Quarter finalists decided as the Heineken Cup thrills again


As ever, round six of the Heineken Cup proved to be a dramatic and surprising weekend of rugby with teams dropping in and out of contention for a quarter final spot by the minute.

Who could possibly have predicted at the start of the season that Toulouse, the most successful side in Heineken Cup history, and Leinster, back-to-back winners of the Cup, would be playing out the rest of their seasons in the Amlin Cup?

Who again could have predicted that following all the debate in the boardrooms of European rugby that the tournament should be restructured to an inherently ‘unfair advantage’ for the Celtic teams, that six of the eight quarter finalists would be from France and England.

The weekend was made all the more exciting by the fact that bonus points and tries scored were becoming absolutely crucial in determining who would qualify, yet in wet, snowy, miserable conditions, it was harder than ever to score even one try, let alone enough for a bonus point.

We had Leinster and Munster battling it out, 24 hours apart, in what was emerging as a ‘he who scores most, qualifies’ battle. Leinster drew first blood, securing a four try bonus against Exeter.

Montpellier made it an even more fierce battle, by beating Toulon they secured the first of the two runners up spots. Two in to one just does not go.

Munster by virtue of Leinster not overhauling their try count by more than four new that a bonus point win against Racing Metro would secure the final runners up spot – barring a freak result at Welford Road.

In the only sour note of the weekend, Racing let the tournament down. They put out a virtual second XV in a move that surely demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the tournament and the other teams.

It was good news for Munster though, with further good news coming when Wayne Barnes sent off Racing’s Antoine Battut for kneeing an opponent in the head.

Almost inevitably the Munster tries followed with the bonus point secured early in the second half and the 8th quarter final spot with it.

Saracens had brushed aside Edinburgh to top the Munster pool, and had secured a home quarter final, leaving the winners of Pool 2 the only slot yet to be decided.

That pool would be taken in a winner takes all clash between Leicester and Toulouse at Welford Road. In a scene resembling a Christmas card more than a high-octane rugby match, one of the great Heineken Cup teams was assured to be leaving.

The game was a feisty affair, with the snowy conditions dictating that it would be a game for the forwards. A litany of handling errors proved this, including a spilled ball from Matthew Tait that allowed Yoann Huget to score the only try of the game in the second half.

It was a game that was always going to be decided by the kickers though, and Leicester Toby Flood had given them a 9-0 lead through his boot at half time.

Huget’s try made it 9-5 but a complete inability by Luke McAllister and Lionel Beauxis to kick their goals left Tigers in control.

The last ten minutes were slightly nervy for Leicester as Toby Flood took a yellow card for a deliberate knock on. They held out though to secure the final quarter final spot, and to knock out the most successful side in Heineken Cup history.

Heineken Cup Draw:

Quarter Finals:

Harlequins v Munster

Clermont v Montpellier

Toulon v Leicester

Saracens v Ulster

Semi Finals: 

Saracens/Ulster v Toulon/Leicester 

Clermont/Montpellier v Harlequins/Munster

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