Uphill route to Paris all-Ireland
Published 25/01/2010 | 05:00
They've been kept apart, but Leinster and Munster's route to the Heineken Cup final is looking steeper than ever after they were handed tough home quarter-finals and were drawn away in the semis.
While the prospect of an all-Ireland final in Paris is still alive, it won't be an easy task for either team.
Leinster's inability to beat London Irish has left them the unenviable prospect of hosting Top 14 leaders Clermont Auvergne and the in-form Aurelien Rougerie, with the winners heading to France to face European aristocrats Toulouse or Stade Francais in the semi-final.
The prospect of having to go to France twice to retain their title is a daunting one, while favourites Munster could face a return to the Basque cauldron of San Sebastien where their European dreams perished in 2005.
They won't be thinking about an afternoon in the sun just yet, though, as having just squeezed past Northampton at Thomond Park on Friday night -- Paul O'Connell and Co will welcome the English side back to Limerick in April.
The Saints' deserved losing bonus, coupled with London Irish's failure to win at Twickenham, sets up an intriguing rematch between the sides, who are fast developing a rivalry after two mammoth clashes in the pool stages.
The victors face a trip to the home of the winners of the Biarritz v Ospreys quarter-final, two teams who have history with Munster.
The Ospreys will fancy a crack at home against the team who hammered them 43-9 in the last-eight last season, while it was Biarritz who were swept aside on that emotional final day in '06 as Munster claimed their holy grail.
Connacht's reward for finishing as top seeds in the Challenge Cup is that they avoid any of the sides coming in from the Heineken Cup and will host Bourgoin, while the Toulon will play the Scarlets, Wasps face Gloucester and Cardiff Blues face a trip to Newcastle.