Heineken Cup semi-final previews

James HutchisonSenior Analyst IMay 1, 2009

SWANSEA, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 24:  Scott Hamilton of Leicester Tigers in action during the Heineken Cup Match between Ospreys and Leicester Tigers at the Liberty Stadium on January 24, 2009 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

This is one of my favourite weekends in the rugby, and the entire sporting, calendar: the Heineken Cup semi-finals, as a long European season boils down to one opportunity to play for the top prize.

All those away trips to far-flung places on cold winter nights, the pain, the injuries, the surprising victories, the desperate defeats - from all of that, just four teams remain, but lose in the semi-final stage and no-one will remember that you had a good season in the Heineken Cup.

Qualify for the final, and you’ll play on the big stage and will last longer in the memory even if you are the runner-up. Many players have said that defeat at the semi-final stage is the worst way to go out, and Munster, Leinster, Cardiff and Leicester will be desperate to make that final.

Munster v Leinster, Saturday, 5.30pm

The Dubliners face the unenvious task of a winner-takes-all showdown with Munster, the in-form team, reigning European Champions and hot favourites to lift the title (Leinster are available at 4.4 on Betfair to win this match).

It’s difficult to see anything but a Munster win following their impressive showing against the Ospreys, and although the game is at the fairly neutral venue of Croke Park, Leinster will need to conjure some magic to proceed to the final in Edinburgh.

The underdogs will be somewhat encouraged by their heroic defensive efforts at the Stoop in the quarter-finals, where they denied Harlequins from crossing their line for so long to emerge one-point victors.

Munster offer a different threat though, and I predict that they’ll continue their unrelenting march to the final in Edinburgh.

Cardiff Blues v Leicester, Sunday, 15:00

Cardiff Blues also go into their semi-final off the back of a big win over a top team, after their thrashing of Gloucester to win the EDF Energy Cup. The Welsh outfit have arguably been the team of the Heineken Cup this season, and they continue to overshadow The Ospreys as the most successful welsh region.

This game has the makings of a classic, with Leicester also performing impressively over the last month or so. They go into the game as slight underdogs, and the Millennium Stadium is by no means a welcoming venue for an English side.

My money is on Cardiff (1.79 on Betfair) to make it an all-Magners League final, and just to ensure that half of the Lions touring party are playing a huge fixture the day before they leave!

Have a great weekend and enjoy the games.