A mundane March afternoon for yours truly until the EPCR draw. The Heineken Champions Cup last sixteen fixtures have thrown some epic encounters and for the Irish provinces still left in the competition, they are front and center of those fixtures. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects.
Last sixteen pairings in full
Leinster Rugby vs. RC Toulon
Scarlets vs. Sale Sharks
Wasps vs. ASM Clermont Auvergne
Munster Rugby vs. Toulouse
Racing 92 VS. Edinburgh Rugby
Gloucester Rugby vs. La Rochelle
Bordeaux-Begles vs. Bristol Bears
Exeter Chiefs vs. Lyon
Quarter Final Draw
Wasps / ASM Clermont Auvergne vs. Munster Rugby / Toulouse
Gloucester / La Rochelle vs. Scarlets / Sale Sharks
Bordeaux-Begles / Bristol vs. Racing 92 / Edinburgh Rugby
Exeter Chiefs / Lyon vs. Leinster Rugby / RC Toulon
Munster Rugby face titanic Toulouse challenge
The Irish provinces have being handed a tricky route to even get to the semi-finals of this competition.
Munster Rugby have progressed further this season but their credentials will be tested to the maximum against a Toulouse side oozing talent throughout the side.
A fixture which would see an immediate full house at the Limerick venue; it will feel a bit strange to see the likes of Dupont, Ntamack and Kobe playing at Thomond Park in an empty stadium.
It is the standout fixture regardless. It is a bit early to call this one given the fixtures that players of both sides will be scheduled to play in the coming weeks both international and domestic league; injury and suspension could play vital roles.
If Munster Rugby thought that was a tough assignment, a return trip to ASM Clermont Auvergne or Wasps then beckons. Munster Rugby would fancy their chances against both sides but it is a daunting fixture schedule.
Leinster Rugby facing star studded RC Toulon
Leinster Rugby host RC Toulon who still have massive talent in the key positions. Etzebeth, Isa, Parisse, Ollivon, Serin, Belleau, Nonu, Toeava, Villiere and Moyano will pose massive threats if fit but their road form has been a mixed bag.
RC Toulon will provide a stiff challenge for Leinster Rugby but an even bigger challenge could face the Leinster Rugby side with a potential road trip to Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park. I question if Lyon have the appetite for a fixture against a Chiefs pack who will look to turn the screw early and often. Tap and go penalties the order of the day.
For Munster Rugby and Leinster Rugby, the path to the quarter final could easily mirror a path to a final in seasons gone past. Nothing soft in that schedule and squad depth could be huge to freshen the side up.
Massive opportunity for La Rochelle?
Ronan O’Gara and La Rochelle will give Gloucester Rugby due respect but this is a big opportunity for the French club to get to a quarter final. Gloucester Rugby could provide threat in the back line but there are looking to fight fire with fire as La Rochelle will like nothing more than reduce this to an offloading spectacle in fast track conditions.
If La Rochelle can get through the Kingsholm test, it is a home fixture against Scarlets or Sale Sharks who have not set their domestic competitions alight this season. It is a kind draw for the French side when you consider the heavyweights that could be knocked out before the quarter final stage.
Racing 92 poised to go deep in the competition
Racing 92 will be relatively pleased with this fixture list. Edinburgh Rugby have threats in Mata and van der Merwe but you would expect Racing 92 with Finn Russell at half-back to orchestrate and create try scoring opportunities.
The quarter final fixture could be intriguing. Bordeaux-Begles or Bristol Bears away. A quick visit potentially back to Ashton Gate for Racing 92. I am not sure Bordeaux-Begles form guide was all that and Bristol Bears have the skill and power to upset Bordeaux. Racing 92 would love to take on Bristol Bears; offloading central, only one winner for me if that happens. Racing 92! Roll on Easter and these fixtures!