Who will win the Heineken Cup?


After a compelling weekend of rugby, four teams now await their fate in rugby's biggest domestic prize. Leinster, Northampton Saints, Perpignan and Toulouse all came through their quarter final ties to reach the final four of the Heineken Cup and with the final in sight, all four sides must believe this could be their year.

In the tie of the round, Leinster ended Leicester Tigers chances of a third title with a 17-10 victory at the Aviva Stadium. It was a hard fought battle in their 11th Heineken Cup meeting and only a moment of magic from Isa Nacewa could separate them. After stealing the line-out, Nacewa was given the ball and his superb solo run helped Leinster on their way to victory.

Northampton were the only English side to make it through after they beat Ulster 23-13. The game that took place at the stadium: mk was one of pure intensity as both sides put in strong performances. The Saints forwards were too strong though and tries from Soane Tonga'uiha and Lee Dickson, plus 13 points from fly-half Stephen Myler gave them their semi-final place.

French sides Perpignan and Toulouse took up the final two places as they beat fellow Top 14 sides Toulon and Biarritz. The Heineken cup made its first visit to Barcelona as Perpignan beat Toulon 29-25. The game was played in front of a packed crowd at the Olympic Stadium and a strong second half performance gave Perpignan the win as they scored two tries in the process. Meanwhile Toulouse were the last team to book their place in the semis after they won 27-20 in extra time. The scores were tied at 17-17 after 80 minutes but the away side got the victory in the 98th minute when Yannick Nyanga ran over.

So that means Leinster will take on Toulouse in Dublin and Northampton will be at home to Perpignan in the semi-finals. But with only three weeks to go until these games take place, the question on everyone's lips will be, who has the best chance of winning the Heineken Cup?

Firstly Leinster have to always be considered big contenders in this competition. The Magners League side always reach the final stages and they have the experience of winning the tournament as they did against Leicester in the 2008-09 season. The current side looks strong once again with players such as Nacewa, Brian O'Driscoll and Shane Horgan all looking sharp. Their only downfall this year could be in the forwards as they made a lot of mistakes against Leicester but in the backs they have a lot of big scoring stars.

If Northampton are to ever win the Heineken Cup then this may be their best chance. They currently lie in fourth place in the Aviva Premiership having been strong all season and they are now the only English side left in the tournament. A solid defence has been key to their game, with the forwards working really hard. That defence has a superb mix with the likes of England international star Chris Ashton who looks dangerous in every game he plays. The key to success for the Saints will be the likes of Ashton and other big name players like Myler. If these players play to their best and the fans get right behind the team then they have to be considered as a side that could win the competition.

In the same way as Northampton, this could be Perpignan's best ever chance as they now seem to have the squad capable of taking on the very best. It has always been hit and miss for the French side and their only achievement in the competition was when they finished runners-up in 2003. Now major players like Samoan back row Henry Tuilagi mean the team will be tough to beat. They may find it tough to go to England and get the victory but the win in Barcelona just shows that they can turn on the style wherever they play.

When the team Toulouse is mentioned most people will think of their well-known success in the French league and also in the Heineken Cup. After winning 17 league championships and five Heineken Cups the team have to known as one of the most successful in rugby. Once again they are huge contenders for the Heineken Cup and they will be tough to beat. The current side is made up of French international stars including Yannick Jauzion, Cedric Heymans and Vincent Clerc. A trip to Dublin in the semi-final will not be easy but if any team can do it is Toulouse.

All four teams have a lot of strengths and it wouldn't be surprising to see any of them winning the tournament this year. If the quarter finals are anything to go by then we are still in for some thrilling rugby.