All eyes are on Cardiff and the 11th Heineken Cup final at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, 20 May – but the scramble for places in next season’s tournament is also coming to an exciting climax.
Biarritz Olympique and Munster will collide in front of a sell-out Millennium Stadium crowd for the most coveted trophy in world club rugby, with the Heineken Cup finalists secure among the 16 teams who have already booked their places in European club rugby’s premier competition next season but with eight other places still up for grabs.
All the teams from England and Ireland are confirmed and five of the French seven are safely qualified. France have seven teams in the 2006 / 2007 competition by virtue of Biarritz Olympique qualifying for the final and so making France the most successful country from England, France and Italy in this season’s tournament.
But in Scotland, Wales and Italy, there is still plenty to play for in the relevant domestic tournaments. The teams who have qualified (in alphabetical order) are:
ENGLAND (six of six): Gloucester Rugby, Leicester Tigers, London Irish, London Wasps, Northampton Saints, Sale Sharks.
IRELAND (three of three): Leinster, Munster, Ulster.
FRANCE (five of seven): Biarritz Olympique, Bourgoin, Perpignan, Stade Francais Paris, Toulouse.
SCOTLAND (one of two): Edinburgh Gunners.
WALES (one of three): Cardiff Blues.
With two rounds of the Top 14 still to be played, the teams in contention for the remaining two French places are Agen, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Brive and Castres Olympique while the two Italian teams will come from their Super 10 semi-finalists – Benetton Treviso, Overmach Parma, Ghial Calvisano and SKG Gran Parma.
In Wales there is a three-way race to qualify between Llanelli Scarlets, Newport Gwent Dragons and the Ospreys while Glasgow Warriors and Border Reivers are battling it out for the second Scottish place.
The 24th and final place will be decided in a play-off match between the highest non-qualifier from the Celtic League – which will be a Welsh team – and the Italian team beaten in their semi-finals who finished the higher of the two in the Super 10.