Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Tyrone Howe: Three Irish sides will reach quarter-finals but all facing up to away days

So, as suggested last week, we know four of the eight Heineken Cup quarter-finalists and, with one qualifying round to go, it is hard not to think that the trophy is going to be speaking with a French accent this year.

Of course, the hugely important question of who achieves home quarter-finals still remains to be answered.

For all the permutations and scenarios, I see it as follows: Harlequins are home and dry.

The qualifiers Toulon and Clermont simply need to pick up a losing bonus point to know they are at home in the quarters.

Ulster need a win plus bonus point to indulge the Ravenhill faithful once again on home turf.

In terms of simple qualification, for Toulouse, Saracens, Leicester and Montpellier it’s a case of ‘win and in’.

Still in the hunt are Munster, Leinster, Biarritz, Northampton, Castres and Racing Metro, although the last two will be praying and believing in miracles respectively.

Both Munster and Leinster have to win big and keep their fingers crossed. With both on 15 points, whose task is the more difficult?

Munster have the advantage of playing at home, against Racing Metro, but scoring four tries may be a tough ask for a team that struggled to finish off Edinburgh last week.

Yet, through sheer force of will, they may well not be denied.

Exeter’s Sandy Park has proved to be a bit of a fortress for the vast majority of visiting Premiership teams and Leinster will have to bring every element of fire to the occasion.

However, they performed well against the Scarlets, got into the try-scoring mood again and I believe that pride and desire to be in the mix will drive them on.

One round ago, it looked as if Ulster might be the only Irish representatives in the competition, but I believe that all three could make it.

The big issue might be that all will face an away quarter-final.

For Leinster and Munster there is plenty of time to ponder on that — there are more immediate concerns at play.

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