Draw clears path for all-Ireland final and bonanza for domestic game
Published 23/01/2012 | 05:00
The path has been cleared for an all-Ireland Heineken Cup final after yesterday's draw mapped out a route to London for the three Irish qualifiers -- with Munster and Leinster on opposite sides.
The IRFU will be licking their lips as the Aviva will be used at least once in the knock-out stages -- adding to the approximate €2m they expect to make from the progress of the Irish sides.
Brian McLaughlin's Ulster will be keen to gatecrash a potential Leinster-Munster final in Twickenham after his side's seeding in eighth gave them a quarter-final at Thomond Park. The IRFU will be guaranteed a money-spinning Lansdowne Road semi-final -- and a quarter-final too -- after the last four draw granted Munster or 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 from seeing three of its provinces reach the last eight -- should Leinster defeat Cardiff Blues, 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 at Lansdowne Road -- when they played Leicester -- before they travel for a semi-final. This was a similar route to their 2010 campaign, the only year in the last three they did not win the title.
Rental income and gate receipts for a sold-out quarter-final and semi-final will boost the IRFU's income -- last season Leinster gave half their €1m-plus gate to their Lansdowne Road bosses.
But the provinces will do well -- even though Munster must cede 25pc 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 for whichever team reaches the semi-finals.
"Ulster have been excellent," said Paul O'Connell after his side's 51-36 victory against last season's beaten finalists Northampton edged them ahead of rivals Leinster as top seeds.
"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, I thought they were outstanding," he added.
"And you add their South African brigade and Afoa to that as well and they have a lot of real form players, so it is going to be a really tough game."
Saracens have been handed a familiar route to Twickenham -- ie two short hikes to Wembley -- although they will have to overcome the side celebrating their centenary, Clermont, in a titanic quarter-final.
Michael Bradley will ring his old Connacht buddy Eric Elwood this morning as he prepares for a mouth-watering quarter-final against Toulouse -- ironically a repeat of the tie the last time Scotland were represented at this stage by Edinburgh eight years ago.
"I'll be on to him in the morning to start hopefully plotting their downfall," smiled Bradley.
Schmidt, warned by Cardiff's Maori captain Paul Tito that their best is yet to come, is aware of the dangers posed by the Welsh side, particularly from his New Zealand compatriots.
"Cardiff are a hugely impressive side," said Schmidt. "They're well coached with physical forwards and skill and pace out wide. They have been well served by a number of All Blacks in their ranks who I would personally know well."