HARLEQUINS are previous winners of this competition but if they are going to match their 2004 success then they are going to have to do it the hard way.
Beating Munster on their own turf is something only the mighty Leicester have achieved in European competition and that was by the skin of their teeth.
Saturday’s clash could represent a coming of age for a number of Quins younger players, but they’ll need the nous and experience of seasoned campaigners such as Nick Easter and Nick Evans if they ar to prevail.
Unfortunately, I?don’t think they’ll have quite enough in the locker to outwit the likes of Ronan O’Gara, whose game management skills remain second to none at this level.
AMLIN OPTA INDEX HEAD TO HEAD
Both fly-halves rate well in the Amlin Opta Index. There is very little to choose between the two in the kicking department, but having missed just two of 20 attempted tackles, Evans is the more reliable of the pair in defensive situations.
To view the full Amlin Opta Index results ahead of this week’s action, head to the news section on ercrugby.com and for more information on the Amlin Opta Index, please go to the statistics section, also on ercrugby.com
AMLIN CHALLENGE CUP SEMI-FINAL PREVIEWS
STADE FRANCAIS V CLERMONT AUVERGNE
Pascal Pape has been Stade’s most prolific weapon in the lineout having claimed 17 throws and made one steal. In open play Julien Pierre, has made 48 carries for a gain of 93 metres, however he is yet to make a clean break or beat any defenders. The Clermont player has however made seven offloads which is a key asset in his attacking prowess.
This is an incredibly strong semi-final between the Galacticos of Stade and the holders. Stade will see this as a last chance to qualify for next year’s Heineken Cup and might be the fresher. Clermont Auvergne won the recent league meeting in a close encounter and I think they may well sneak this one, too.
HEINEKEN CUP SEMI-FINAL PREVIEWS
LEINSTER V TOULOUSE
Fly-half Jonathan Sexton has been the top performing back in European rugby this season, according to the Amlin Opta Index. He has slotted 14 conversions and 15 penalties so far as well as crossing for three tries. Opposite number David Skrela is far more likely to kick from hand than pass according to the stats.
NORTHAMPTON V PERPIGNAN
Ben Foden is the Saints’ most potent attacking weapon in the tournament. The full-back has made 423 metres with the ball in hand, only three players from any club have made more than this. Julien Candelon is Perpignan’s biggest threat – he’s the only player in Europe this season to make over 600 metres with ball in hand.
This is a mouthwatering tie between two real heavyweights of the European game. There is very little between the sides in terms of their abilities but I’m confident home advantage for the Irish side is going to be a big factor; French sides just don’t seem to travel well. Talisman Brian O’Driscoll may have lost some of his pace but he’s a wiley character and his presence, along with that of Jamie Heaslip will be vital.