Stuart Barnes, the leading pundit for Sky Sports' coverage of the Heineken Cup and a member of the ERC15 Awards panel, gives his view on how he sees the quarter-finals going.
This is arguably the best quarter-finals line-up I can remember and a couple of the ties are so tight they are very hard to call.
For Friday night's game Leinster are champions and have home advantage but Clermont have incredible momentum behind them and a mighty squad. I see that as the game of the quarter-finals and I have a feeling Clermont might just take Leinster and, if they do, then I make them favourites to win the tournament.
I really do see Biarritz beating Ospreys - I think Biarritz have power up front from Barcella through to Harinordoquy - and I feel they have an eight who will dismantle the Ospreys. I think they are mentally stronger with Yachvili at nine and I see that as probably the most straightforward of the quarter-finals - although I do see it as a cracking game.
You never ever make Munster underdogs at home but the fact that Northampton have been there, lost narrowly and grown up gives them a great chance.
For Munster this is not about getting a point but about staying in the tournament and that makes Munster a very different beast. But the way the Northampton pack have developed, the power they can generate and the question marks they can ask about the Munster scrum makes this a game that I think at the start of the season you would have made Munster 10 points favourites but now you are talking two to three at most. It is going to be very close.
Toulouse are always favourites at home but they are brittle this season - it has shown in their French and Heineken Cup form - and while Stade are equally troubled they are the sort of team who can put out a big pack on the day and they have no great respect for Toulouse.
They have beaten them plenty of times in the past and even though Toulouse beat them in Top 14 not so long ago I would not write Stade off shocking them. In the end you probably have to say Toulouse are favourites but again that is one I think will be a lot closer than people think.
So I would say Clermont, Munster just, Toulouse just and Biarritz.
If Clermont were playing at a neutral venue I would make them strong favourites to beat Leinster and the fact that it is away mitigates against them - likewise with Saints having to go to Thomond Park.
But I think we are now seeing teams growing up and the French Top 14 is not quite the same sense of 'you win at home and the other away game and then you qualify', it is far more competitive now.
Clermont can win away from home and of course they are outside France but this is a team of internationals gathered from all over the world and I just don't see it any longer being the prerogative of the home team.
And Biarritz would be my dark horses. I know in France they are mid table but they have just beaten Toulouse and I think they are going to beat the Ospreys, setting themselves up for a San Sebastian semi-final.
I don't wish to discount either Munster or Northampton but with the likelihood of the semi-finals being in France if you said pick a winner I would go for a team this season who hasn't won it before and I think either Clermont or Biarritz.
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