Munster live to stand up and fight another day as all roads lead to London
RUGBY:London calling. The quarter-final line-up of the Heineken Cup quarter-finals has pitted Munster away to English champions Harlequins and Ulster at the home of their former coach Mark McCall, while even Leinster have been re-routed to English capital via an Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final against Wasps.
The matches are liable to be scheduled over three or four nights on the first weekend in April, with venues to be confirmed possibly by the end of the week, after Munster’s 29-6 win over Racing Metro and ensuing place in the last eight as one of the two best runners-up – effectively at the expense of reigning back to back champions Leinster – was confirmed when Leicester beat Toulouse 9-5 at a snowbound Welford Road to evict the four-time champions.
Alas, the semi-final draw would have slightly dampened Munster’s spirits, as the winner of their tie with Harlequins will have to travel to France to play either Clermont, now the six to four favourites. As they would have feared, Ulster missed out on a home quarter-final by dint of Saracens’ five try, 40-7 win at home to Edinburgh yesterday, although they at least have the carrot of a home semi-final, most likely at the Aviva Stadium, as the winners of that tie will have home country advantage against either Toulon or Leicester.
With Toulouse and Leinster being re-routed to the Amlin Challenge Cup the secondary competition has a decidedly heavyweight flavour featuring four teams with 10 Heineken Cup wins between them as well as two sides, Stade Francais and Biarritz, who have each been two-time runner-ups.
Leinster have been given the same route as last year’s Amlin winners Biarritz, a quarter-final away to Wasps followed by a home semi-final, against either Gloucester or Biarritz, standing between them and a final at the RDS on May 17th, the night before the Heineken Cup final. They are now 11 to 10 favourites to win that competition, having been given a favourable route to that mid-May weekend in Dublin, just not the one they would have wanted.
Harlequins have the option of moving their tie against Munster to Twickenham, but will be mindful of virtually conceding home advantage, and are likely to want to keep the game at the Stoop, where the capacity of 14,800 could probably be increased to meet the ERC requirement of a minimum 15,000 capacity.
Swelled by their ex-pat support, the Red Army are reckoned to have numbered 5-6,000 for their pool game against Saracens at Vicarage Road in December. Thus, the 25 per cent share of tickets for the away team will likely place a huge demand on tickets.
Ulster’s demand is liable to vastly exceed supply as well. Yesterday’s game at Vicarage Road against Edinburgh was scheduled to be Saracens’ last at the venue, as they move into their new home of Allianz Park next month, and they will assuredly want to showcase their new arena for such a marquee game as the quarter-final. However, the stated capacity is 10,000, and Ulster will also be decidedly unhappy about the prospect of having to play on the Allianz’s 4-G, synthetic pitch, which has nonetheless been given IRB approval.