The Heineken Champions Cup returns this weekend as the best teams in the northern hemisphere resume battle in the race to be crowned kings of Europe.

Ahead of what is set to be a blockbuster weekend of knockout rugby, we rank the eight remaining teams vying for a place in the last four.


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1. Leinster (away at Leicester Tigers)

Road to the quarters

Round One: Leinster 45-20 Bath

Round Two: Montpellier C-C Leinster 

Round Three: Leinster 89-7 Montpellier

Round Four: Bath 7-64 Leinster

Round of 16 1st leg: Connacht 21-26 Leinster

Round of 16 2nd leg: Leinster 56-20 Connacht

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Quarter-final chances 

With Irish rugby in rude health, four-time European Cup winners Leinster are once again this season's team to beat.

Leo Cullen's side were dumped out in the semis last season but have cruised to the quarter-finals this term with thumping victories over Bath, Montpellier and, most recently, Connacht.

Having scored more tries and more points than any other team in the competition so far, the Irish province will take some stopping as they target a record-equalling fifth crown. 

Their quarter-final opponents Leicester are flying high in the Premiership and have home advantage, but Leinster's stellar cast of Ireland internationals have time and time again they are built for the big occasion.


Most important player: James Lowe

The Ireland winger has soared to the top of the competition's try-scoring charts, notching four tries against Connacht in the round of 16 second leg to take his tally to eight for season.

Lowe, who has beaten 18 defenders, made eight line breaks and 445 metres in four matches, will be eager to add to his haul of scores against Leicester Tigers in the quarter-finals.

2. Munster (home to Toulouse)

Road to the quarters

Round One: Wasps 14-35 Munster

Round Two: Munster 19-13 Castres

Round Three: Castres 13-16 Munster

Round Four: Munster 45-7 Wasps

Round of 16 1st leg: Exeter Chiefs 13-8 Munster

Round of 16 2nd leg: Munster 26-10 Exeter Chiefs


Quarter-final chances

Munster and Toulouse will both be making a record 19th appearance at this stage of the tournament when they go head-to-head at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening. 

Two of the competition's most iconic clubs with seven Heineken Cup trophies between them, the pair have met six times in the knockout stage to date, including the famous 2008 final at the Millennium Stadium which Munster edged 16-13 to claim their second European crown.

More recently, Munster were winners of the 2014 and 2017 quarter-finals, but Toulouse beat Munster in the round of 16 at Thomond Park last season on their way to lifting the trophy.

Fresh off the back of beating 2020 champions Exeter, the Irish giants will be quietly confident of exacting revenge for last season's heartbreak with a capacity crowd expected at the Aviva Stadium.


Most important player: Peter O'Mahony

The flanker is another Ireland international performing at the peak of his powers in the Heineken Champions Cup, helping Munster set up a quarter-final encounter with Toulouse with a series of all-action displays.

O’Mahony has won the joint-most lineouts (36) in the competition this season and has stolen a further seven.

The 32-year-old has been incredible at the breakdown too, securing 13 turnovers – five more than his nearest challenger in that statistic.

3. Racing 92 (home to Sale Sharks)

Road to the quarters

Round One: Northampton 14-45 Racing

Round Two: Racing C-C Ospreys

Round Three: Ospreys 10-25 Racing

Round Four: Racing C-C Northampton

Round of 16 1st leg: Stade Francais 9-22 Racing

Round of 16 2nd leg: Racing 33-22 Stade Francais


Quarter-final chances

Racing have been handed a relatively favourable route to the final as they look to end their long wait for a maiden European Cup. 

Runners-up in 2016, 2018 and 2020, a first ever Heineken Cup crown is long overdue and the Top 14 giants look a good bet to make a fourth final in six years.

Whether the Parisians are a better placed to end their Heineken Cup heartache is up for debate, but the quality of their star-studded line up is not.

With the likes of Virimi Vakatawa, Finn Russell, Gael Fickou and Camille Chat at their disposal, Racing have the talent to overwhelm any side on their day.

Beat Sale at La Defence Arena on Sunday afternoon and the Parisians will set up all-French semi-final clash with either La Rochelle or Montpellier. 


Most important player: Gael Fickou

Composed, powerful and skillful, the Racing centre is in the form of his life having helped France to a first Six Nations Grand Slam in 12 years.

It’s hard to believe Fickou is just 27-years-old, having been a feature of French rugby for so long, but the centre shows no signs of slowing down as Racing look to end their European Cup hoodoo. 

4. Leicester Tigers (home to Leinster)

Road to the quarters

Round One: Bordeaux 13-16 Leicester Tigers

Round Two: Leicester Tigers 29-23 Connacht

Round Three: Connacht 28-29 Leicester Tigers

Round Four: Leicester Tigers C-C Bordeaux

Round of 16 1st leg: Clermont 10-29 Leicester Tigers

Round of 16 2nd leg: Leicester Tigers 27-17 Clermont


Quarter-final chances

Back-to-back Heineken Cup champions in 2001 and 2002, the Tigers are back at European rugby's top table for the first time in a decade. 

Their quarter-final opponents Leinster are arguably the best team left in the competition so reaching the last four would be some achievement for a side that have been transformed since the arrival of director of rugby Steve Borthwick.

Eye-catching victories over Clermont home and away in the round of 16 will have made the rest of Europe stand up and take notice and the Tigers are top of the pile in the Premiership for a reason.

Leicester have rarely been the underdog this season but they may well enjoy the prospect of playing party poopers as Leinster target a record-equalling fifth European crown.


Most important player: George Ford

Considered surplus to requirements by Eddie Jones during a disastrous Six Nations campaign, England's loss has been Leicester's gain.

No international commitments have allowed the fly-half to concentrate on steering the Tigers ship to the top of the Premiership table and a first Heineken Cup quarter-final appearance for almost a decade.

With Ford set to swap Leicester for Sale at the end of the season, the 29-year-old will be desperate to sign off on a high. 

5. Toulouse (away at Munster)

Road to the quarters

Round One: Cardiff 7-39 Toulouse

Round Two: Toulouse C-C Wasps

Round Three: Wasps 30-22 Toulouse

Round Four: Cardiff C-C Toulouse

Round of 16 1st leg: Toulouse 20-26 Ulster

Round of 16 2nd leg: Ulster 23-30 Toulouse


Quarter-final chances

A unconvincing start to the defence of their European crown saw champions Toulouse scrape into the quarters despite pool-stage defeat to Wasp and a shock last 16 reversal at home to Ulster.

However Toulouse remain a team for the biggest stage and the French giants know what it takes to secure safe progress in what will be their 19th appearance at this stage of the competition. 

In Munster they face arguably the most in-form side in the tournament right now having seen off the likes of Wasps, Castres and Exeter en route to the last eight. 


Most important player: Antoine Dupont

Despite Toulouse's indifferent form, the 2021 European Player of the Year has been an ever-present shining light.

The scrum-half produced the moment of magic which ultimately saw them defeat Ulster in the Round of 16, crossing for his second try in this season’s competition late on.

Dupont is so often the game changer for Toulouse and few would bet against the France international making his mark in Toulouse’s quarter-final clash with Munster.

6. La Rochelle (home to Montpellier)

Road to the quarters

Round One: La Rochelle 20-13 Glasgow

Round Two: Bath C-C La Rochelle

Round Three: La Rochelle 39-21 Bath

Round Four: Glasgow 30-38 La Rochelle

Round of 16 1st leg: Bordeaux 13-31 La Rochelle

Round of 16 2nd leg: La Rochelle 31-23 Bordeaux


Quarter-final chances

Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle enertain Top 14 rivals Montpellier with a place in the last four at stake. 

Beaten by Toulouse in last season's Twickenham final, the French giants are hoping to go one better this year and are yet to taste defeat in the competition so far.

Currently seventh in the French league standings, home advantage could prove crucial as O'Gara's men look to keep their season alive against a Montpellier side that suffered a 13-try dismantling at the hands of Leinster.


Most important player: Gregory Alldritt

The swashbuckling back-rower as taken international rugby by storm since bursting onto the scene a few years and has quickly established himself as one of Europe's premier flankers. 

Captain of France's new-look side that swept aside the All Blacks in the summer, Alldritt is fast-becoming one of the most influential players on the planet and is likely to lead his nation at their home World Cup in 2023.

The 25-year-old is just as influential for his club and his 73 carries so far this term is the most in the competition.

7. Montpellier (away at La Rochelle)

Round One: Exeter 42-6 Montpellier

Round Two: Montpellier C-C Leinster

Round Three: Leinster 89-7 Montpellier

Round Four: Montpellier 37-26 Exeter

Round of 16 1st leg: Montpellier 40-26 Harlequins

Round of 16 2nd leg: Harlequins 33-20 Montpellier


Quarter-final chances

A trip to face last season's runners-up La Rochelle stands between Montpellier and first ever Heineken Cup semi-final.

The Top 14 giants have reached the last eight despite a 42-6 defeat to Exeter in round one and a humiliating 89-7 thrashing at the hands of Leinster. 

But Philippe Saint-Andre's men have railled since their humiliation in Dublin, overcoming Exeter and Premiership champions Harlequins to book an all-French quarter-final showdown with La Rochelle.


Most important player: Handre Pollard

Having lost their giant Springbok lock Paul Willemse to injury, compatriot Handre Pollard's importance takes on added significance. 

The South African World Cup winner is set for Premiership pastures new at Leicester Tigers next season but the fly-half would love to sign off in France by delivering a first Heineken Cup crown for Montpellier. 

Arguably the most prolific place-kicker in world rugby, his consistency from the tee makes Montpellier a team not to be under-estimated as the knockout stage continues.

8. Sale Sharks (away at Racing)

Round One: Ospreys 13-21 Sale Sharks

Round Two: Sale Sharks C-C Clermont

Round Three: Clermont 25-19 Sale Sharks

Round Four: Sale Sharks 49-10 Clermont

Round of 16 1st leg: Sale Sharks 9-10 Bristol

Round of 16 2nd leg: Bristol 29-35 Sale Sharks


Quarter-final chances

Sale face one of the most daunting tasks in club rugby as they take on Racing on their own patch for a place in the last four.

The Sharks may be on course to miss out on the play-offs but victory over Premiership rivals Bristol in the round of 16 means Alex Sanderson's men are only two games away from this season's Marseille showpiece. 

Their hosts on Sunday Racing are yet to taste defeat in Europe so far this season and victory on the continent would represent one of the biggest upsets in Heineken Cup history.


Most important player: Lood de Jager

If Sale are to spring an upset in Paris they will need every ounce of Springbok muscle to complete their job.

South Africa lock De Jager is O’Mahony’s rival in the lineout rankings, equalling the Munster man’s 36 claims, in addition to stealing three.

With five turnovers in five games, de Jager is also a nuisance over the ball and could play a significant role this weekend as he looks to help Sale overcome Racing 92 in the quarter-finals.