It goes without saying that all four sides have had spectacular campaigns – how else would they have reached the semi-finals – but for three of the four teams this is an occasion long overdue.
Searching for the true underdog, the obvious candidate is Edinburgh. The first Scottish side to ever reach a European semi-final, their tournament has been a rollercoaster of frayed emotions and outstanding tries.
Their Round 2 encounter with Racing Métro 92 perhaps sums up the chaos best; coming back from 24 points down to win 48-47 at home in an 11 try thriller. Great drama followed in the rematch with their French opponents, this time a late Phil Godman drop goal snatching success in Paris. Easy? Never, but incredibly entertaining.
Those guts and inner confidence where instrumental in their victory over five-time champions Toulouse in the quarter-final, a feat that many felt was beyond a side filled with struggling Scottish internationals who had just been whitewashed in a dismal Six Nations.
Yet the return to club comforts, plus the outstanding efforts of foreigners Netani Talei and Tim Visser saw them progress. Visser admitted this week that Edinburgh might not ever make this stage again. They will give it absolutely everything.
Their opponents are Ulster, with the 1999 champions playing in their first semi- final since their march to victory 13 years ago. Europe has not been kind to the Belfast outfit since then, but over the last two years with a mixture of exciting young Irish talent and foreign class, Ulster have been born again.
That young talent has been spearheaded by Stephen Ferris. Man of the match in the quarter-final victory against Munster, the 2009 Lions tourist is a physical behemoth at blindside flanker. His work alongside Chris Henry, Craig Gilroy, Andrew Trimble has given the Irish side new life. There is no doubt though that Ulster would not be the tour de force we see today without their foreign touch.
The pack has been bolstered and advanced by the recruitment of John Afoa, who will crucially miss Saturday’s semi-final through suspension, along with Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg. But it is their World Cup winning scrum-half Ruan Pienaar that turns Ulster into a world class side. One of the sharpest kickers on the planet, he is a precious nugget of Bloemfontein gold.
Another side entering semi-final territory for the first time are Clermont Auvergne. Following a similar format as Ulster, their French talent consists of the outstanding Morgan Parra, Julien Bonnaire, Wesley Fofana and Aurélien Rougerie.
From there, the galactico names roll off the tongue, with Nathan Hines, Davit Kubriashvili, Lee Byrne and Sitiveni Sivivatu all running out in the club’s infamous yellow strip. Dominance in the forwards will give Clermont as good a chance of any of making the final.
Except they face the champions. Much like Barcelona, nearly all off Leinster’s starting XV is made up of home produce, from the legendary Brian O’Driscoll to in-form Irish internationals Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Cian Healy.
The additions are small but with enormous class, World Cup winner Brad Thorn in the second row playing the enforcer and the mercurial Isa Nacewa out wide capable of the majestic.
How therefore to pick two winners? None of the sides are technically at home but Ulster and Clermont will run out on the soil of their homelands in Dublin and Bordeaux. If Leinster were at home, it would be no contest. If Edinburgh were as well, their chances would increase.
Perhaps on the basis, it will be Ulster and Clermont who progress. Whoever is victorious, make sure you watch.
image: © zoonabar