Ulster ready for revenge
Published 20/01/2014 | 06:37
Top seeds Ulster will be out to avenge last year's European exit when they host Saracens in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals later this season.
Ulster bowed out to the current Aviva Premiership leaders at Twickenham last term, but this time they will be on home soil for a repeat last-eight clash that will see Saracens boss Mark McCall, a former Ulster coach and player, return to Belfast.
"Over the past few seasons we have made steady improvement," Ulster rugby director David Humphreys said.
"First, we qualified, then last year we won our group but were away in the quarter-finals. Now we have finished the pool stage as top seeds and have a home quarter-final.
"Last season, we were hugely-disappointed with the way we performed at Twickenham against Saracens. Now we have the opportunity to lay those ghosts to rest."
Leicester, European champions in 2001 and 2002, must travel to face last season's Heineken Cup runners-up Clermont Auvergne at Stade Marcel Michelin, a ground where Clermont are unbeaten for more than 70 games.
And three-time European champions Leinster will travel to Jonny Wilkinson's Heineken Cup holders Toulon in arguably the tie of the round, with Toulon's fellow French heavyweights Toulouse tackling Munster at Thomond Park.
The games are scheduled to be played on April 4/5/6, with six former Heineken Cup winners - Ulster, Toulon, Leicester, Leinster, Munster and Toulouse - contesting the first knockout round.
The semi-final draw, meanwhile, has also been made with Ulster or Saracens having advantage in their own country against Clermont or Leicester, and Toulon or Leinster hosting Munster or Toulouse in France or Ireland.
In the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup, six English clubs will contest the quarter-finals.
Top seeds Bath play Brive in a repeat of the 1998 Heineken Cup final, with Wasps hosting Premiership rivals Gloucester, Stade Francais tackling Harlequins in Paris and Northampton visiting Sale.
The semi-final pairings are Wasps or Gloucester against Bath or Brive, and Sale or Northampton versus Stade Francais or Harlequins.
Gloucester qualified as a best runner-up from the Heineken Cup, joining Northampton and Harlequins, after destroying Perpignan 36-18 in France.
"It's an exceptional result for us. The last time we won an away game in France in the Heineken Cup was during the 2007/08 season," Gloucester rugby director Nigel Davies said.
"To a man, the players stood up individually and performed. We backed ourselves to play rugby and have a go at Perpignan.
"To be in a quarter-final in Europe is big for us. The more exposure we get at this level the better."