Rugby Union: Quins condemned to trial by Toulouse

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The Independent Online
The Heineken Cup received the quarter-final draw it wanted yesterday: four tantalising cross-border matches reflecting the unique flavour of the most competitive tournament to hit rugby since the introduction of the World Cup a decade ago. Chris Hewett relishes the prospects.

Harlequins performed like their old selves in Limerick three days ago and now they know the price they must pay. The Londoners' defeat by Munster in their final pool match has condemned them to trial by Toulouse at Les Sept-Deniers - the one draw they would have given virtually anything to avoid.

The French champions are not unbeatable in their own backyard, as Leicester famously demonstrated last month. Neither are Quins incapable of successfully manning the barricades on an away-day trip across the Channel; they are, after all, one of only two sides to have defeated Bourgoin at Le Stade Pierre Rajon since 1993. But Toulouse, the 1996 European champions, are beginning to hit their formidable stride after a half-paced start to the campaign and are very definitely the team to beat.

Toulouse-Quins was the only definite tie produced by yesterday's draw in Dublin; the remainder are dependent on the outcome of the play-offs between Brive and Pontypridd, Leicester and Glasgow, and Cardiff and Llanelli. However, the formbook suggests that Bath will face Cardiff at the Recreation Ground - a repeat of last season's epic last-eight tie on the other side of the Severn Bridge - and that the Tigers will travel to Pau, where they triumphed in a blood-curdling confrontation a year ago.

It also seems likely that Brive, the holders, will travel to Loftus Road for a Sunday afternoon shoot-out with Wasps, the English champions. That has "classic" written all over it, so much so, indeed, that only the dogged Welshmen of Pontypridd have much of an interest in throwing a spanner in the works. Wasps-Brive? It would be worthy of the final itself.

The second-string European Conference tournament has one all-French quarter- final - Colomiers v Montferrand - while Abdel Benazzi's Agen will be favourites to see off the surprise package from Connacht. It is almost inconceivable that Eric Elwood and company will win at the Stade Philippe Sella, even though they managed a 15-6 win just up the road at Begles-Bordeaux to set up their unexpected pool victory.

The remaining ties are more compelling: big-spending, free-scoring Stade Francais take on the hard nuts of Gloucester in Paris, while Newcastle have home advantage over the high-class outfit from Castres.

HEINEKEN CUP Quarter-finals: Wasps v Brive or Pontypridd; Toulouse v Harlequins; Bath v Cardiff or Llanelli; Pau v Leicester or Glasgow (Games to be played 8 or 9 November).

EUROPEAN CONFERENCE Quarter-finals: Colomiers v Montferrand; Agen v Connacht; Stade Francais v Gloucester; Newcastle v Castres (Games to be played 8 or 9 November).