The first two rounds of this season’s Champions Cup are complete and already we’re beginning to get a clear picture of the sides who will be in contention of reaching the knockout stages.
Of course, there is still plenty of rugby to be played in this competition and the December back-to-backs, which begin this weekend, will prove crucial in determining who reaches the last eight.
Here we rank the teams who look to be in the best shape of reaching the knockout stages. We’re not just looking at total points gained thus far as the metric in deciding the ranking but we are also considering the difficulty of fixtures played and what lies ahead as contributing factors.
Champions Cup Power Rankings
1. Exeter Chiefs – Total Points 10
Despite Rob Baxter’s side proving to be one of the top teams in the English Premiership over the last number of seasons, they have failed to reach those same lofty heights in Europe.
However, this season they have produced a blistering start with two bonus-point victories away to La Rochelle and at home to the Glasgow Warriors.
Next up for the Chiefs are back-to-back clashes with Sale and you would expect they will be confident of claiming two victories. Do that and a home quarter-final would be all but guaranteed.
2. Leinster – Total Points 9
They haven’t exactly been setting the world alight when it comes to their two European appearances so far but a bonus-point win over Benetton at home and a gritty away win in the bear pit of Lyon has put the eastern province in a very advantageous position.
Next up for Leo Cullen’s side is an away trip to Franklin’s Gardens to take on the Northampton Saints before they welcome their English opponents to the Aviva Stadium a week later.
The Saints are also on nine points so these back-to-back games will have huge ramifications on Pool 1.
3. Toulouse -Total Points 9
A gritty away win against Gloucester in Kingsholm followed by a come from behind victory against a spirited Connacht side at the Stade Ernest Wallon proves that there is something different about Toulouse this season.
Last year’s semi-finalists look to have an added steely underbelly to their game this year and it must be said that like many teams, they’re slowly finding their feet as they welcome back their World Cup contingent.
Next up are back-to-back games against Montpellier which will undoubtedly be tough but you feel the reigning French champions could still move up a gear.
4. Northampton Saints – Total Points 9
The Saints are flying high after a win over Lyon at home and an exciting but narrow bonus-point win over Benetton in Italy.
They welcome last year’s finalists Leinster to Franklin’s Gardens in two weeks and you expect a win will be necessary considering the daunting prospect of facing the eastern province at the Aviva Stadium a week later.
They still have to take on Lyon in France in January but if they can get one win out of their next two games they should be in contention come the final round.
5. Ulster – Total Points 8
Without much of the ball or territory, Ulster escaped from the Rec with four points thanks to Jacob Stockdale’s vital interception in the dying seconds. On Friday night, they bullied a much-fancied Clermont Auvergne side in torrential conditions to emerge with another victory.
This should give Dan McFarland’s side a huge confidence boost going into the back-to-back games against Harlequins, a side who they should have no fear of.
The London club are almost entering must-win territory already but you feel the superb form from the likes of John Cooney and Marcell Coetzee should give the northern province the upper hand.
6. Racing 92 – Total Points 7
A bonus-point win over Saracens followed by a dramatic draw at Thomond Park against Munster sees the Parisian side in a strong position in Pool 4.
Next up for the star-studded side are back-to-back games against the Ospreys who are having a dreadful season. Two wins here and it looks very likely they will be in absolute control in this pool and they will also fancy their chances early next year when Munster visit the Paris La Défense Arena.
7. Clermont – Total Points 6
They may have fewer points than Munster but we’re putting Clermont ahead because of their upcoming back-to-back games.
The French side received a hard lesson of what it’s like to play away from home in this competition so there should be no excuses when they take on Bath at the Rec on Friday week.
They’re still in a strong position as they have to welcome Ulster to their home patch later in the tournament but you expect two wins here will be necessary if they want to top the pool.
8. Munster – Total Points 7
The unwritten rule of European Cup rugby is that you must win your home games. So in that regard, Saturday night could be seen as a failure as Munster could only draw with Racing 92 at Thomond Park.
However, in the context of the game, Munster will be happy with the two points considering they looked a beaten side for long periods thanks to the magic of Finn Russell, Teddy Thomas et al.
Next up are back-to-back games with Saracens, but what kind of side will Mark McCall field? That’s the question on everyone’s lips and the answer to which could be the difference in Munster reaching the knockout stages or not.
9. Saracens – Total Points 5
An opening day loss to Racing 92 in Paris with what was essentially their B team was followed by a bonus-point win over the Ospreys at Allianz Park.
Those five points may peak the interest of Saracens in this competition despite their off-field problems.
When Johann van Graan was asked whether he would take McCall’s intentions of concentrating on the Premiership with a pinch of salt, the Munster head coach replied, “I’d take that with a bowl of salt.”
Munster are expecting to welcome a full-strength Saracens to Thomond Park in less than two weeks.
Time will tell.
10. Montpellier – Total Points 5
A narrow loss on the road to Connacht followed by a narrow win over Gloucester at home proves that Montpellier are a force to be reckoned with but also that they have their weaknesses.
They lie in second place in Pool 5 but back-to-back games against Toulouse could prove to be the end of their involvement in this competition.