Heineken Cup last 16 play-offs

“Away against Connacht” is one of the phrases in rugby that strikes fear into most rugby players, but “first leg away against Connacht” isn’t quite as daunting.  Leinster won’t be relishing the prospect of a Friday night at a soggy Sportsground but I’m not sure they’ll be quite as terrified as Mack Hansen suggests they should be, knowing that they can overcome most opposition at the Aviva where they’ll be playing the second leg next Friday.  It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Connacht did turn over the URC leaders, although the bookmakers are expecting an away win but it would be a huge shock if the team from Galway progress to the Quarter finals.

Bordeaux Begles and La Rochelle only played each other on Saturday (and both head coaches had a rather heated tete a tete on the sidelines leading Christophe Urios to call O’Gara “unbearable” and O’Gara to be banned for both of these European games).  La Rochelle left Stade Chaban-Delmas with a 1-point win last week but Bordeaux are favourites to win this week but the last time the sides met on the west coast of France La Rochelle won 26-3 so if Urios’ side is to move on you would imagine they’ll need a big lead.

Bristol Bears host Sale Sharks and the last time they played Bristol won 32-15 that was back in January but recently the Bears form has slumped and they’ve only won two of their last nine game (and one of those was in the Premiership Cup), Sale for their part have won four of their last nine but have only scored more than 27 points twice so if Bristol can find some fluency they will cause Sale some issues and if they hit a real purple patch this week they could put the tie to bed before they travel north.

Toulouse have lost 10 games in the Top 14 this season but they have had a lot of players away with the French national squad during the current league season, in the European competition however they’re yet to play a home game as both their pool matches were cancelled due to COVID so they’ll be desperate to put on a show for fans this week.  Ulster have already won a European game away in France this season after they left the Stade Marcel-Michelin with a 29-23 victory in December.  Ulster have been in great form this season and if you ignore the two league games which involved travelling to a different hemisphere to play in an African summer they haven’t lost since Munster beat them in January and the weather forecast for the south of France looks very much like Ulster weather so this might be closer than Toulouse would want it to be but I can’t imagine a Heineken Cup Quarter final line up without Antoine Dupont in it.

Stade Francais travelled across Paris last week to get absolutely trounced 53-20 by Racing last weekend so they probably won’t be looking forward to the next two games they lost the first game of the Top 14 season at home to Racing too so it would be a big surprise if they progress to the Quarter finals.

Montpellier have both gone big and gone home this week, Paul Willemse is captain and the front row weighs 57 stone so Harlequins have a tough Sunday ahead of them.  If the visitors can keep the score pretty close then they will definitely fancy their chances of going through to the next round with a comfortable win at the Stoop but they’ll have to get through this one unscathed first.

Clermont play host to Leicester in the last game of the weekend and with Leicester becoming a well tuned dream killer and Clermont’s history of shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to European rugby it’s hard to see past an away win here and Leicester comfortably progressing into the Quarter finals.