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Heineken Cup – French Hold The Aces ?

Heineken Cup –  French Hold The Aces ?

With three clubs, Toulouse, Stade Francais and Biarritz Olympique involved in this weekend’s Heineken Cup, France looks best placed to dominate the closing stages

With three clubs, Toulouse, Stade Francais and Biarritz Olympique involved in this weekend’s Heineken Cup quarter-finals, France looks best placed to dominate the closing stages of the competition.

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.

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Defending champions Toulouse, who thrashed opponents Edinburgh
33-0 in
their final pool game in January, boast eight French internationals,
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

London Wasps, led by England captain Lawrence Dallaglio, play
Gloucester in
an all-English tie.

Toulouse, seeking their third European Cup win, are without
Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, who tore a hamstring in the Six Nations win
Wales, and fly-half Frederic Michalak who sprained an ankle in a club
last weekend.

That leaves just 21-year-old second-choice Sylvain Dupuy as
cover, unless coach Guy Noves continues with wing Vincent Clerc, who
had a
promising 30 minutes against Narbonne last weekend, alongside Yann

But Toulouse have a mighty pack led by French Grand Slam captain
who will play his 48th European Cup match against Edinburgh

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
his tally to 46 games.

Scotland centre Tom Philip escaped punishment for a high tackle on
captain Brian O’Driscoll last month but Edinburgh have lost injured
No.8 Simon

Munster skipper Jim Williams, a former Wallaby No 8, says Stade
are strong all-round with a powerful pack and a deadly kicker in
“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
they are desperate for success in Europe.

Munster can count on nine Ireland internationals, including
locks Donncha O’Callaghan and Paul O’Connell plus half-backs Ronan
Peter Stringer.

The Paris club’s Test props Sylvain Marconnet and Pieter de
lock David Auradou give their pack confidence in set-piece play.

Their backs include current France internationals Christophe
Brian Liebenberg, former France centre Stephane Glas as well as
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

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
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

lines up alongside former Sydney Eastern Suburbs’ John Isaac in the
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,
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
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

The winners of the Munster – Stade Francais eight clash play Wasps
Gloucester at either Dublin’s Lansdowne Road or the Stade Charlety in

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.