Monday, 21 January 2013

Heineken Cup - round 6

Finally, eight teams, which survived pool stages and qualified to the quarterfinals, are now known. Rivalry this year was very tense. One of the most famous European powerhouses - Toulouse was knocked out. So were the champions - Leinster. Both favourites had to say “bye” to the tournament. As I mentioned in my previous post, four teams already secured their places a week ago but the battle for the remaining four was truly epic.
The Irish from Munster needed to win with Racing Metro and gain a bonus point to qualify. Not an easy task, but they managed to accomplish it (29:6). The hero of the game was winger Simon Zebo who scored three tries. Conor Murray and Mike Sherry added two more. Maximum points win means that the defending champions - Leinster are out of the tournament and will not defend their title.
The game at Welford Road produced another surprise. In the dramatic encounter, Leicester Tigers won 9:5 and knocked out the mighty Toulouse. The match was played in a winter weather conditions. Hosts dealt better with cold temperature and snow. All points for them were scored by Toby Flood. Toulouse kickers had a bad day as they failed to convert seventeen points from the kicking tee.

Other quarter-finalists are Saracens, who swept over Edinburgh 40:7 and secured not only the place in the knockout stage but also home advantage in the quarter-final. They will play with Ulster. It is worth mentioning that it was their last ever game at the Vicarage Road stadium, so a farewell appearance was very successful.

Another team, which progressed to the knockout stage, is Montpellier. In  order to qualify, they needed at least two points from the match against Toulon. They took this challenge seriously and showed outstanding performance winning 23:3. Benoit Paillaugue helped his team a lot by scoring 15 points! Jonny Wilkinson was first to put points on the board by converting a penalty in the fourth minute. Thereafter the hosts totally dominated their rivals, though.

All in all, there are three teams from England (Harlequins, Leicester and Saracens), three teams from France (Clermont, Toulon and Montpellier) and two teams from Ireland (Munster and Ulster) in the top eight in Heineken Cup. It is hard to say which team has got the most chances to win the  tournament. The bookmakers’ favourite is Clermont but I would not underestimate English clubs, especially Harlequins and Leicester Tigers, which already proved that they can beat the best teams in the world. To see who will establish themselves as a new force in Europe we will have to wait until April though. For now, it is worth to focus on the Six Nations and see how the form from the Heineken Cup will transfer on to the national teams.

Below you will find the quarter-final fixtures:

Harlequins - Munster
Clermont - Montpellier
Toulon - Leicester Tigers
Saracens - Ulster