As the 2012/13 Heineken Cup campaign heads towards a thrilling climax, just four sides are left in the hunt for domestic club rugby union’s most coveted prize.
Surprise package Munster will make the daunting trip to Top 14 leaders Clermont on Saturday, April 27, while Saracens will take on big-spending Toulon at Twickenham on Sunday, April 28.
Two sides will book their place in next month’s final at the Aviva Stadoum this weekend as both semi-finals are played out exclusively live on Sky Sports HD, along with the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Details of how to follow the 2012/13 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals below:
The first of the weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-finals sees tournament favourites Clermont take on Munster at the Stade de la Mosson.
The French outfit showed their class with a thumping 36-14 win over Top 14 rivals Montpellier in the quarter-finals and are tipped by many to lift the coveted prize in May.
As you would expect from a side that currently leads the Top 14 and is in the last four of Europe’s elite competition, Clermont have a squad that oozes class.
They have a battle-hardened and rugged front five, including the likes of Thomas Domingo, Jamie Cudmore and Nathan Hines, while Alexandre Lapandry and Julien Bonnaire are a menace in the back row.
Behind the scrum Morgan Parra is the lynchpin, with the No 9’s accuracy with the boot making him such a threat.
Across the back division, the Auvergne have a scary amount of gifted players – with Napolioni Nalaga, Wesley Fofana and Sitiveni Sivivatu brilliantly marshalled by Aurelien Rougerie.
However, they come up against two-time European champions Munster, a side which demonstrated their battling spirit in a narrow 18-12 win at Harlequins in the previous round.
Few gave Munster a hope of beating the Aviva Premiership champions at the Stoop, however, inspired by Paul O’Connell, the Irishmen defied the odds.
Munster had only scraped into the last eight courtesy of the second best runners-up spot after finishing behind Saracens in the pool after losing two of their games.
On top of that their form in the RaboDirect PRO12 has been below-par – with Munster set to finish well adrift of the play-offs.
However they have a habit of coming good on the big occasions, having won an impressive 91 of their 129 Heineken Cup games, including the title in 2005-06 and 2007-08, while Saturday’s trip to Stade de la Mosson will be their 10th semi-final appearance.
They will need two of their European veterans, though, to rise to the occasion yet again if they are to reach the final.
O’Connell, the talismanic lock, has 67 Heineken Cup appearances under his belt, while kicking king Ronan O’Gara has racked up 1,360 points in 109 games.
O’Gara slotted home six penalties as the Irishmen saw off their English opponents.
It was sweet revenge for the Irish international, who suffered defeat on his Heineken Cup debut at the venue in 1997.
Clermont eased passed their French counterparts Montpellier in their quarter-final.
The match was evenly poised at half-time, but three second-half tries proved too much for Fabien Galthie’s men to overturn.
Alex Payne introduces live coverage from Montpellier’s Stade de la Mosson on Sky Sports 1 HD with analysis from Dean Ryan, Alan Quinlan and Will Greenwood.
Match commentary is provided by Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes.
Premiership leaders Saracens, fresh from their impressive 27-16 quarter-final win over last season’s runners-up Ulster, take on Top 14 table-toppers Toulon at Twickenham in what should be a pulsating contest.
With Leicester and Harlequins bowing out in the quarter-finals, it’s down to Saracens to fly the English flag in this season’s competition.
Until last weekend’s surprise defeat at the hands of Gloucester, Sarries had been flying high, winning six league games on the bounce and brushing aside the challenge of last year’s finalists Ulster in the Heineken Cup.
They will be only too aware that they will need to recapture this form if they are to reach their first final.
The Premiership leaders have built their game around a watertight defence and a strong kicking game.
They have conceded just 30 tries in 28 games in the league and Europe, while Owen Farrell has given them the platform to build on.
Farrell has landed 92 points in the Heineken Cup this season – including a stunning 32 points in the away win against Racing Metro.
Despite the criticisms that they play a conservative style of percentage rugby, Saracens do also have a plan B as the wins over Edinburgh, Racing Metro and Ulster highlight.
With Chris Ashton, Dave Strettle and Alex Goode they certainly have the class out wide.
Mark McCall’s side dispatched Ulster at Twickenham earlier this month and return to HQ to welcome their French semi-final opponents, who are packed with famous faces, including former England star Jonny Wilkinson.
Toulon will be looking to add another Premiership side to their collection of scalps in this season’s competition, after ending Leicester’s hopes in the quarter-finals.
Their last eight encounter saw a fascinating battle between England fly-halves past and present.
Retired international Wilkinson kicked all 21 of Toulon’s points to better the efforts of Toby Flood and keep the French side’s dream of a first Heineken Cup final alive.
Toulon’s squad is like a ‘who’s who of world rugby’ with owner Mourad Boudjellal having assembled an expensive collection of star players.
So far his ‘fantasy rugby’ side has yet to repay the investment with silverware – with a Top 14 final and two Amlin Challenge Cup final defeats in recent years – though they feel that this could be their year in Europe and domestically.
A number of the squad will feel at home in Sunday’s surroundings with Jonny Wilkinson, Andrew Sheridan and Simon Shaw regulars at Twickenham in the past – while fellow Englishmen Steffon Armitage and Nick Kennedy perhaps haven’t won as many caps as they should have.
There is likely to be a clash of styles with Wilkinson’s boot key to Toulon’s hopes, while the forward battle is likely to be an intriguing affair.
Fri 26 Apr – PERPIGNAN v STADE FRANCAIS – 20:00 – Sky Sports 3 Sat 27 Apr – LEINSTER v BIARRITZ – 14:30 – Sky Sports 1
Sky Sports also have live coverage of the Amlin Cup semi-finals, where there is a predominantly French flavour to the latter stages of this year’s tournament.
Perpignan will be gunning for a place their first European final in ten years when they host Stade Français in Friday’s all-French semi-final at Stade Aime Giral.
Perpignan were beaten by Toulouse in the 2003 Heineken Cup Final in Dublin and the Catalans are hoping to return to the Irish capital on May 17 for a date with either Leinster or Biarritz.
The Catalans lost 23-15 away to Agen in the Top 14 last weekend but results elsewhere meant they are assured of seventh spot, which could equate to a spot in the Heineken Cup next season if either Clermont or Toulon go on to claim the title.
But Perpignan should not get ahead of themselves as they face a Stade Français side led by an in-form Felipe Contepomi and full of confidence after their victory in the Paris derby last weekend.
In the second semi-final, last year’s Heineken Cup winners Leinster take on Biarritz at Dublin’s RDS.
Both of these sides began the season in the European Cup, but transferred to this competition after missing out on the knockout stages of the more illustrious event.
They will compete for the chance to progress to the Amlin final against either Perpignan or Stade Francais.
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 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 semi-finals.
A one-hour highlights programme will round-up all the action from both semi-final matches on Sunday evening at 7pm, presented by Gareth Roberts with analysis former Wales captain Gwyn Jones and Arthur Emyr.
Indicates Heineken Cup / Amlin Challenge Cup matches Friday 26th April Perpignan v Stade Francais – Semi Final Kick-off: 20:00 | LIVE: 7.30pm-10.15pm – Sky Sports 3 Saturday 27th April Leinster v Biarritz – Semi Final Kick-off: 14:30 | LIVE: 2.00pm-4.30pm – Sky Sports 1 Clermont Auvergne v v Munster – Semi Final Kick-off: 17:00 | LIVE: 4.30pm-7.30pm – Sky Sports 1 Sunday 28th April Saracens v Toulon – Semi Final Kick-off: 15:00 | LIVE: 2.00pm-5.30pm – Sky Sports 2 Match Highlights: European Rugby Special 9.00pm-10.00pm – Sky Sports 4 Cwpan Heineken (Welsh language, English subtitles) 7.00pm-8.00pm – 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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