For grass roots rugby there is no better competition on earth than the Heineken Cup. And this year looks like another clash of the titans with the quarter finals drawing ever closer. The group stages were phenomenal with teams really pulling it out of the bag for last ditch attempts of qualification.
And what qualifiers we have now! Toulouse Triple winners of the Heineken Cup, Toulouse were the first team to ever win the competition back in 1995/96. With two further successful championships under their best in 2002/03 and 2004/05, they are once again the bookies favourites for this year. Having topped the rankings for the final eight and with home draw advantage on their side are they unstoppable? Well, Wasps proved they were two years ago when they beat them in the final so they're certainly not invincible! Odds: Favourites at 5/4 Leicester Leicester had a tough draw ahead of them at the beginning of this championship with last year's runner-ups, Stade Francais in their pool. Clearly this didn't daunt Leicester one little bit because not only did they top their pool they did beating Stade Francais along the way! The quarter finals see them with home advantage in the Walkers Stadium which, no doubt, will be packed to the brim with over 30,000 supporters. Odds: 6/1 Biarritz Biarritz have always posed a threat in this competition along with its French counterparts, Toulouse, Perpignan and Stade Francais and making it to the quarterfinals with home advantage is certainly enough to give the club a massive boost. Last year, they overcame the mighty Munster in the quarters to secure a much deserved semi final place but sadly didn't make it any further - is this year Biarritz finally come out of Toulouse's shadow and take the title? Odds: 5/2 Munster Maybe the unluckiest team in this championship, Munster haven't missed a quarter final place for over eight years.
But despite having made it to the final stages so many times, they have never actually won it. Going on the performance against Sale in Thomond park earlier in the pool stages, don't write them off!! With every player digging down deep and giving 120% and with over 30,000 Munster fans on their way to Dublin for the quarter final, this could be Munster's year! Odds: 8/1 Perpignan They may have bagged themselves a quarterfinal place in this year's competition but even I wouldn't fancy the prospect of going to Munster away from home at this stage in the game. But I don't think that Perpignan are going to be shaking in their boots just yet. These guys have previously made it to the final only to be beaten out by Toulouse so they're well aware of what it takes to win this tournament. Odds: 16/1 Sale Sharks Sale were flying earlier in this tournament with a 100% win record up until the last game of the pools.
They are currently riding high at the top of the Zurich Premiership and despite a hic-cup at Munster they have ploughed on and look set to cause some more major upsets before the season is over. On their side the have the England kicker in Hodgson, a human mountain in the form of Chabal and the advantage of being relatively unknown in this competition. Down but certainly not out! Odds: 14/1 Leinster Hands rubbed in glee when the line-up should a Leicester V Bath quarter final and the excitement hasn't diminished one bit since. This is going to be an almighty clash and with only one point separating them at the end of the pools stages, there is virtually nothing in it. Slight advantage has to go to Leicester with the home draw but it's still English Soil and at least they don't have to travel to France! Odds: 20/1 Bath Hands rubbed in glee when the line-up should a Leicester V Bath quarter final and the excitement hasn't diminished one bit since. This is going to be an almighty clash and with only one point separating them at the end of the pools stages, there is virtually nothing in it.
Slight advantage has to go to Leicester with the home draw but it's still English Soil and at least they don't have to travel to France! Odds: 25/1 .
By: Paul Eddison