Eight sides reignite their ambitions for European glory as the knockout stages of the 2012/13 Heineken Cup take place this weekend.
Three teams from France, three from England and two from Ireland remain to battle it out for a lucrative place in the semi-finals of European rugby union’s ultimate prize.
All four Heineken Cup last-eight ties will be shown exclusively live on Sky Sports HD, forming part of an unmissable weekend of knockout European rugby.
There will also be full coverage of the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals, where Aviva Premiership sides Gloucester, Wasps and Bath compete for a place in the last four of the second tier competition.
Details of how to follow the 2012/13 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup Quarter Finals below:
Your weekend’s Heineken Cup entertainment gets under way on Saturday afternoon with the all-French affair between Clermont Auvergne and Montpellier at Stade Marcel Michelin.
The occasion marks the first time that the clubs have met in European competition and will be an opportunity for the visitors to make an impression on their maiden appearance in the knockout stage.
Clermont are the side to avoid in this season’s Heineken Cup and have been in simply irresistible form, having won five of their past six games domestically.
They negotiated their way through the Heineken Cup pool stages unbeaten and also boast a sensational record at home, with their 66-21 rout of Agen stretching their unbeaten streak to 57 matches.
Their quarter-final opponents Montpellier and potential last-four rivals Munster or Quins will not fancy a trip to the fortress Stade Marcel Michelin.
Montpellier return to Heineken Cup action as big outsiders to progress into the semi-final, let alone finish as champions.
They claimed their place in the last eight as one of the two best runners-up – and that means they will have the unenviable prospect of tackling their French compatriots.
Saracens host last season’s beaten finalists Ulster in the second of Saturday’s matches, a contest that is also available to watch in 3D.
The English club are now three-time quarter-finalists and can call upon the experience and guidance of Mark McCall.
Now director of rugby at Saracens, McCall captained Ulster en route to their Heineken Cup triumph in 1999.
The Aviva Premiership leaders have been timing their run of form to perfection.
Sarries have won their previous five league encounters – including impressive wins over Leicester and Harlequins, while Wasps were brushed aside 22-13 last time out.
Their never-say-die attitude makes them a dangerous proposition for any side, as their stunning 37-28 win over Racing Metro in Nantes proved.
That victory helped Saracens claim top spot in the pool and a home quarter-final against Ulster.
Having got the season off to a flying start with 13 successive wins in all competitions, Ulster’s form has stuttered of late.
Last Saturday’s 22-18 win over Leinster in Dublin was their first in four attempts – however given they had last won away to their provincial rivals 14 years ago, they can head to Saracens with renewed hope of emulating last season’s heroics.
Ulster had carved their way through Europe before coming unstuck against Leinster in the final at Twickenham.
The first instalment of Sunday’s double bill pits Harlequins – one of the five clubs in the last eight to have won a European title – against Munster.
Quins came through the pool stage as the top seeds for the first time in their history and will take further confidence from the fact that they got the better of their Irish opponents when they met in the semi-finals of the 2011 Amlin Challenge Cup.
Munster boast an impressive record of their own, though. They’ve won nine of their 13 quarter-final clashes and three of those successes came away from home.
The Premiership champions are the top seeds going into the quarter-finals, however their domestic form of late will be a cause of concern.
They have lost their last three Aviva Premiership games – going down to Exeter, Saracens and Gloucester – and although they did win the LV= Cup title in between, that only papers over the cracks that have appeared in their challenge.
There is no doubting the potential at Quins, though, and if they can recapture their early season form they are a match for anyone.
On paper, Munster have a mountain to climb if they are to make it past the quarter-final stage – however never write off the Thomond Park side.
The former champions gatecrashed the last-eight places courtesy of their bonus-point win over Racing Metro on the final day.
An added bonus for the Munstermen was the fact that they claimed the last ‘best runners-up spot’ at the expense of their old foes Leinster.
Defeats to Racing and Saracens showed they are vulnerable away from home, though, while their form of late has hardly looked that of potential winners.
Toulon take on two-time tournament winner Leicester Tigers in the final fixture of a bumper weekend.
The French heavyweights lost to Perpignan in front of a record crowd of 55,000 on their only previous quarter-final appearance.
Meanwhile the Tigers have ten last-eight encounters under their belts, six of which they’ve been on the victorious side.
With Jonny Wilkinson, Carl Hayman, Bakkies Botha, Simon Shaw, Matt Giteau, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Frederic Michalak, the Toulon squad is like a ‘Who’s Who of Rugby’.
However, despite the galaxy of stars, Toulon have not enjoyed the success to justify the amount that has been spent.
The Top 14 leaders have high hopes of ending their 21-year wait for silverware this time around, though.
They have lost just once at Stade Felix Mayol in their past 18 games, meaning that home advantage against the Tigers will suit them in the last eight.
Leicester will make the trip to Toulon full of confidence after their 36-8 demolition of Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens.
The Tigers are currently on a three-match winning run in the league and remain hot on the heels of table-topping Saracens.
Their form in Europe this season has been equally impressive as they progressed from the hardest of the six pools.
The Tigers are five-time finalists of the competition but the last of their two wins came in 2002.
However if they are to end their 11-year wait to lift the trophy again they will have to do it the hard way, with trips Toulon and then Saracens or Ulster now on the cards.
Thu 4 Apr – GLOUCESTER v BIARRITZ – k/o 20:00 – SS2 Fri 5 Apr – WASPS v LEINSTER – k/o 20:00 – SS2 Fri 5 Apr – PERPIGNAN v TOULOUSE – k/o 20:00 – SS2 (Red Button) Sat 6 Apr – BATH v STADE FRANCAIS – k/o 13:00 – SS1
In addition to its coverage of every match from the Heineken Cup’s first knockout stage, Sky Sports will show all four Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals live.
It all begins on Thursday, April 7, when Gloucester host defending champions Biarritz at Kingsholm.
Twenty-four hours later, London Wasps tackle last year’s Heineken Cup winners Leinster at Adams Park.
Gloucester flew through the pool stage of the Challenge Cup, winning all six of their games.
Biarritz struggled to make an impact in the Heineken Cup pools for the second successive season, and finished 13 points shy of Harlequins.
Second prize is an opportunity to defend the title they won last season, after beating Toulon in a final that went down to the wire.
With just three points separating the sides, Toulon had the ball deep inside opposition territory with Jonny Wilkinson primed for the drop goal.
It was not be, however, and Biarritz’s defence stood firm to claim their first ever European prize.
Leinster will hope to make amends for a disastrous Heineken Cup showing.
Progression to the quarterfinals of the Heineken Cup had seemed straightforward for the defending champions, but successive defeats to Clermont Auvergne proved fatal.
Lifting the Challenge Cup would go some way to healing those wounds but Wasps showed they are no pushover after scoring 30 tries during the pool phase.
An early score here could unsettle their visitors and set the tone for another big European upset.
As if that wasn’t enough, Sky Sports viewers can also take in the remaining quarter-final between Bath and Stade Francais at the Recreation Ground on Saturday lunchtime, all part of a busy weekend of enthralling knockout European rugby.
Sky Sports is the only place to follow all the action from the 2012/13 Heineken Cup with a plethora of live games from the opening round through to the final at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, on Saturday, May 18.
Alex Payne and James Gemmell will present Sky Sports’ live coverage of both competitions with expert analysis and comment from Will Greenwood, Dewi Morris, Dean Ryan, Paul Wallace, Scott Quinnell and many more.
Commentary on all the big games will be led by Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes.
Other members of the commentary team include Johnnie Hammond, Mark Robson, Martin Gillingham, Simon Ward, Ieuan Evans and Scott Hastings.
Live coverage begins on Thursday evening with a European Rugby Club Special, hosted by Alex Payne, which builds up to a brilliant weekend of knockout rugby with analysis and discussion about the events to come.
If you miss any of the live action, highlights of the whole weekend’s action will be shown in European Rugby Special on Sunday evening.
Selected games will also be shown in stunning 3D on the Sky 3D channel, plus Sky Sports customers can watch the live action wherever they are via mobiles, tablets and laptops on Sky Go.
Despite no Welsh representation in the latter stages of both European competitions, Welsh language channel S4C will have free-to-air highlights of the Heineken Cup knockout stages.
The one-hour highlights programme will round-up all the action from the four Heineken Cup ties on Sunday evening at 10pm, presented by Gareth Roberts with former Wales captain Gwyn Jones alongside.
Indicates Heineken Cup / Amlin Challenge Cup matches Thursday 4th April Gloucester v Biarritz – Quarter Final Kick-off: 20:00 | LIVE: 7.00pm-10.00pm – Sky Sports 2 Friday 5th April Wasps v Leinster – Quarter Final Kick-off: 20:00 | LIVE: 7.30pm-10.00pm – Sky Sports 2 Perpignan v Toulouse – Quarter Final Kick-off: 20:00 | LIVE: 7.55pm-9.45pm – Sky Sports 2 (Red Button) Saturday 6th April Bath v Stade Francais – Quarter Final Kick-off: 13:00 | LIVE: 12.30pm-3.15pm – Sky Sports 1 Clermont Auvergne v Montpellier – Quarter Final Kick-off: 15:40 | LIVE: 3.15pm-6.00pm – Sky Sports 1 Saracens v Ulster – Quarter Final Kick-off: 18:30 | LIVE: 6.00pm-8.55pm – Sky Sports 1 / Sky 3D Sunday 7th April Harlequins v Munster – Quarter Final Kick-off: 14:00 | LIVE: 1.30pm-4.00pm – Sky Sports 2 Leicester Tigers v Toulon – Quarter Final Kick-off: 16:30 | LIVE: 4.00pm-6.55pm – Sky Sports 2 Match Highlights: European Rugby Special 9.00pm-10.00pm – Sky Sports 1 Cwpan Heineken (Welsh language, English subtitles) 10.00pm-11.00pm – S4C . . .
Sky Sports subscribers can follow every Heineken Cup match via the Sky Sports Events Centre – CLICK HERE
Keep up to date with all the latest Heineken Cup reports, score flashes and results by logging onto the Sky Sports rugby union website, or by following Sky Sports’ dedicated rugby union Twitter feed (@SkySportsRugby).
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