Raphael Ibanez, a Heineken Cup winner with London Wasps in 2007, gives his unique take on who he believes will qualify for the knock-out stages of the 17th Heineken Cup tournament.
‘We are now getting towards the real business end of the tournament and, no matter who ends up making the last eight, I am really excited about the knock-out games because those quarter-finals are going to be made up of big name teams and experienced teams – and also hugely ambitious teams.
For a start I am going for three Irish teams to be in the last eight for the first time in the history of the Heineken Cup. Leinster and Munster are six and five points clear in their Pools and I am tipping Ulster to join them as reward for what they have achieved in this season’s tournament so far.
When they beat Clermont at home in Round 1 that must have given their confidence a massive boost and, although I believe Clermont had the potential to qualify, they have so many injuries that are likely to hit them hard in Rounds 5 and 6 and that could play into Ulster’s hands.
Meanwhile, Toulouse, Saracens and Cardiff Blues join those three Irish teams as my other likely Pool winners.
Saracens are in great form, they are the English champions and they will want to take another step up on the European stage while Pool 6 is all about what is so great about the Heineken Cup.
Toulouse and Harlequins have beaten each other in their away matches – which just shows the quality and intensity of the Heineken Cup – but experience at this level counts for so much that I think that additional experience will just give Toulouse the edge.
And the team I would really like to see in the knock-out stages, because they epitomise what Welsh rugby is all about after the World Cup, is Cardiff Blues, although Edinburgh Rugby have done really well and have given themselves a real chance of progressing.
And while predicting the two best runners-up is very tricky, I think those places will be between Leicester Tigers, Harlequins, Edinburgh and Biarritz Olympique.’