Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Leicester now just one win away from home semi-final

AFP , LONDON

Leicester captain Martin Corry leaves Twickenham Stadium after a training session in London on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AP

Former champions Leicester will have a home semi-final in the European Cup against either Llanelli or Munster -- provided they can beat Stade Francais in the last eight -- after a draw made at Twickenham on Tuesday.

In the other semi-final Wasps, who have also won European club rugby union's greatest prize, or Leinster have been drawn away to either French top seeds Biarritz or 2000 winners Northampton.

Former Leicester and England utility back Austin Healey, a member of the Tigers' teams that won back-to-back European Cups in 2001 and 2002 was confident about his old club's chances following their dramatic 13-6 win against reigning champions Munster last weekend -- the first time the Irish province had lost a European Cup tie at their Thomond Park home ground.

"I texted [Leicester captain] Martin Corry after the game and said that was the best performance by Leicester in four years," Healey said.

"The physicality of the forwards was immense and if they continue that they will have a good chance in the rest of the tournament. If I was going to put money on it I think the final will be Biarritz and Leicester," he added.

Munster must win successive away matches if they are to make it through to this season's final.

The first of those pits them against in-form Llanelli, unbeaten in this season's pool phase and former Wales scrumhalf Robert Jones, a member of the Scarlets' coaching staff, was well aware of the threat posed by Munster.

"It is difficult to think about the semi-finals yet because we have a huge quarter-final ahead of us. But if we are fortunate enough to progress, traveling to England or France would be a big ask for us," he said.

Biarritz qualified for the quarter-finals with a new tournament record points total of 29 from a possible 30 and are favorites to beat Northampton.

But Wasps won at fellow French clubs Perpignan and Castres during the pool stages and forward Dan Leo is determined to relive the London club's 2004 triumph, when a try from Wales scrumhalf Rob Howley in extra-time won the trophy at Twickenham.

"We are working on building something special," Leo said. "We don't want to be defined as a team that has done something last season or the season before. We want to define ourselves by what is done this season. We have a tough draw with Leinster at home and then possibly Biarritz away."

Leinster have their own impressive track record, having beaten Toulouse away in the quarter-finals last season and Rob Carney, a wing for the Irish province, said: "Last year we had to do it the hard way, travelling to France, and we did it."

"Wasps are a fantastic side. It is a mouthwatering match. They have been there before too but it is a great challenge for us and something we will relish," Carney said.

In the last eight are three English clubs, Leicester, Northampton and Wasps, two French sides in Stade Francais and Biarritz, two Irish provinces in Leinster and Munster and one Welsh region in Llanelli.

The quarter-finals are scheduled to take place on the weekend of March 30 to April 1, with the semis set for the weekend of April 20-22. This season's European Cup final will be played at Twickenham on May 20.

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