Battle of Britain on the cards
January 17, 2000
The quarter finals of the Heineken Cup will provide two titanic tussles with Premiership rivals Northampton and Wasps clashing in an all-English affair and Welsh titans Llanelli and Cardiff meeting head on.
Elsewhere Irish provincial champions Munster will host French Cup holders Stade Francais, and there is a repeat of last season's French Championship final between Toulouse and Montferrand.
The final eight qualifiers were confirmed after a hectic weekend's action brought the group stages to a close.
Bath, the 1998 European champions, were within touching distance of a quarter-final spot when Harlequins launched a stirring fightback to lead Cardiff 23-20, only for the Welsh club to finish on top.
Bath tore up the Heineken Cup formbook with victory over tournament favourites Toulouse in France yesterday, but must now kick themselves for the rest of this season after allowing a nine-point lead to slip at Swansea in early December.
Northampton secured a home tie, courtesy of a 39-23 triumph at Neath, and now find themselves hosting Wasps, who crashed at Llanelli, on the weekend of April 15-16.
Northampton's former Neath centre Allan Bateman was among Saints' try scorers, but warned: "We know that we have to pick things up, even though it is brilliant to reach the quarter-finals."
Northampton have won four out of the last five league meetings with Wasps, and will fancy their chances in front of a full house at Franklin's Gardens.
Wasps looked good before travelling west, but a 25-15 defeat ruined their 100% record and meant they sacrificed a home quarter-final.
Wasps were outscored 4-2 on tries, and even their skipper Lawrence Dallaglio lost the plot, as he was yellow-carded following a punch up with Llanelli flanker Ian Boobyer.
"We just didn't do ourselves justice we missed a lot of first-up tackles, which we don't normally do, and we missed a couple of easy kicks," said Wasps rugby director Nigel Melville.
"We learnt more lessons in this game than we would on a normal day in the domestic league, and it was a very quiet dressing room afterwards.
"We needed to calm things down during the second half, but people were going off on a tangent and doing their own thing clearly, I've got to instil more composure in my players."
Composure was an ingredient that Cardiff lacked after building up a 20-point lead against Harlequins at The Stoop.
Quins somehow clawed their way back to lead by three points before Cardiff made the game safe and secured that mouth-watering trip to Stradey Park.
"Llanelli are a very good cup side, and I thought they were superb against Wasps," said Cardiff coach Lynn Howells.
"It was a very disappointed dressing room at half time because we gave Quins a try just before the break, but I was pleased with the way we finished."
Cardiff suffered an injury blow when hooker Jonathan Humphreys went to hospital suffering from a dislocated shoulder. Wales' reserve hooker could face a lengthy lay-off.
But there is better news for another Cardiff man with Liam Botham, son of England cricketing legend Ian set to be named in Wales' Six Nations training squad on Tuesday.
Ironically Botham does not qualify for Wales, through residency, until November but national manager Graham Henry will name the winger along with more than 70 others for pre-championship training.
Despite being picked for his adopted country, the former England Under-21 back seems to be well down the pecking order with Gareth Thomas, Dafydd James, Gareth Wyatt and Neath flyer Shane Williams all ahead of Botham in the queue.
Munster, despite losing their unbeaten record at Pontypridd, have landed a priceless home draw, and home advantage should also favour Toulouse against Montferrand.
If the quarter-final results go with home advantage, then the last four line-up should comprise one team each from England, Wales, Ireland and France.
England's European Shield quarter finalists have all landed tough away ties.
Bristol must visit Biarritz, conquerors of Premiership leaders Gloucester yesterday, Newcastle go to Pau and London Irish travel to the Welsh valleys where unbeaten Ebbw Vale await them.
The fourth tie is an all-French affair tournament favourites Castres taking on Perpignan.