us," said Toulouse's former All Blacks scrum-half Byron Kelleher. "Going through has kept the balance of having a French team in the quarter-finals."
France though, will have its lowest quarter-final representation in Heineken Cup history, and for the first time there will be no quarter-final played in France. Toulouse No.8 Shaun Sowerby added: "It is very difficult to explain why we are the only French team through.
"It is disappointing, because you are talking about some big clubs with big budgets. We will go to Cardiff now and hope to pull something off there. They have improved a lot since we played them last season, and are one of the form sides."
The quarter-finals are made up of the six pool winners and the two best records amongst the runners-up. In the last eight, the pool winners are ranked 1-6 in terms of the number of points earned and the runners-up will be ranked 7 and 8. Teams ranked 1-4 will have home advantage.
The seedings for the quarter-finals are as follows:
The quarter-finals will be played April 10/11/12.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September