Stage set for knock-out stages
January 24, 2010
Munster secured top seeding with victory over Northampton and the two sides will meet again in the quarter-finals © Getty Images
A thrilling weekend of Heineken Cup rugby has whittled down the contenders for this season's crown to the final eight and the draw for the knock-out stages has thrown up some more mouth-watering fixtures.
Defending champions Leinster will play host to Top 14 giants Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals of Europe's premier club competition with the winner of that clash set to travel to France to play the winner of the last eight clash between Toulouse and Stade Francais in the semi-finals. Top seeds Munster will face Northampton once again in the quarter-finals with the winner in line to face Biarritz or Ospreys in the other semi-final.
The chances of a French finalist in Paris on May 22 have increased greatly, with a four-pronged quarter-final representation their strongest since 1999. England though are facing the prospect of not providing a semi-finalist for the first time in seven years in what appears to be a reflection on the this season's Guinness Premiership.
The line-up for the quarter-finals was confirmed after Leinster and London Irish played out a nerve-shredding draw at Twickenham. That result assured Leinster of a home tie and also eliminated the Exiles from the equation. But their failure meant joy for Jim Mallinder and Northampton who claimed one of the two best runners up spots despite Friday's defeat to Munster at Thomond Park. That result also guaranteed the Irish province home advantage in the quarter-finals.
Clermont Auvergne thrashed Viadana to progress as winners of Pool 3 and they were joined by the Ospreys who won a thriller against Leicester at the Liberty Stadium to claim the other best runner-up berth. Stade Francais booked their place thanks to the losing bonus-point they secured against Edinburgh at Murrayfield.
Both Biarritz and Toulouse were already assured of a place in the quarter-finals before the last round of pool action kicked off with both sides competing for home advantage in the last eight. Biarritz saw off the challenge of Glasgow and Toulouse battled past Sale to ensure two of this year's quarter-finals would be played on French soil.
Heineken Cup quarter-finals seeding:
Quarter-Final Draw: (Ties to be played April 9/10/11)
Semi-Final Draw: (Ties to be played May 1/2)
Final: (Stade de France, Paris, May 29)
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