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Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals guaranteed to thrill the fans

By Frank Quinn
THE pool battles are over but the war is still to be won. The quarter final stages are now the target in late March.
Leinster is the only Irish club to get the home venue and it is a huge advantage in this competition, Munster, Ulster play away (to Edinburgh and Leinster respectively) in addition to Connacht travelling to sale in the Challenge cup QF.
The final round in the Six Nations is scheduled for the 16th March when we are away to Wales. The quarter finals of the Heineken Cup commence on the 29th March.
Joe Schmidt selected a squad of 38 club winners (Leinster 16, Munster 11, Ulster 6, Connacht 5) and injury replacements – to go training in the warm weather in Portugal in preparation for the England game on the 2nd February. I just hope he hands back +38 winners to the clubs at the end of the tournament in rude health.
You can speculate on the quarter finals but you need to acknowledge that five games of international rugby have to be played before the next round and there will be injuries for all the teams to contend with. The key players for Ireland are also the key players for the club sides, the same applies in each country and there will be casualties, maybe even balance themselves out.
The Heineken Cup really begins now at the quarter final stages – much like the QF’s at the Rugby World Cup
The national qualifier breakdown is: Ireland 3, France 2, Scotland 2, and England 1 and we can speculate on this effect in the upcoming 6N.
As we have seen, all of the qualifiers did it the hard way and deserve credit and rewards for their efforts with advancement to the knockout stages
It is the most positive for Scotland who have never won the Heineken Cup in its 23 years, and the best achievement was by Edinburgh getting to the semis in 2012. They were beaten by Ulster 22-19 in the Aviva Stadium in front of a 45,147 attendance and Leinster went on to win the Cup. Just to remind you – we are away to Scotland in the second round of the 6N. They only have two professional teams – Edinburgh and Glasgow (both qualified) and these two clubs will provide the back bone of the selection with a couple of Scottish players playing abroad. They have a Scottish coach in Gregor Townsend – who coached Glasgow before taking over the national job from Vern Cotter, now at Montpelier, with his assistant Nathan Hines.
No doubt this will not have escaped Joe Schmidt as we play them in Murrayfield and they do tend to give us a hard time and our overall record against them is inconsistent.
On the other hand England have qualified their best Premiership team – Saracens – as previous consecutive Heineken Cup double winners in 2016 and 2017; just maybe they are confident that this is enough to bring the Cup back to England. They are a real professional outfit under Mark McCall – they play Glasgow Warriors in the QF, who they beat twice in the pool stages and will supply Eddie Jones’ England team with a number of starters.
France has achieved its average in having at least two in the final eight and they play each other for one of them to get to the semis – Racing 92 is at home to Stade Toulousain. We do have a serious interest in the Racing 92 squad as both Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo ply their trade in Paris. They will fancy their chances to progress as the home team and it is a long way for the Toulouse fans to travel.
Ah Toulouse:
They have four wins – same as Leinster in 1996, 2003/05/10 and beaten by Munster in ‘08 and Wasps in ’04. Guy Noves was the long time coach during the successful period and of course Trevor Brennan picked up medals with them in ’03 and ’05.
Racing 92 were runners-up in 2016 to Saracens and again last year were beaten by Leinster, both teams very much in contention so Racing has a couple of scores to settle.
Munster won the Heineken Cup in 2006 and 2008 and were beaten finalist in 2000 and 2002. A fantastic record and they have made a huge contribution to the success of the tournament but it is a long gap to 2008 to rectify in 2019.
Ulster won the Cup in 1999 when they beat Colomiers 21/6 in the Landsdowne Road Stadium in front of 49.000 – with the whole of Ireland in support. They next appeared in the final in 2012 and went under to Leinster 42-14 in front of 81,744 spectators – the cup final record at Twickenham.
Leinster has the unique record of winning the four finals that they contested in 2009 (Leicester), 2011 (Northampton), 2012 (Ulster) and 2018 (Racing 92) and they will be trying with Toulouse to make it five and set the individual Club record.
Six of the eight teams left have a massive history in this competition.
The Betting in January:
Leinster 5/4, Saracens 9/4, Racing 92 11/2, Munster 7/1, Toulouse 16/1,
Edinburgh 25/1, Glasgow 66/1, Ulster 100/1
The quarter-final matches to be played on 29/30/31 March are as follows:
QF 1: Saracens v Glasgow Warriors, Allianz Park
QF 2: Edinburgh Rugby v Munster Rugby, BT Murrayfield
QF 3: Leinster Rugby v Ulster Rugby, Aviva Stadium
QF 4: Racing 92 v Toulouse, Paris La Défense Arena
The possible semi-final pairings will be as follows: (Bit of a mine field)
SEMI-FINAL 1 – winner of QF 1: Saracens v Glasgow Warriors will play the winner of QF 2: Edinburgh Rugby v Munster Rugby
SEMI-FINAL 2 – winner of QF 3: Leinster Rugby v Ulster Rugby will play the winner of QF 4: Racing 92 v Toulouse
The semi-final matches will be played at venues designated by EPCR, and the following clubs will have home country advantage in their respective matches:
SEMI-FINAL 1
If Saracens (ranked No 1) and Edinburgh Rugby (ranked No 4) win their quarter-finals, Saracens will have home country advantage
If Saracens (ranked No 1) and Munster Rugby (ranked No 5) win their quarter-finals, Saracens will have home country advantage
If Edinburgh Rugby (ranked No 4) and Glasgow Warriors (ranked No 8) win their quarter-finals, the semi-final will be played in Scotland
If Munster Rugby (ranked No 5) and Glasgow Warriors (ranked No 8) win their quarter-finals, Munster will have home country advantage
SEMI-FINAL 2
If Racing 92 (ranked No 2) and Leinster Rugby (ranked No 3) win their quarter-finals, Racing 92 will have home country advantage
If Racing 92 (ranked No 2) and Ulster Rugby (ranked No 6) win their quarter-finals, Racing 92 will have home country advantage
If Leinster Rugby (ranked No 3) and Toulouse (ranked No 7) win their quarter-finals, Leinster will have home country advantage
If Ulster Rugby (ranked No 6) and Toulouse (ranked No 7) win their quarter-finals, Ulster will have home country advantage
Semi-finals: 19/20/21 April
2019 Heineken Champions Cup final: Saturday, 11 May; St James’ Park, Newcastle (17.00)

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