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Dublin: 10°C Wednesday 12 May 2021
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Here are our writers' predictions for this year's Heineken Cup

Do you agree with our journalists’ opinions? Click through and have your say.

Patrick McCarry

What do you hope to see this year?
At least one Irish side in the final at the Aviva Stadium next season. A friend bought four tickets for the final at Lansdowne Road back in 2003 and, instead of watching Leinster v Munster, we were stuck siding for either Perpignan or Toulouse. I picked Perpignan. They lost.

What do you expect to see?

The English sides to put in a much improved effort and Leinster to reach the final again. Northampton Saints and Harlequins are looking good in the Premiership – a tough league if ever I saw one – and Saracens should be better for their quarter-final exit last season. I’ve been very impressed with Ulster so far this season and the additions they have made to their squad. If Paddy Jackson can step up as a reliable and inspirational out-half, they will make the semi-finals at least.

How much of it do you plan to watch?

Between myself and the evergreen Sean Farrell we will be watching four matches, minimum, each weekend. I’m looking forward to a trip to Thomond on 21 October to see Munster take on Edinburgh. I’ll be glued to the TV, or reporting live (hopefully), when Round 3 comes around in December. Some great match-ups for the Irish sides on that weekend.

What’s your standout Heineken Cup memory?

I have three and two involve Leinster. I’ll start off, though, with Rob Howley’s grubber kick try that clinched the 2004 H-Cup for Wasps. What a nightmare for Clement Poitrenaud, who tried to shepherd it out of play to disastrous effect. The second was 2009 when I felt genuine bro-mance for Rocky Elsom as he inspired Leinster to their first European Cup. Last year’s semi-final win over Clermont Auvergne, in Bordeaux, was unbelievably fraught with tension. Some match to liveblog.

Will the competition still be in existence in 5 years’ time?

Yes but there will be less Pro12 teams in it. The competition is too much of a money-maker, and too damn good, to dilute in any way.

Top tip…
Keep a laptop near you to book your quarter, semi or final plane tickets. The good folks at Ryanair, Aer Lingus, etc. were quick to ramp up prices almost as quick as the peep from a final whistle.

One player to watch out for…

Chris Robshaw (Harlequins). The England captain is a force of nature for Conor O’Shea’s side and, given ‘Quins group, should see his side into the knock-out stages at least. If he has a good European and Six Nations campaign, he could win himself the Lions captaincy from the 2012 front-runner, Sam Warburton.

Who will be the four semi-finalists this year?

Leinster, Ulster, Harlequins, Toulon

How will the Irish sides do?

Connacht have a great chance of getting three wins in their pool but will not qualify. Munster are in a tough group and will need impeccable home form to qualify for the next stage. I like Rob Penney as a coach so will give them the edge over Racing Metro and Edinburgh to sneak through. Ulster’s group is even tougher but I predict a semi-final for them and a win for Leinster at the Aviva in May.

Which Irish player(s) should we watch out for?

Ian Madigan – covering for Rob Kearney at the moment at full-back and a genuine talent at out-half. Felix Jones – his successful comeback is vital for Munster’s prospects. Paddy Jackson could force his way into the international reckoning with a good season and Tiernan O’Halloran at Connacht will really benefit from another rock ‘em-sock ‘em H-Cup campaign out west.

Complete the following sentence: If Leinster win the Heineken Cup for the third successive year, I will…
Ask Joe Schmidt for an autograph and unfurl and ‘I commit my coaching future to Ireland’ document. They’re legal, right?


Paul Fennessy

What do you hope to see this year?

Plenty of flowing attacking rugby and less disruptive refereeing styles. Some encouraging performances from the Irish sides would also be welcome, and for some of our younger players to step up and deliver on their undoubted potential.

What do you expect to see?

A fair few dodgy decisions from officials – certain rules in the game are still not clear cut enough. Also, an abundance of excuses from the English and French sides should they underperform.

How much of it do you plan to watch?

If I’m not working, I’ll most likely be watching the games. My other weekend plans will have to put aside for a while, unfortunately.

What’s your standout Heineken Cup memory?

I know it’s the obvious answer, but it’s hard to look past the Leinster comeback in the 2011 final against Northampton, in terms of iconic moments that the competition has produced. The occasional unlikely Munster comeback also springs to mind.

Will the competition still be in existence in 5 years’ time?

It will be exist in some form, but significant changes will be implemented.

Top tip…

Clear your calendar while you still have the chance. You don’t want to miss a crucial game because it clashes with a friend’s birthday. Tell them to schedule any big events in conjunction with a RaboDirect PRO12 weekend if they must.

One player to watch out for…

Some of the younger Leinster players such as Brendan Macken and Fionn Carr have looked impressive at times s0 far this season. If Nick Williams of Ulster can produce the type of performance he gave against Connacht the other week on a consistent basis, he’ll also be a force to be reckoned with.

Who will be the four semi-finalists this year?

Leinster, Ulster, Toulouse, Harlequins.

How will the Irish sides do?

Of the ones not mentioned above, Munster will reach the quarter-finals and Connacht won’t escape their group unfortunately.

Which Irish player(s) should we watch out for?

Munster’s Simon Zebo has started the season well and he has the potential to be a regular in the Irish side if he keeps playing the way he is right now.

Complete the following sentence: If Leinster win the Heineken Cup for the third successive year, I will…

Expect the inevitable conspiracy theories about how they have some sort of unfair advantage over the other sides.


Steven O’Rourke

What do you hope to see this year?
Odd as it may sound, I’d love to see the English and French clubs do well so they begin to believe in it as a competition they can win – or at least a competition they can compete in – again.

What do you expect to see?

The English clubs doing poorly and blaming it on the format of the competition rather than their own failings.

How much of it do you plan to watch?

I’ll watch most of the games involving Irish teams. The thoughts of enduring Harelquins away to Zebre doesn’t exactly fill me with excitement so they’re the sort of games I’ll probably avoid.

What’s your standout Heineken Cup memory?

It has to be Leinster’s comeback against Northampton in the 2011 final doesn’t it? That’s right up there with the greatest Irish sporting performances of all time.

Will the competition still be in existence in 5 years’ time?

You’d be a brave man to predict that either way so I’m going to say yes, money will eventually talk.

Top tip…

Cardiff Blues at 4/1 look overpriced for Pool 6. I’ll also have a Euro or two on Connacht at 30/1 to make the quarterfinals as Pool 3 is not the greatest the Heineken Cup has ever seen.

One player to watch out for…

Tommy Bowe back at Ulster has every chance of being this season’s top try scorer.

Who will be the four semi-finalists this year?

Leinster, Ulster, Toulon and Toulouse

Which Irish player(s) should we watch out for?

As above

Complete the following sentence: If Leinster win the Heineken Cup for the third successive year, I will…

Turn to the person in the pub in the Munster jersey who has spent the past 80 minutes cheering for their opposition and give him/her a wink and a smile just like last year.


Sean Farrell

What do you hope to see this year?

Although New Zealand squeaked through the World Cup final, the style that brought them to and from that point has moved to the northern hemisphere on a large scale. In Ireland we have three Kiwi coaches, so naturally enough those provinces are attempting a more expansive game and Leinster with three New Zealanders are furthest along in their progression.

However, something odd must have happened English rugby over the summer, because the top teams in the Premiership (except the South African tuned Saracens) came out flinging the ball around. Add the Llanelli Scarlets to that mix and we have a host of teams of teams playing positive rugby. The hope is that the intensity of the cup won’t force a retreat in the safety of 10 man rugby.It may become necessary for a title contender to get down and dirty in January, but between now and Christmas anyone with trophy aspirations should be running the ball.

What do you expect to see?

I suppose I expect a mix of the rough and the smooth. Certainly, there will be plenty of the former for Irish provinces. All four of them face very tough trips to England and only Ulster can count their jaunt to France as something approaching straightforward.

How much of it do you plan to watch?

If I don’t see four live games each weekend I’ll be very, very disappointed. Though if one of them is Sale v Cardiff or Castres v Glasgow I may require a straight-jacket or Austin Healy style hair implants afterwards.

What’s your standout Heineken Cup memory?

There are the obvious six finals, but for me; semi-finals always make for the greatest drama. The magnificence of Wasps in Lansdowne Road in 2004, Munster coming back to the same venue two years later and scoring two points less, but trouncing Leinster. Three years after that, the icy veins of Jonathan Sexton, replacing his side’s stricken talisman and dishing up some sweet revenge across town in Croke Park.

To choose one memory above all others though, it has to be the miracle match in Thomond Park.

Will the competition still be in existence in 5 years’ time?
It’s a difficult one, but my instinct is yes. The competition will continue to exist, but there will definitely be a change in the way of determining who qualifies. That means bad news for Connacht, and potentially another Irish province as progression into Europe will be determined by results in the Pro12.

Top tip…
Never bet against Clermont at home, this weekend they will record their 48th consecutive win at Stade Marcel Michelin. Later on in the pool, back Treviso to win at home to the Ospreys and Connacht to shock Biarritz at the Sportsground.

One player to watch out for…

Freddie Michalak is back, what more could you ask for? So, if Jonny Wilkinson would kindly move aside we could all have some fun this year.

Who will be the four semi-finalists this year?

Harlequins, Toulon, Leinster, Leicester.

How will the Irish sides do?

With Llanelli looking like they could be a dark (red) horse, the task of escaping the group is not quite straight-forward for Leinster. But they will do it.

I also fancy Ulster to get out of their group, but only if they can keep Ruan Pienaar and Stephen Ferris fit with Nick Williams continuing his current form.

Munster…. well, they’ll need to overcome the serious disadvantage they hold in the back row. It will be an almighty achievement achieve a home quarter final, but they’ve shocked us all before.

Belief can be a dangerous thing. Since the home trouncing of Leinster, westerners have begun talking about taking 10 points from Zebre and picking up another two wins at home. I can’t see them having that successful of a campaign, Zebre will not give up a bonus point at home so easily this time around either.

Which Irish player(s) should we watch out for?

With transition and injuries there are so many young players coming through at the provinces. But I’m hoping this will be a big year for Ulster’s Luke Marshall – a proper playmaking number 12 – but it’s likely to take an injury to Paddy Wallace to give him serious game time.

Complete the following sentence: If Leinster win the Heineken Cup for the third successive year, I will… call them the greatest team in European history.

‘Nobody expects us to get a result in Leinster’ – Ian Whitten

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TheScore Team

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