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.
HEINEKEN CUP SEMI-FINALS
Munster or Stade Franà§ais Paris
London Wasps or Gloucester
Toulouse or Edinburgh Rugby
Llanelli Scarlets or Biarritz Olympique
The teams drawn out of the drum first and third (Munster or Stade Franà§ais Paris and Toulouse or Edinburgh Rugby) will have 'home' advantage. The semi-finals will be played at neutral venues in the country of the team drawn at home - and at stadia with a capacity in excess of 20,000 - on the weekend of 23 / 24 / 25 April. The four stadia selected to host the Heineken Cup semi-finals are:
STADE CHABAN-DELMAS, BORDEAUX
(Home venue for winners of quarter-final between Toulouse and Edinburgh Rugby, who will play the winners of Llanelli Scarlets v Biarritz Olympique)
LANSDOWNE ROAD, DUBLIN
STADE CHARLETY, PARIS
(Home venue for winners of quarter-final between Munster and Stade Franà§ais Paris, who will play the winners of London Wasps v Gloucester)
For all ticket information for the Heineken Cup semi-finals log on to WWW.ERCRUGBY.COM as soon as the participants are known.
HEINEKEN CUP HISTORY
The home of Scottish rugby has a capacity of 67,500 and recently staged the Celtic League final. It has only hosted one Heineken Cup tie before, when Edinburgh played Northampton Saints in a Pool match in 2001 when the Netherdale pitch was frozen. This is the first time a Scottish side has reached the quarter-finals and an Edinburgh victory over Toulouse would really give Scottish fans something to shout about.
The 'old lady' of world rugby grounds has hosted two Heineken Cup finals (1999 and 2003) and set a tournament record for both a quarter-final and semi-final last season when 42,000 fans turned out to see Leinster Lions' last eight victory over Biarritz Olympique and a further 37,000 watched their semi-final defeat by Perpignan. Leinster beat Pontypridd at the ground in a Pool match in 1995 and then lost there in the semi-finals of the inaugural tournament to Cardiff Blues. This season Leinster Lions played all their Pool matches at Lansdowne Road, setting a Pool attendance record in their final home game of 23,463 against Cardiff. It has a capacity of 48,500.
The former Stade Lescure staged the 1998 Heineken Cup final between Bath and Brive and was also the venue for the semi-final in 2000 between Toulouse and Munster. On both occasions the French sides lost, so Toulouse will be hoping to make it third time lucky if they are forced to face Llanelli Scarlets in Bordeaux. If it ends up being an all-French affair, between the reigning champions Toulouse and Biarritz Olympique, then a French team will go through to the final. The home of French football club Girondins de Bordeaux, it has a rugby capacity of 34,000.
The Heineken Cup will break new ground if Stade Franà§ais Paris beat Munster in Limerick to claim a home semi-final venue. Charlety has a rich tradition with a number of sports, but has yet to host a Heineken Cup tie. It was the venue for Tim Montgomery's world record 100 metre run of 9.78 sec in 2002 and has hosted Rugby League matches as well as being the former home of the Paris University Rugby Union Club. The stadium went through a complete reconstruction between1991-94 and has an all-seated capacity of 20,000.
HEINEKEN CUP FINAL 2004
The Heineken Cup final at Twickenham on Sunday, 23 May is approaching a sell-out - two months ahead of European club rugby's showpiece occasion and with eight teams still in contention for the coveted trophy.
However, all but a handful of the remaining 50,000 tickets have been snapped up with the 'full house' signs ready to go up on a 72,000 capacity crowd.
'The phenomenal interest in this ninth Heineken Cup final clearly demonstrates that, although we are over three weeks away from knowing the finalists, the event is now regarded as a lot more than just a match,' said Derek McGrath, Chief Executive of ERC, the tournament organisers.
'The glittering climax of the European club rugby season is now looked upon as a not-to-be-missed occasion, the main event on the club calendar, and I am sure we will have a fantastic atmosphere and match at Twickenham on 23 May.'
Reigning champions Toulouse, Stade Franà§ais Paris and Biarritz Olympique are the trio of French clubs still in the title hunt along with English pair Gloucester and London Wasps.
Munster, Llanelli Scarlets and Edinburgh Rugby will fly the flag for Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
Edinburgh Rugby are the first Scottish side to qualify for the last eight as five nations contest the quarter-finals - to be played on 9 / 10 / 11 April - for the first time.
NOTES TO EDITORS
The previous final attendances have been:
1996 - Toulouse v Cardiff (Cardiff Arms Park) - 21,800
1997 - Brive v Leicester (Cardiff Arms Park) - 41,664
1998 - Bath v Brive (Stade Lescure, Bordeaux) - 36,500
1999 - Ulster v Colomiers (Lansdowne Road) - 49,000
2000 - Northampton v Munster (Twickenham) - 68,441
2001 - Leicester v Stade Francais (Parc des Princes) - 44,000
2002 - Leicester v Munster (Millennium Stadium) - 74,600
2003 - Toulouse v Perpignan (Lansdowne Road) - 28,600
HEINEKEN CUP 2004 / 2005
Wales will have four regional sides in the 2004 / 2005 Heineken Cup tournament - and the chase is on between England and France to claim the vacant place left by one of the Welsh regions taking part in next season's Parker Pen Challenge Cup.
Wales, who launched their new five-region domestic format last summer, were allowed all five to participate in this season's Heineken Cup.
But the WRU confirmed they would then conform with ERC by which the six stakeholder nations - England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales - each have at least one team in the Parker Pen Challenge Cup tournament.
With Wales joining Ireland and Scotland in being able to provide just one side for the Parker Pen Challenge Cup tournament, and Italy failing to earn a meritocracy Heineken Cup place, it is left to a straight battle between England and France to have a seventh team in next season's Heineken Cup.
And it could go down to the wire - the Heineken Cup final at Twickenham on Sunday, 23 May - to determine which of the two nations has advanced the furthest and had the most successful campaign in the ninth season of European club rugby's premier tournament.
The allocation of the initial 23 places for the 10th season of the tournament are:
England and France - six (6) teams each (including one meritocracy place each)
Wales - four (4) teams
Ireland - three (3) teams (including one meritocracy place)
Italy and Scotland - two (2) teams each
Ireland will nominate their teams based on performances in the 2003 / 2004 ERC tournaments. Therefore that would allow Connacht to qualify as Ireland 3 if they win the Parker Pen Challenge Cup.
Both the Welsh and Scottish Heineken Cup 2004 / 2005 participants and seedings will be determined on finishing positions in the Celtic League. The current standings and points earned after 17 rounds of the 22-match Celtic League schedule are:
2. Llanelli Scarlets - 53 points
3. The Dragons - 52 points
4. Celtic Warriors - 44 points
5. Neath-Swansea Ospreys - 44 points
8. Cardiff Blues - 38 points
10. Edinburgh Rugby - 34 points
11. Glasgow Rugby - 24 points
12. The Borders - 21 points
ENGLAND / FRANCE / ITALY QUALIFYING FORMATS
1. Zurich Premiership Final winner
2. Zurich Premiership Finalist
3. Zurich Premiership semi-finalist
4. Parker Pen Challenge Cup Winner
5. Wildcard Winner
6. Powergen Cup Winner
If an English club wins the Heineken Cup they would take top seed and all others would drop down. If there are multiple qualifications then it goes to premiership fourth, fifth etc.
Wildcard is determined by the four highest premiership clubs who have not automatically qualified for the Heineken Cup by the end of the normal season (8th May) qualify for the wildcard position.
1. French Championship winners
2. French Championship runners-up
3. Heineken Cup winners
4. Parker Pen Challenge Cup winners
5. Challenge Sud Radio winners (Castres Olympique)
6. Best losing French Championship semi-finalist
If there are multiple qualifications and/or no ERC tournament winners then the other French Championship semi-finalist, followed by the club with the highest French championship ranking, will qualify.
1. Italian Championship winners
2. Italian Championship runners-up
1 April, 2004