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Heineken Cup gears up for quarter-finals

getty

ercrugby.com and James Mortimer     01 Apr 2013     getty

Clermont reached the quarter-finals as No 2 seeds after winning all six of their pool matches - including impressive home and away victories over the reigning champions, Leinster Rugby - and with Head Coach, Vern Cotter, and his players currently in second place in the Top 14, they will go into the tie with Montpellier defending a 56-game unbeaten run at the 18,000-capacity Marcel Michelin.

On the same day, current Aviva Premiership leaders, Saracens, will meet last season's runners-up, Ulster Rugby, at Twickenham Stadium in a match which will see Director of Rugby, Mark McCall, going up against the club he captained during their 1999 cup-winning season.

Ulster have been hit by injuries to Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris and Paddy Wallace, however, they are determined to go one better than 2012 and the Anglo-Irish confrontation could set a new UK attendance record for a Heineken Cup quarter-final surpassing last season's 37,881 for Edinburgh Rugby v Toulouse at Murrayfield.

No 1 seeds from the pool stage and current English champions, Harlequins, host two-time tournament winners, Munster Rugby, at a sold-out Twickenham Stoop on Sunday, 7 April for a game which could mark the return of the 2009 British and Irish Lions captain, Paul O'Connell, to European action.

Later that day, Top 14 leaders, Toulon, who have been boosted by the recent signings of Rocky Elsom and Danie Rossouw, go head-to-head with former Heineken Cup champions, Leicester Tigers, in what promises to be a mouth-watering first tournament quarter-final to be staged at Stade Félix Mayol.

Next weekend the top eight teams in Europe will battle it out for a place in the semi-finals. Only Montpellier of the eight teams will be making their debut at this stage when they travel to face ASM Clermont Auvergne on Saturday, 7 April.

The other seven have all been at this stage before with four of them, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Saracens, Ulster and Munster, surviving from last season's quarter-finals. Of the last eight, three have gone all the way and won the Heineken Cup before, Ulster in 1999, Leicester Tigers in 2001 and 2002 and Munster in 2006 and 2008.

This is traditionally the hardest stage of the tournament to win away from home with 48 of the 64 Heineken Cup quarter-finals having ended in home triumphs - a 75% success rate for those teams who earned the right to play at their home ground.

Of the 16 away wins since the 1996/97 season Munster are the only club to have won three times on the road, at Stade Jean-Bouin against Stade Francais Paris (2002), at Welford Road against Leicester Tigers (2003) and at Gloucester Rugby in 2008.

Of the first 20 quarter-finals played between 1996/97 and 2000/01 there were only two away wins. Two of last season's quarter-finals were won by the away club with Ulster triumphing 22-16 over Munster at Thomond Park and ASM Clermont Auvergne comprehensively taking the honours 22-3 against Saracens at Vicarage Road.