Gloucester hope Wasps can prise open doorway into Europe

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The Independent Online

Ripped to shreds by Bath in front of 60,000 Twickenham spectators at the weekend and all but out of the Premiership play-offs as a consequence, Wasps have had their fill of West Countrymen for now. Yet another club from the locality, Gloucester, are wishing them every success in their Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final with Cardiff Blues on Saturday, for the very good reason that their immediate future in European rugby is wrapped up in the Londoners' fortunes.

The qualification rules for next season's elite Heineken Cup tournament have changed. Under the new system, the winners of the two continental competitions will earn an extra Heineken place for their country – a seventh spot for England or France, a fourth for Ireland or Wales. There is, as usual, a caveat: both the English and French are guaranteed six entries but capped at seven, so if both titles are claimed by the same nation, the remaining vacancy will be decided on official European rankings.

Either way, Gloucester could find a way into the draw. Provided they hang on to their seventh place in the Premiership by beating relegated Worcester in 11 days' time, they will qualify for the main event if Wasps beat the Blues and go on to win the Challenge Cup against either Connacht or, much more likely, a rock-star Toulon side boasting the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Felipe Contepomi. Should Wasps fail to prevail, the Kingsholmites must pray that French teams win both tournaments. They would then slip in through the out-house door on account of their relatively elevated ranking position.

The top six in the Guinness Premiership – Leicester, Northampton, Saracens, Bath, Wasps and London Irish – are already assured of Heineken Cup rugby next term. The competition will feature two new French challengers, Toulon and the Paris-based Racing-Metro 92 club, as well as Toulouse, Perpignan, Clermont Auvergne and Castres.

Meanwhile, the most accurate goal-kicker in international rugby, Scotland's Chris Paterson, is a contender for the two-Test visit to Argentina in the summer. Paterson damaged to his right kidney while making his 100th appearance for his country in the Six Nations match with Wales in February and has not played since, but is back in training and hopes to be considered.

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