7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
I popped down to London Irish earlier this week to catch up with the Exiles and they looked up for it and you got the feeling that the players could sense the opportunity available to them to progress to their first ever semi final of the Heineken Cup.
Brian Smith's side will rely on a high tempo, high pace game and they've got quality individuals up and down the side. They will look to Kennedy and Casey in the 2nd row to win good ball, Paice to continue his excellent season at hooker and then hope for the young upstart and old timer, Shane Geraghty and Mike Catt respectively, to drive the side on from the three quarters. With over a decade between these two they are undoubtedly at differing ends of their careers, but both provide much to the side. Catt has so much guile, knowledge, tactical astuteness, the ability to read the game and act as the calming influence, whilst Geraghty provides the pace and game breaking ability. The former has a winner's medal already of course with Bath, and you can be sure that if the latter passes a late fitness test, he will want to join him in that select group of Heineken Cup winners.
Brian Smith will also know how to organise his side, reminding me as he does of another Australian Pat Howard, the former Leicester coach. Both are so tactically aware of every facet of the game and that is sure to stand the Exiles in good stead this weekend.
There won't be many chances in this game with Perpignan sure to provide a stern test, and packed full of powerful forwards up front, it promises to be a brutal game of strength and power.
It won't be easy but if they leave space at the back, then Irish can profit. It's knockout rugby of the highest quality and promises to be a tremendous spectacle between two teams desperate to progress.Strap yourself in and look forward to an action packed weekend - the Heineken Cup is back.