With the press clamouring for opinions on the Six Nations, and the international squads grabbing the headlines, one could be forgiven for forgetting about our clubs and their weekly tussles on the pitch. The Heineken Cup, European rugby’s premier club cup competition picks up where it left off this Friday with the race for quarter-final berths at stake.
We certainly haven’t forgotten what a crucial period this is for Europe’s top competition, so here is our take on the runners and riders in each pool.
Champions Munster have a taxing home tie against Sale on Friday night, where a victory would put them in control of the group and in line for quarter-final qualification. Sale must win to survive in the competition, and Thomond Park isn’t the sort of place to visit when you need to survive – Leicester are the only team to have won there in the Heineken Cup. Clermont Auvergne have a slim chance of progressing and face Montauban this weekend in a must-win fixture.
Twickenham could be the theatre of dreams on Saturday as Wasps take on Leinster in the ‘Battle of the Capitals’. The Dubliners thrashed the Londoners in the previous fixture, but Wasps need to win to keep their qualification hopes alive, but a bonus point win for Leinster would guarantee their progression – the game has the makings of a classic.
Leicester face Treviso this weekend at Welford Road, whilst challengers Ospreys face a daunting trip to Perpignan. If they manage a losing bonus point, next week will see an Anglo-Welsh showdown to see which side tops the group. Even without the injured Dan Carter, Perpignan will be desperate to spoil the party and guarantee their star man some more top quality rugby.
Harlequins are the surprise leaders of Pool 4 after their momentous victories over Stade Francais before Christmas. A win this weekend away at Ulster will see them through to the last eight, whilst Stade face the Scarlets with their fingers crossed that Quins can string two bad performances together.
Bath travel to the Dragons this weekend and need a victory to take the group to the wire against Toulouse next weekend. The French side should get a bonus-point win over Glasgow this weekend, and if Bath lose, they’ll win the group. Bath v Toulouse at The Rec next week to qualify for the quarters…another classic in the making.
Cardiff Blues can top the pool by beating Gloucester away on Sunday. That’s a massive ‘if’ of course and a home victory would take this group to the final weekend as well. The Cherry and Whites are up against it though with their flights booked to Biarritz next weekend and knowing that only back-to-back wins will be enough.
With all the top players vying for starting spots in the upcoming Six Nations, and a place on the Lions touring party, these matches are the equivalent of the “shop window”…and with so many top games lined up for this weekend, it looks like we’re spoiled for choice!