Preview: English to end Irish Euro run
The game in Ireland is going through a lean time at present and two English sides will bid to deliver another hammer blow to the country's morale.
The game in Ireland is going through a lean time at present and two English sides will bid to deliver another hammer blow to the country's morale this weekend in the European Cup quarter-finals.
Saracens will start off the double header at Twickenham on Saturday against last season's beaten finalists Ulster while on Sunday Harlequins, whose director of rugby Conor O'Shea said Wednesday he wasn't interested in being Ireland coach after Declan Kidney was sacked, will host two-time winners Munster.
The other two quarter-finals see favourites Clermont host fellow Top 14 side Montpellier, appearing in the knockout stages for the first time on Saturday, while on Sunday Top 14 leaders Toulon, boosted by Jonny Wilkinson committing himself to another season with them, host England's two-time winners Leicester.
Saracens go into their mouthwatering Twickenham fixture on the back of a 22-13 win away at Wasps which maintained their position at the top of the English Premiership.
However, Saracens 2007 World Cup winning Springbok captain Jon Smit says that the game with Ulster is a totally different challenge and against a side which comprises several players he played with both at domestic and international level such as scrum-half Ruan Pienaar.
"I think they've built a good team over the last few years," Smit told the Saracens website.
"Physically they are very difficult to approach from a set-piece point of view; their set-piece is very strong and provides them with a solid base off which to play, and with a game breaker like Ruan Pienaar at scrum half they are a very dangerous opposition.
"But they have people who can turn games all over the pitch so we can't just focus on one player, we have to be aware of every single threat they pose and work harder than we have done all season if we are to get the result we want."
Harlequins, who are third in the Premiership table, face the biggest day of their vaunted history on Sunday says O'Shea, as they bid to reach the last four for the first time.
While Munster looked at times jaded in their pool matches, they still possess match winners such as former All Black Doug Howlett and Irish scrum-half Conor Murray.
They could also be boosted by the surprise return of Ireland wing Simon Zebo, who broke his foot in Ireland's Six Nations match with England but has made a remarkably quick recovery.
O'Shea, who has guided Harlequins to the European Challenge Trophy and then the English title last year, accepts that his side face a real battle to prevail.
"This Sunday will be the best day The Stoop has witnessed in terms of atmosphere and occasion," O'Shea said.
"We just can't wait to get into the quarter-final this weekend and help this club get to a first European Cup semi-final in its history.
"There is no tomorrow in games like this. Munster's journey of heartache and loss to ultimately winning it (in 2006) is one of the great stories of the European Cup.
Like O'Shea Clermont coach Vern Cotter has said that he is not interested in replacing Kidney, preferring to honour his contract with the French club till 2014.
His side are clear favourites for the trophy itself having won all six of their pool games, including beating title holders Leinster twice, sweet revenge for having been knocked out by the Irish side in the knockout rounds on two previous occasions.
However, Clermont's France hooker Benjamin Kayser is nervous about the favourite's tag especially against a Montpellier side that has become a real force under former French captain Fabien Galthie.
"I am really wary of this favourite's tag, as that could undermine us," said Kayser.
"However, I think we have enough quality and maturity not to fall into any traps."
Fixtures and teams:
Saturday, April 6:
Clermont Auvergne v Montpellier
(Stade Marcel Michelin - Kick-off: 16.40; 14.40 GMT)
ASM Clermont Auvergne: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Aurelien Rougerie (captain), 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Gerhard Vosloo, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 David Skrela, 22 Regan King, 23 Jean-Marcel Buttin.
Montpellier: 15 Lucas Amorosino, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Yohann Artru, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Alexandre Bias, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo (captain), 5 Thibault Privat, 4 Mamuka Gorgodze, 3 Maximiliano Bustos, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Yvan Watremez.
Replacements: 16 Erasmus Van Vuuren, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Barry Fa'amausili, 19 Mickael De Marco, 20 Johnnie Beattie, 21 Eric Escande, 22 Paul Bosch, 23 Pierre Berard.
Saracens v Ulster
(Twickenham Stadium - Kick-off: 18.30; GMT 17.30)
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Kelly Brown, 6 Ernst Joubert, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Wyles.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (captain), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart Olding, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Sunday, April 7:
Harlequins v Munster
(Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 GMT)
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 George Lowe, 12 Tom Casson, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Ollie Kohn, 3 James Johnston, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Matt Hopper.
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Denis Hurley, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (captain), 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Damien Varley, 17 Wian Du Preez, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Patrick Butler, 21 Cathal Sheridan, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Ivan Dineen.
Toulon v Leicester Tigers
(Stade Félix Mayol - Kick-off: 17.30; 15.30 GMT)
Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Rudi Wulf, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Jonny Wilkinson (captain), 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Nick Kennedy, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Sebastien Bruno, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Mickael Ivaldi, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Jocelino Suta, 20 Vincent Martin, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Nicolas Durand, 23 Joe van Niekerk.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Toby Flood (captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Logovi'i Mulipola, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 George Ford, 23 Matt Smith.