24 May, 14:08
The Irish Rugby Supporters Club is delighted to announce that tickets for the GUINNESS Series 2013 will go on sale on ticketmaster.ie at 10am on Thursday, May 30.
Toulouse look to have a shoe-in at home to Edinburgh while Stade Francais and Biarritz Olympique travel to Ireland and Wales respectively for less straight forward assignments.
Defending champions Toulouse, who thrashed opponents Edinburgh 33-0 in their final pool game in January, boast eight French internationals, while Edinburgh have 11 Scottish caps.
French champions Stade Francais, who travel to Munster, and Biarritz Olympique, away to Llanelli, have both proved they can win big games on the road this season.
London Wasps, led by England captain Lawrence Dallaglio, play Gloucester in an all-English tie.
Toulouse, seeking their third European Cup win, are without scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, who tore a hamstring in the Six Nations win over Wales, and fly-half Frederic Michalak who sprained an ankle in a club match last weekend.
That leaves just 21-year-old second-choice Sylvain Dupuy as scrum-half cover, unless coach Guy Noves continues with wing Vincent Clerc, who had a promising 30 minutes against Narbonne last weekend, alongside Yann Delaigue.
But Toulouse have a mighty pack led by French Grand Slam captain Fabien Pelous who will play his 48th European Cup match against Edinburgh Rugby.
The only players involved this weekend to have topped half a century of Heineken Cup caps are Anthony Foley (Munster - 58), Robin McBryde (Llanelli Scarlets - 52), and Chris Wyatt (Llanelli Scarlets - 51).
Pelous' team-mate Emile Ntamack, who scored the first try in the competition, back in 1995, has been an ever-present this season to increase his tally to 46 games.
Scotland centre Tom Philip escaped punishment for a high tackle on Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll last month but Edinburgh have lost injured No.8 Simon Taylor.
Munster skipper Jim Williams, a former Wallaby No 8, says Stade Francais are strong all-round with a powerful pack and a deadly kicker in Diego Dominguez. "They are the kind of team that is capable of producing quite a number of surprises," said the Australian.
Nick Mallett's side got over their away jinx with a win at Leicester early in the season and with little hope of making the French championship play-offs they are desperate for success in Europe.
Munster can count on nine Ireland internationals, including world-class locks Donncha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell plus half-backs Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer.
The Paris club's Test props Sylvain Marconnet and Pieter de Villiers plus lock David Auradou give their pack confidence in set-piece play.
Their backs include current France internationals Christophe Dominici and Brian Liebenberg, former France centre Stephane Glas as well as Argentina stars Agustin Pichot and Ignacio Corleto - although there is doubt about Pichot's participation.
Biarritz Olympique confirmed their away credentials with a win at Sale. Scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili, the hero of France's Six Nations triumph over England last month, says his side are determined to progress. "We have reached the quarter-finals twice before and we are desperate to go further," said the scrum-half.
Llanelli, who lost to Perpignan at the same stage last season, will be without club captain Leigh Davies because of his long-term knee injury.
John Davies, Scott Quinnell and Vernon Cooper are all expected to be fit, and fly-half Stephen Jones should recover from his calf strain to play his 48th European Cup match.
Eight Llanelli Scarlets players have been laid low by sickness but coach Nigel Davies hopes it is just a 24-hour bug.
Biarritz have been forced to change their centres because of injury to Australian Marc Stcherbina and Guillaume Bousses. Argentina's Martin Gaitan lines up alongside former Sydney Eastern Suburbs' John Isaac in the Biarritz attack in Wales on Friday.
But Serge Blanco's club can count on a crop of French internationals in Yachvili, No 8 Thomas Lievremont, fly-half Julien Peyrelongue, full-back Nicolas Brusque and fearsome flanker Serge Betsen.
"Our previous efforts in this tournament show that we're not far away from a semi-final spot, so we're confident," said Biarritz coach Patrice Lagisquet.
Dallaglio's Wasps include England internationals Josh Lewsey, Simon Shaw and Joe Worsley while Gloucester have England's Andy Gomarsall, Henry Paul, Phil Vickery and Trevor Woodman.
All four matches are sold out. Toulouse lead the way with a capacity 36,500 expected at Stadium de Toulouse. If Toulouse beat Edinburgh they take on the victors of the Llanelli - Biarritz match at Bordeaux. An Edinburgh win would give them a semi-final at Murrayfield.
The winners of the Munster - Stade Francais eight clash play Wasps or Gloucester at either Dublin's Lansdowne Road or the Stade Charlety in Paris.
Both semi-finals will take place on the weekend of April 23rd/25th ahead of the final at English rugby's Twickenham headquarters on May 23rd.
AFP - 2004.