Greenwood's preview to the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup
9 April 2009 16:17pm
You look at this week's Heineken Cup quarter finals, and you just sit back and admire the quality that is on show throughout the eight teams. Each club has their own reasons for looking at the knock out stages with a feeling that they can progress all the way to the final at Murrayfield on 23rd May. And with only two games standing between them and the finale of the European season, they will all believe they can make it.
Past winners and experienced campaigners such as Leicester, Munster, Toulouse & Bath all know what is required from here on in, and then there are the dark horses such as Leinster, buoyed by Grand Slam winning Irishmen, and Quins, who are at the peak of their game as a team right now. That's before you mention the merits of the Welsh clubs - the Ospreys, who are a team of Welshman who won the Grand Slam themselves in 2008, and Cardiff, Heineken Cup top seeds, and unbeaten in the six pool games to this stage.
Just looking at the number of Grand Slam winning, World Cup winning, former Heineken Cup winning players who are on display across the eight teams this weekend reminds me why I love the Heineken Cup so much. Coupled with the almost international standard levels of competition, the fanatical crowds, it's just an incredible tournament - and the reason why these weekends are highlighted and asterisked in bright neon in the diary.
My old team Quins are currently riding a crest of a wave, challenging for domestic honours and approaching this game in a rich vein of form. It's been a long time since they were in this position with a good chance in Europe. For me, their current success lies in attributes that were much on show last weekend against Bath - the scrambling defence and streetwise defence around the breakdown. It's a trait that reminds me almost of an Irish team and should stand them in good stead against their opponents from across the Irish Sea.
Players such as Ugo Monye and Danny Care will also see this game as a last opportunity to press a case for inclusion in the Lions touring party this summer. With England's positive end to the 6 Nations, there's no reason why they can't catch Ian McGeechan's eye with a stellar performance at the Stoop this weekend - this is the last chance saloon for these player's to put themselves in the mix.
Another for me who should certainly be mentioned in relation to the Lions is Mike Ross - I think it's inconceivable that he isn't in the frame at this stage such have been the power and drive of his performances for Quins this season. But McGeechan wasn't afraid to take an uncapped Englishman in 1997, and such is the intensity level and test match style feel to the Heineken Cup, that a good performance this weekend could still make the difference.
I think Quins go in as slight favourites - with their energy levels, their team work, their enthusiasm, and their commitment but on top of that a set piece that is showing such strength at the moment. There is also confidence from that win over Bath last week surging through their veins, not to mention their double over Stade Francais earlier in this competition. And with The Stoop fast becoming one of the best all round rugby grounds in the country, they will be ones to watch on Sunday.
Will Greenwood is a Heineken ambassador. Heineken, the premium continental bier, are proud sponsors of the Heineken Cup until at least 2013 - for VIP tickets to the final visit www.heinekenrugby.co.uk.
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.