18 May, 15:44
It's down to the wire now for the five contenders who have been shortlisted for the ultimate individual accolade in northern hemisphere rugby, ERC European Player of the Year 2013.
Miles Harrison writes
All eyes will be on Kingsholm this weekend for a match that really quickens the pulse, Gloucester v Munster.
Last year's Heineken Cup battles between the two were consuming clashes and both went with home advantage. Gloucester put four tries on the Irish and looked good doing so. Munster memorably had their day in the return.
With everything involved in that latter game I have to class it as one of the best club/provincial matches I have ever witnessed. The scenes before, during and after that 33-6 Munster win at Thomond Park will live long in my memory.
It also generated Heineken Cup folklore via the tale of the Limerick taxi driver who, it is alleged, ambushed Gloucester's black book of tricks and contributed to a famous triumph.
True or not, it was too good a story to keep down and the Cup's history and reputation is the better for it.
Not that Nigel Melville will agree. He has spent some of this week fielding - and deriding - more questions about the taxi story. You get the feeling too much has been made of that one for his liking.
Back on the pitch, it's imperative that you win your home matches in this competition. And the bonus point situation adds another dimension. Four tries could make all the difference.
But they both know that it's fundamentally about winning - whatever the margin.
Form wise, Gloucester come in to this buoyant after victory at Leicester last week for the first time in their Premiership history. Munster, however, travel to Kingsholm with a team that oozes class.
It must be remembered they could easily have appeared in four consecutive finals: they were in the final in 2000; lost by a point in the semis in 2001; in the final in 2002; lost by a point in the semis in 2002.
They have proven pedigree at this level - we're talking potential champions.
Their last showing was an abhorration: 3-0 at Connacht in the Celtic League. The playing conditions as well as the scoreline harked back to a bygone era. Alan Gaffney called it a 'wake-up call'.
You can't talk about this match-up with out mentioning Duncan McRae and Ronan O'Gara, though I think it will be a live issue next week when the Aussie turns up at Thomond Park. I'm sure the fans there will have something to say.
All I will say about it is that I'll never forget that night in Sydney two-and-a-half years ago. I think Graham Henry called it a black day for rugby. I would agree. It was a frenzied attack. But we have to look forward.
I don't think it will affect this contest at all. If players become sidetracked with exacting their own form of justice or retribution, they lose concentration and concede penalties and points. No coach wants that.
I can't remember the last time I had a sneaky feeling for a team going to Kingsholm, but I can't deny it. I think Gloucester will sneak it, but I give Munster about a 40%-50% chance, and that's massive baring in mind the task.
Edinburgh are on the verge of making history against Leeds Tykes as the first Scottish team to qualify for the Heineken Cup quarter finals. They started with two wins, got the bonus point on their travels and have built a platform. It's an amazing opening, but the pressure is on now for them to capitalise on it. I back them to grasp it.
Scott Quinnell is unlikely to be at full fitness, but we have already seen in this competition that Llanelli Scarlets are a force to be reckoned with at home. It's hard to back against them. Agen are a fierce team, very physical and very aggressive. But Scarlets have the pack to match that and I see them winning this one. They have to.
I said at the start of the competition that I fancy an Irish side to win it and, along with Munster and Ulster, Leinster Lions have a real chance. They are as good as anybody. Sale have a lot to offer in a difficult group, but I see the Brian O'Driscoll's Irish having too much for them.
Bourgoin will also have too much for Benetton Treviso. It's a thorny issue for the Heineken Cup, but the Italians sides are on the wrong end of some savage scorelines. But we have to be patient with them at this level - and at international level for that matter.
Dragons v Stade Francais presents me with a much more difficult task. Dragons at home are strong and they are moving in the right direction under coach Mike Ruddock. Stade will be hard to beat. It's a must-win tie for them both, though I can see it being a draw. It's a brave call, but this group is so tight there's got to be one.
It is a special thing watching Toulouse play at home. It's hard to put it into words, the colour, noise and passion... it's just unique. It's a great place to watch but not such a great place to play and I can't see anything other than a Toulouse win against the Ospreys. They are a special side.
Borders are not as strong as Edinburgh at present, but give them time and they may match their countrymen's achievements. It's a hard task going to Northampton, who will take this one. Borders aren't the real threat to Saints, and they'll have one eye on Llanelli's fortunes. The motivation for them is back-to-back wins against Borders that will set them up nicely. Matt Dawson should return, too.
It's a difficult weekend for the Welsh. Same as Ospreys, Cardiff Blues have a big ask on their hands, too big in truth. Not too many go to Biarritz and come away with something. Blues are struggling domestically, yet to win in the Cup and are tainted by more merger talk. Who knows? It could go the other way and inspire them to a special achievement. I doubt it, but a show of character is paramount.
Going back to the Treviso issue, Calvisano's record is not the best either. Perpignan were pushed hard by Warriors, but they won't be this time. It's a good chance for the French to assert themselves collectively in this competition. The Cup finalists will do so. Will they get the bonus point? They need to make sure of it as Wasps and Warriors did.
Ulster v Leicester is a game nestling there underneath Gloucester v Munster as the attraction of the weekend. There are so many things to make this a great match: 1) Ulster is a great place to play rugby. 2) The hosts are genuine contenders. 3) Leicester ought to be, but aren't. They travel to Ireland with the Premiership lost. Thus, so much is at stake. It's going to be an almighty tussle that, I believe, Ulster will nick.
The last game of a busy weekend - and what a game. Wasps are in sublime form, playing terrific rugby, looking strong, fit and fast. They are definitely England's best bet for Heineken Cup glory. I expect them to have too much for Celtic Warriors at home. It's early days for them. They are looking pretty strong but are for the future - Wasps are for now.