With teams already crunching numbers in the aftermath of last weekend’s captivating series of Heineken Cup matches, qualification for the quarter-finals of the world’s most competitive club rugby tournament will be on the line when the pool stages come to a dramatic conclusion next month.
With coveted places in the last-eight, as well as qualification for the knockout stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup and valuable ERC ranking points, up for grabs, the tension is set to rise and rise for the contenders following the announcement of the dates, venues and kick-off times for the round 5 and 6 fixtures.
One of the highlights of round 5 is undoubtedly the clash at the top of Pool 1 between Racing Metro 92 and Saracens at Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes on Saturday, January 12.
The 38,285-capacity stadium will become the 102nd venue to stage Heineken Cup action as Racing look to avenge their 30-13 defeat by the English club in round 2.
The unbeaten trio of Clermont Auvergne, Harlequins and Toulon will be attempting to continue their winning ways with home matches also on the Saturday against Exeter Chiefs, Connacht and Cardiff Blues respectively.
The Ospreys, who put themselves right back in the hunt for qualification from Pool 2 with a first ever tournament victory over four-time champions Toulouse last weekend, renew acquaintances with Leicester Tigers at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, January 13.
The Ospreys pushed Tigers hard at Welford Road in round 2 before running out of steam in the final quarter and will be confident of reversing the result this time.
With each pool’s matches kicking off at the same time, round 6 will have coaches, supporters and media alike reaching for their calculators with mouth-watering confrontations between the likes of Biarritz Olympique and Harlequins, Castres Olympique and Ulster, and Montpellier and Toulon on offer.
The pool stages will reach a crescendo on Sunday, January 20 with the hugely-anticipated return matches between Munster and Racing at Thomond Park in Pool 1, and Leicester and Toulouse at Welford Road in Pool 5.
The round 5 matches will get underway on Friday, January 11 with the meetings of Pool 4 front runners Ulster and Glasgow Warriors at Ravenhill, Northampton Saints and Castres Olympique at Franklin’s Gardens, while Salford City Stadium will host the Pool 6 Sale Sharks-Montpellier tie.
Full TV details for rounds 5 and 6 will be announced shortly.
UPCOMING HEINEKEN CUP FIXTURES:
(All kick-off times are in local time with live TV coverage where relevant)
ROUND 5 –
Friday, January 11
Pool 4: ULSTER v Glasgow Warriors, Ravenhill, 8pm – Sky Sports
Pool 4: Northampton Saints v Castres Olympique, Franklin’s Gardens, 8pm – Sky Sports/Sky Italia
Pool 6: Sale Sharks v Montpellier, Salford City Stadium, 8pm
Saturday, January 12
Pool 3: Harlequins v CONNACHT, Twickenham Stoop, 1.35pm – Sky Sports
Pool 3: Zebre v Biarritz Olympique, Stadio XXV Aprile, 2.35pm – Sky Italia/Sky Sports
Pool 6: Toulon v Cardiff Blues, Stade Félix Mayol, 2.35pm – Canal+/Sky Sports
Pool 1: Racing Metro 92 v Saracens, Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes, 4.40pm – FR2/Sky Sports/Sky Italia
Pool 5: LEINSTER v Scarlets, the RDS, 6pm – Sky Sports
Pool 5: Clermont Auvergne v Exeter Chiefs, Stade Marcel Michelin, 7pm – Canal+/Sky Sports
Sunday, January 13
Pool 1: Edinburgh v MUNSTER, Murrayfield,12.45pm – Sky Sports
Pool 2: Ospreys v Leicester Tigers, Liberty Stadium, 3pm – Sky Sports
Pool 2: Toulouse v Benetton Treviso, Stade Ernest Wallon, 4pm – FR2/Sky Sports/Sky Italia
ROUND 6 –
Friday, January 18
Pool 3: CONNACHT v Zebre, the Sportsground, 8pm
Pool 3: Biarritz Olympique v Harlequins, Parc des Sports Aguiléra, 9pm
Saturday, January 19
Pool 4: Glasgow Warriors v Northampton Saints, Scotstoun Stadium, 1.35pm
Pool 4: Castres Olympique v ULSTER, Stade Pierre Antoine, 2.35pm
Pool 5: Scarlets v Clermont Auvergne, Parc y Scarlets, 6pm
Pool 5: Exeter Chiefs v LEINSTER, Sandy Park, 6pm
Pool 6: Cardiff Blues v Sale Sharks, Cardiff Arms Park, 3.40pm
Pool 6: Montpellier v Toulon, Stade Yves du Manoir, 4.40pm
Sunday, January 20
Pool 1: MUNSTER v Racing Metro 92, Thomond Park, 12.45pm
Pool 1: Saracens v Edinburgh, Vicarage Road, 12.45pm
Pool 2: Leicester Tigers v Toulouse, Welford Road, 3pm
Pool 2: Benetton Treviso v Ospreys, Stadio Comunale di Monigo, 4pm
QUARTER-FINALS: April 5/6/7
SEMI-FINALS: April 26/27/28
DUBLIN 2013 EUROPEAN CLUB RUGBY FINALS
Amlin Challenge Cup final – the RDS, Friday, May 17, 2013, 8pm
Heineken Cup final – Aviva Stadium, Saturday, May 18, 2013, 5pm