sport

English trio ready for quarters

England will have three clubs in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 2009.

Leicester and Saracens on Sunday joined Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins in the last eight, with only Tigers facing an away tie.

Richard Cockerill's men progressed as sixth seeds after knocking out four-time European champions Toulouse, which means a trip to Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon in early April.

Saracens will be at home to last season's runners-up Ulster with Quins hosting Munster, whose bonus-point victory over Racing Metro today sent holders Leinster crashing out.

The last eight is completed by an all-French affair between tournament favourites Clermont Auvergne and Montpellier.

The semi-final draw, meanwhile, sees Clermont or Montpellier drawn to play in their own country, but not their normal home ground, against Quins or Munster, with Saracens or Ulster hosting Toulon or Leicester.

"We just have to manage what is in front of us," Leicester rugby director Cockerill said.

"You would prefer to be at home, but we have got to get past Toulon. They are an immense side, a fantastic team.

"It is going to be a huge event for us and another huge day in Tigers' history."

While Leicester toppled Toulouse 9-5 in the Welford Road snow, Saracens skated across a wintry surface on their final appearance at Vicarage Road to post a 40-7 bonus-point victory over Edinburgh.

"We can appreciate just how difficult it was out there, and we said after the game that the conditions were as bad as it gets with the ball like a bar of soap," Saracens boss Mark McCall said.

"The key was being patient and to keep our composure, but also to control the game enough through position. With that the opportunities would come and then we would put them away."

Harlequins, who qualified as top seeds after dropping just two points from a possible 30 in winning all six of their Pool Three games, will host Munster at the Twickenham Stoop.

They secured that status by winning in Biarritz on Friday night, and rugby director Conor O'Shea said: "To go to the south of France and get a win against any team is outstanding, especially given that was only the second time in the Heineken Cup that Biarritz have been beaten at home.

"That was the motivation for the players, as well as aiming to be number one seeds for the quarter-finals."

Munster, Heineken Cup winners in 2006 and 2008, knew they had to record a bonus-point success against Racing to progress as eighth seeds at Leinster's expense, and they duly delivered with a 29-6 win.

"If we hadn't (reached the quarter-finals) the people would be in the long grass, there would have been a lot of bullets being fired," Munster head coach Rob Penney said.

"If we hadn't got the outcome today, I would have still been proud of the progress we are making and the areas of growth we are getting.

"I really believe in this team and the direction it is going."

Clermont, unbeaten at home for more than 50 games, will be firm favourites to eliminate quarter-final debutants Montpellier, whose stirring victory over Toulon yesterday confirmed their place in the first knockout phase.

"A home quarter-final is crucial in this tournament, and especially to have a game in Clermont where we have a proud record," Clermont coach Vern Cotter said.

"We're very happy for our supporters because it's the first time they will have a crack at a (home) quarter-final, and their enthusiasm will bring our team along for what will be a tough game."

Three English clubs, meanwhile, will have home advantage in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter- finals.

Top seeds Bath entertain Stade Francais, with Gloucester hosting Biarritz and Wasps meeting Leinster. The fourth tie sees French heavyweights Perpignan and Toulouse going head to head.

Wasps rugby director David Young said: "You could look at it and say it's not much reward for topping our pool to then be given a draw against the Heineken Cup champions.

"But on the flip side, what a hugely exciting prospect it will be playing them at home. It is a game which, if we can win it, would really put us on the map."