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Heineken Cup Quarter Final Previews

@buck_mitchell

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Heineken Cup Quarter Final preview Edinburgh v Stade Toulousain
The Stats
During the group stages Edinburgh scored 17 tries and conceded 11 as they topped Pool 2 above Cardiff. Despite winning 5 games Edinburgh only recorded 2 try bonus points but both of those came at home. They recorded 1 in their first home game of the competition against Racing Metro 92, when they scored 6 tries in a 48-47 thriller and the second against London Irish in their last group game to secure top spot in the group. The most worrying statistic for Scottish fans is that no team who won a Pool conceded more points than Edinburgh. They allowed 138 in their 6 games, on average 23 points per game. More recently Edinburgh’s form has been bordering on the abysmal, with just 2 win in their last 10 RaboDirect Pro 12 games, 1 which they recorded on December the 2[SUP]nd[/SUP] against Aironi and the 2[SUP]nd [/SUP], a 26-23 victory on March the 30[SUP]th[/SUP] against the Scarlets.
Toulouse topped Pool 6, ahead of Harlequins, by just 1 point, the deciding factor being Toulouse’s 4 try performance against Connacht. During the group stages Toulouse won 1 game fewer than Edinburgh, losing away to Gloucester and at home to a Mike Brown inspired Harlequins side. Even though they scored 16 tries Toulouse managed just 1 try bonus point during the group stages, it came in their 24-3 home defeat of Connacht on the 14th of January. Toulouse scored 150 points in their 6 group games, an average of 25 points per game, but they failed to score more than 36 points in any of their Pool 6 games. There is some good news for Edinburgh though, the Toulouse defence has not been as airtight as it sometimes can be and they have allowed opponents to score on average more than 17 points per game and conceded 11 tries to their Pool 6 rivals. In their domestic league, the Top 14 Toulouse have won 10 games since the start of December and lost just 2.

Opinion
On current form there should be only one winner of this game and it will take an almost super human effort from the Edinburgh pack to upset the odds and prevent Toulouse taking their almost traditional spot in the Heineken Cup semi finals. Recent history tells us that while Toulouse are no strangers to the latter stages of the Heineken Cup Edinburgh have only made the knock stage once before, in the 2003-04 season when they were defeated by Toulouse. Toulouse on the other hand have only failed to make the knock out stages 3 times and have only been knocked out in the Quarter Final stages 3 times, progressing further on 10 occasions. If there is to be an upset in the Quarter Final stage then Murrayfield is the most likely venue to see one and home advantage could well prove to be Edinburgh’s major asset, they’ve scored 101 points in Edinburgh this Heineken Cup season compared to the 81 points that Toulouse have managed away from home and on their visit to Kingsholm they proved that they don’t always win in a game of who can score the points, as they went down to a 34-24 defeat. The Flying Dutchman Tim Visser has racked up 4 tries in their 3 home games so far this season so if the pack can provide their back’s with any sort of ball at all he will threaten the Toulouse line. Toulouse have their own expert finisher in Fijian winger Timoci Matanavou, who leads the tournament having crossed the whitewash 7 times, including 4 times away from home, unlike Visser though Matanavou’s defence is seriously suspect and he has made mistakes this season that have cost Toulouse tries. I expect Toulouse to progress from this fixture, but Edinburgh have already showed that they can score tries against teams who just come to attack them, so Toulouse must be careful not to take their opposition for granted or they could be surprised.



Heineken Cup Quarter Final preview Leinster v Cardiff Blues

The Stats
Leinster qualified undefeated from the group stages as second seeds, with 1 draw away to Montpellier spoiling their 100% win record. Leinster where one of the group stages most free scoring teams and with 18 tries in their 6 games only 1 team managed to cross the try line more often and they scored on average 29 points per game. Despite this they only recorded 2 try bonus points, once in a 38-13 home victory over Glasgow Warriors and again at home in a 52-27 thrashing of Bath. Leinster also have one of the best defence’s in the competition too and only 2 teams have allowed fewer tries than their 7 in just 6 group games, they also conceded a measly 88 points in the group stages (less than 15 a game). In their domestic competition they have lost just once since December 2[SUP]nd[/SUP], recording 8 wins and 1 draw in that period.
Cardiff finished second in Pool 2 by virtue of failing to secure a single try scoring bonus points in their 6 games, in fact they only scored 9 tries during the entire group stages. The area where Cardiff have excelled during the competition has been in defence, no team has conceded fewer tries than them as they have allowed just 5 in 6 games. Despite not being to able score tries as easily as Leinster the Blues still averaged a rather impressive 25 points per game during in Pool 2, however away from home their average dropped to 20 points per game and they never recorded more than 36 points in one game, 16 less than Leinster’s highest score. Cardiff’s domestic form since the start of December has been mixed to say the least, they recorded 4 wins, but they have also fallen to 7 defeats in the RaboDirect Pro 12.

Opinion
Leinster’s only defeat in 20 home games came, at the hands of the Ospreys, on Friday the 23[SUP]rd[/SUP] March and it should prove to be a wakeup call, if they needed one, to sharpen their minds on the task in hand. For Cardiff to even push the home side close they will need outstanding performances from their returning Grand Slam winning International players like Gethin Jenkins, Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny and with Captain Sam Warburton missing through injury the rest of the pack will need to perform to much a higher standard than they have been for most of this season. Warburton’s omission does give a chance to 21 year old Josh Navidi to prove that Wales’ potency at open side flanker extends beyond Warburton and the Osprey’s Justin Tipuric. Even with such a suitable replacement for Warburton and their International players riding high after Wales’ 6 Nations Grand Slam Cardiff will be massive underdogs and unless Cardiff can starve the Leinster backs of quality, quick ball their defence will struggle to remain as steadfast as it was during the group stages. Jamie Roberts could be missing after suffering a knee injury on Friday night in Glasgow and with Gavin Henson being suspended after an “incident” on the trip back from Glasgow Cardiff’s coaching staff seem intent on making a difficult job impossible. Cardiff have only beaten Leinster once in Ireland since 2003 and that was at Donnybrook in March 2004, with this game being played at the Aviva Stadium I think it’s safe to say that Leinster will be unfazed by that statistic. In two meetings this season Cardiff have lost by a combined total of 75 points to 28 and when the two teams met in Dublin in December 2011 Leinster recorded a 52-9 victory and Cardiff conceded 6 tries. If Leinster don’t progress to the Semi Finals of this year’s Heineken Cup then Cardiff will have performed what could only be described as the rugby version of a miracle. Bookmakers currently make Leinster 1/7 favourites to win this fixture and the favourite winning score margin is Leinster by 11- 15 points which is priced at 9/2, as far as I can tell both of these prices are unreasonably generous to Cardiff.



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