Leinster’s weekend of mixed emotions continued through to tea-time yesterday when the three-time Heineken Cup champions were handed a daunting potential Rugby Champions Cup semi-final assignment ‘away’ to reigning champions Toulon in mid-April.
Much has yet to happen for that game – a possible repeat of last year’s Heineken quarter-final which the French won comfortably 29-14 at Stade Felix Mayol — to materialise but the Irish and French sides will be favoured to progress beyond the last eight.
The failure of Bath or Toulouse to claim bonus point victories yesterday allowed Leinster to claim the fourth and last home quarter-final berth with the result that Bath must travel to play in the Aviva Stadium on the first weekend in April.
Leinster and Bath have met six times in Europe’s top competition with the Irish side winning five. The last encounter was in December, 2011 with the province winning 52-27, but the English side’s fortunes have been on an upward curve since.
Leinster’s form has dipped in Europe over the last three seasons and the ultimately fortuitous draw against Wasps in Coventry on Saturday, in a game they led by 14 points, showed just why the jury remains out on them.
Wasps will rue their inability to complete an unlikely comeback against Matt O’Connor’s side two days ago. That they still qualified after losing their first two pool games is a remarkable achievement but their reward in the last eight is a visit to Toulon.
The other quarter-finals see Clermont Auvergne host Northampton Saints and whoever stays standing after that will enjoy ‘home country advantage’ in the semi-final against the winner of the last quarter-final, in Paris, between Racing Metro and Saracens.
The semi-final draw was made after the last of the round six pool games ended yesterday evening and should Leinster make the penultimate stage it will mean that eight of the last 11 Irish semi-finalists have been landed with away draws.
Connacht remain the only other province to secure European football beyond January with Pat Lam’s side facing top seeds Gloucester at Kingsholm in the Challenge Cup quarter-final having finished third best of the runners-up after the pool stages. Win that and the province would have home advantage in the semi-final against either Exeter Chiefs or Newcastle Falcons.
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