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Harlequins relish play-off with Munster

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Sportal.co.nz     22 Jan 2013     Getty Images

Top seeds Quins are among three English clubs through to the tournament's last-eight, being joined by Saracens and Leicester.

While Quins will host Munster in early April, Saracens entertain Ulster and Leicester go to Toulon, with the remaining quarter-final an all-French affair between Clermont Auvergne and Montpellier.

Care tweeted: "So excited about the quarter final draw...Munster at the mighty Stoop gonna be massive!!"

It is the first time since 2009 that three English clubs have made the quarter-finals.

Leicester progressed as sixth seeds after knocking out four-time European champions Toulouse, which means a trip to Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon.

"You would prefer to be at home, but we have got to get past Toulon. They are an immense side, a fantastic team," Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill said.

"It is going to be a huge event for us and another huge day in Tigers' history."

While Leicester toppled Toulouse 9-5 in the Welford Road snow, Saracens skated across a wintry surface on their final appearance at Vicarage Road to post a 40-7 bonus point victory over Edinburgh.

And Munster, Heineken Cup winners in 2006 and 2008, knew they had to record a bonus point success against Racing to progress as eighth seeds at holders Leinster's expense, and they duly delivered with a 29-6 win.

"If we hadn't [reached the quarter-finals] the people would be in the long grass, there would have been a lot of bullets being fired," Munster head coach Rob Penney said.

"If we hadn't got the outcome, I would have still been proud of the progress we are making and the areas of growth we are getting."

Clermont, unbeaten at home for more than 50 games, will be firm favourites to eliminate quarter-final debutants Montpellier, while three English clubs secured Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final home ties.

Top seeds Bath entertain Stade Francais, with Gloucester hosting Biarritz and Wasps meeting Leinster. The fourth tie sees French heavyweights Perpignan and Toulouse going head to head.

Assessing the prospect of Leinster's visit, Wasps rugby director David Young said: "You could look at it and say it's not much reward for topping our pool to then be given a draw against the Heineken Cup champions.

"But but on the flip side, what a hugely exciting prospect it will be playing them at home. It is a game which, if we can win it, would really put us on the map."

The line-up for this season's Heineken Cup quarter-finals was confirmed on Monday.

Harlequins host Munster, Clermont Auvergne entertain Montpellier, Leicester visit Toulon and Ulster travel to Saracens.

Here, PA Sport looks at the eight teams that will now contest European title glory.

HARLEQUINS

English champions Quins qualified as top seeds for the quarter-finals after collecting 28 points from a possible 30 in dominating Pool Three. They have reached the knockout phase for a fourth time, but exited at this stage on all three previous occasions to Leicester, Toulouse and Leinster.

Star player: Nick Evans - Brilliant New Zealand first five-eighths whose outstanding goalkicking and game-management skills repeatedly thrive under pressure.

MUNSTER

Munster, Heineken Cup winners in 2006 and 2008, once again came up trumps under intense pressure on Sunday by scoring the four tries required in beating Racing Metro, therefore knocking holders Leinster out. Might not be quite the force they once were, but it would be foolish to write them off.

Star player: Simon Zebo - Try hat-trick hero at Thomond Park on Sunday, the Ireland international is among European rugby's deadliest finishers.

CLERMONT AUVERGNE

Anxious to make amends for last season's semi-final loss to Leinster in Bordeaux. Swept through Pool Five unbeaten, including home and away victories over Leinster, and are unbeaten at their Stade Marcel Michelin fortress for more than 50 games. Will take some stopping.

Star player: Morgan Parra - Goalkicking halfback is the man who makes a star-studded squad click. Often unfussy and unspectacular, but he gets the job done time and time again.

MONTPELLIER

The quarter-final debutants face a daunting trip to Clermont, having progressed as one of two best runners-up. A demolition of Toulon in their final Pool Six game proved how good they can be, but they could struggle to handle the step up in class that is now required.

Star player: Mamuka Gorgodze - The teak-tough Georgia international forward has epitomised Montpellier's determined approach in Europe this season. A leader and warrior.

TOULON

The mega-rich French club are in only their second season of Heineken Cup rugby, having reached the quarter-finals last term before bowing out to Perpignan in Barcelona. Top of the French Championship, they are serious contenders.

Star player: Jonny Wilkinson - England's celebrated World Cup winner has adapted magnificently to rugby life in Toulon. Remains a goalkicking match-winner of the highest quality.

LEICESTER

Leicester, Heineken Cup winners in 2001 and 2002, will have it all to do when they head to Stade Felix Mayol, but their European pedigree is unquestioned and they dug out another superb victory on Sunday, beating four-time Heineken champions Toulouse. Outsiders, but dangerous.

Star player: Dan Cole - The England prop is among world rugby's most powerful scrummagers. So often at the epicentre when Tigers dominate opponents.

SARACENS

Performed superbly to top a pool that included twice European champions Munster and wealthy Parisians Racing Metro. Quarter-finalists on two previous occasions and reached the semi-finals in 2008. Will not roll over easily.

Star player: Owen Farrell - Kicked a tournament-record 10 penalty goals when Saracens toppled Racing in Nantes eight days ago. Ice-cool temperament, whatever the stakes.

ULSTER

Started the campaign brilliantly, which was highlighted by a stunning bonus-point triumph at Northampton, but were then hit badly by injuries to key players such as Tommy Bowe, Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy. Winners in 1999, runners-up last season, a match for most on their day.

Star player: Rory Best - The Ireland international hooker epitomises a tireless, workaholic attitude within Ulster's ranks. Leads from the front.