Europe’s brand spanking new Champions Cup will have all the excitement of old as we head into a riveting final round of pool matches.
With 50 of the 60 pool matches now played, only Toulon are assured of a place in the last eight, with 11 teams still fighting it out for the remaining seven spots.
So, who is going to get in?
First a reminder of the qualification rules. The eight quarter-finalists will be made up of the five group winners along with the three best runners-up, a slight change from previous seasons when there were just two runners-up spots available.
That is particularly important in the cases of Bath and Wasps, teams who lost their opening two games and are seeking to become the first sides to reach the quarter-finals despite starting with two defeats.
The other important change comes in how the sides are ranked across pools. In previous seasons, teams with the same number of points were split by tries scored. Under the new rules the seedings will be decided by points difference, which leaves Leicester, in particular, in a precarious position.
Here’s a breakdown pool-by-pool of where the teams stand.
Clermont: Top of the pool on 18 points before their final match at home to Saracens. A win would guarantee them a home quarter-final, while even a draw would likely be enough to be one of the top four seeds. They could yet get through as a best runner-up even if they lose, although a bonus point would probably be needed in that case.
Saracens: Currently second in their pool on 17, Saracens can win the group with a win in Clermont, or theoretically do it with a draw in which they score four tries and their hosts do not. They could still make it through with a loss, particularly if they pick up a bonus point, but that would leave their fate in the hands of other sides.
Munster and Sale: Mathematically eliminated.
Leinster: A win or a draw away at Wasps will secure top spot in the pool for Leinster, who currently have 18 points, with a success also guaranteeing a home quarter-final. If they were to lose in Coventry, they will still likely make the last eight because of their good points difference, although a bonus point would certainly help in that regard. They did lose the head-to-head to Harlequins however, so in the event that they failed to pick up anything at Wasps, and Quins scored maximum points at Castres, Leinster would drop to third in the group.
Wasps: Sitting on 16 points heading into the final game, Wasps realistically need a win, or at the very least a draw to reach the last eight. A win guarantees them a quarter-final spot, barring a mathematical miracle, while the draw would leave them relying on other results. They could still get through with a losing bonus point in theory, but that would require a number of other results going their way.
Harlequins: A home defeat to Wasps last weekend put a huge dent into Quins’ hopes of reaching the last eight, and they have just 13 points. They must now win in Castres, ideally with a bonus point, to have any hope of making the quarter-finals. After that, they need Leinster to either win, or pick up nothing against Wasps, and then hope that 18 points is enough for a best runner-up spot. Needless to say, it’s a long shot.
Castres: Mathematically eliminated.
Toulon: Already guaranteed top spot in the group on 18 points thanks to their big win over Ulster last weekend. Toulon will be assured of a home quarter-final with a win away to the injury-ravaged Scarlets. A draw would likely also do it given their greater points differential.
Leicester: Like Quins, Leicester are up against it to make the last eight, with just 13 points heading into round six. They will need a win in Belfast, preferably with a bonus point, to have any chance. Luckily for them, Ulster have huge injury problems, and have already lost at home in Europe once this season, albeit to Toulon. If Leicester can get to 18 points, they will give themselves a chance, but they’ll need lots of other results to go their way.
Scarlets and Ulster: Mathematically eliminated.
Toulouse: Still top of the group on 16 points, but Toulouse missed a glorious opportunity to book their place in the last eight with a thumping home defeat to Bath. It’s now effectively win or bust for them in Montpellier, but a home quarter-final seems almost out of the question. A win would all but guarantee a place in the last eight, with a bonus point guaranteeing top spot in the pool. They’d still top the group with 20 points provided Bath don’t pick up all five points at home to Glasgow. Any sort of defeat would be virtually fatal to their chances, and in recent seasons they’ve struggled against Montpellier, although Jake White’s side have nothing to play for and an important Top 14 game looming the following week.
Bath: They looked out of it with just one point from the opening two games, but 14 points from a possible 15 since have put Bath right back in contention on 15. A home win against Glasgow would put them on either 19 or 20 points, which could well be enough to top the group. Even if they only get to 19 and Toulouse win, there’s a good chance someone from Pools 1 or 2 won’t get that many points and they still make it through.
Glasgow: In a similar position to Bath, but a point further back on 14. They have to win in Bath and hope that Toulouse lose in Montpellier. That would see them top the group, while a Toulouse victory would leave them needing help from the other runners-up.
Montpellier: Mathematically eliminated.