Jon Sleightholme - Heineken Cup is still providing fine drama

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The Heineken Cup quarter-finals did not disappoint again with drama in every game apart from Leinster’s demolition of Cardiff which was the only really one-sided encounter.

I predicted three out of the four results with only Ulster surprising the odds with a massive win at Munster; it is the clearest signal yet that the balance of power is shifting in Irish rugby as the great Munster team is starting to look a little battle weary.

The big surprise for many people, but not me, were events at Murrayfield. After a frustrating campaign in the Six Nations for Scotland, Edinburgh provided some welcome relief for Scottish rugby fans with a stunning win over Toulouse.

I always thought that the French superstars would not fancy the trip to Murrayfield and so it was, Edinburgh were superb but I think they have probably gone as far as they can in the tournament.

I cannot see them beating Ulster in Dublin in the semi-final, however, they will believe that anything is possible and you cannot fail to be impressed with how they have played this season.

The all-Irish clash at Thomond Park was an absolute classic; it ran to the script that many great games have done at what, to me, is the spiritual home of European rugby.

Ulster raced into a lead and then fans were treated to another thriller as Munster chased them down, this time the hurdle was too big to overcome and Ulster should be congratulated. They pushed Saints last year but they have improved in the last 12 months.

I am predicting that they will make the final but I am not confident that they have the firepower to overcome Leinster or Clermont.

Again we have had another frustrating competition for English teams.

Saracens were humbled by Clermont and in truth never looked like they were going to trouble the French powerhouses.

They have a huge job to pick themselves up now after two damaging defeats over the past fortnight and it will be a measure of their mental strength as the current domestic champions to see if they can hang onto to a home semi-final play-off spot.

Sarries coach Mark McCall predictably criticised the salary cap gulf in the aftermath and that will be seen by many people as sour grapes.

The same issues do exist as last year when Saints were the only home team flying the flag but money is only part of the question.

For all their cash and playing resources, there is only one French team in the last four and we should not forget that statistic, it is as much about the number of games these teams play.

If Leinster, Ulster and Edinburgh’s top players played in the same number of physically taxing games that Premiership and French top 14 players did then they would find it equally tough to compete at the business end of the Heineken Cup.

I am not sure what the answer is as the Celtic teams are hardly going to agree to play in more games and Premiership clubs are unlikely to reduce the number of games their stars play in.

The balance is wrong but let’s not forget that within an increasing number of Premiership clubs the game is sustainable and can stand on its own two feet – rugby in the Celtic nations is unsustainable without large governing body financial input and therein lies the major issue.

We are heading for a two-tier European competition which for me is not really about money, it’s about managing your resources and it will not be long before the Premiership will become the major focus for English teams as the Top 14 has been the priority for French clubs for some time.

In terms of a winner of the tournament this season, Clermont have always been dark horses in my view and they will give Leinster a run for their money particularly as the semi-final will be played on French soil, that advantage could be the difference.

They are a team packed with talent and the winner of that semi-final will go on to win the tournament, I just cannot see that the winner will come from the other all-Celtic clash. It’s just a shame that we will not have a home team to cheer on this year.