Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Heineken Cup: Provinces laughing all the way to the bank

The path has been cleared for an all-Ireland Heineken Cup final after the semi-final draw mapped out a route to London for the three Irish qualifiers as Munster and Leinster were kept on opposite sides of the draw.

And the IRFU will be licking their lips as the Aviva Stadium will be used at least once in the knock-out stages — adding to the some €2m (£1.6m) they expect to make from the progress of the three Irish sides.

Brian McLaughlin's Ulster will be keen to gatecrash any potential all-Irish final affair in Twickenham after his side's confirmation as eighth seeds granted them a quarter-final at Thomond Park.

The IRFU will be guaranteed a money-spinning Aviva Stadium semi-final — and a quarter-final too — after the last four draw granted Munster and Ulster a home tie against either Michael Bradley's Edinburgh or four-time champions Toulouse.

The IRFU are already set to bank over €1.5m (£1.24m) from seeing three of its provinces reach the last eight — Munster and Ulster are also big winners but should Leinster defeat Cardiff, they must travel for a semi-final against either Saracens or Clermont.

Joe Schmidt's reigning champions have already confirmed that they will repeat last year's successful quarter-final staging in the Aviva Stadium before they hope to travel away for a semi-final.

Rental income and gate receipts for a sold-out quarter-final and semi-final will boost the IRFU's income — last season Leinster ponied up half their €1m (£831,478) plus gate to their Aviva Stadium bosses.

But the provinces will do well — even though Munster must cede 25% of their 26,000 capacity to Ulster supporters, both teams will be able to make substantial six-figure sums from the tie and another €500,000 (£415,150) for which team reaches the final.

“Ulster have been excellent,” said Paul O'Connell after his side's 51-36 victory against last season's beaten finalists Northampton.

“They have a lot of quality players and a lot of players showing really good form. That's the big thing for them — you look at Trimble, Ferris and Best last week (against Leicester), I thought they were outstanding. And you add their South African brigade and Afoa to that as well and they have a lot of real form players.”

Saracens have been handed a familiar route to Twickenham — ie two short hikes to Wembley — although they will have to overcome Clermont, in a titanic quarter-final.

Michael Bradley will ring his old Connacht buddy Eric Elwood for the inside track as he prepares for his clash with Toulouse.

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