The possibility of no English teams qualifying for the knockout stages of the European Rugby Champions Cup is a very real one.
As it stands, no team from the Aviva Premiership will qualify for the last eight.
Exeter Chiefs are the highest-ranked English team, in second position in Pool 4 but yet they will not qualify because only the best three runner-ups will go through and, after five rounds, Scarlets, La Rochelle and Ospreys occupy those spots.
The last time there were no English teams in the knockout stages of Europe’s premier club competition was in the 1998-99 Heineken Cup where the RFU didn’t enter any teams into the competition due to a dispute with European Rugby at the time.
It would send major shock-waves throughout European rugby if England’s best teams don’t qualify.
Saracens, the reigning European champions are in very real danger of losing their title at the group stage – the mere thought of them falling at this stage was unthinkable back in May.
They face a rejuvenated Northampton Saints side in Pool 2 who put away last season’s finalists Clermont Auvergne at the weekend.
Sarries were unable to capitalise on this result as they drew to Ospreys and the result leaves the defending champions two points adrift of second place.
A win, even with the try bonus point, for Mark McCall’s men at Allianz Park on Saturday may end up not being enough depending on other results.
Northampton have no chance of qualifying after they lost their first four games.
Exeter Chiefs, in Pool 3 perhaps provide the Aviva Premiership’s best chance of a qualifier for the knock-out stages.
Writing these words in itself is a shock that we are talking about English teams just qualifying from the pool stages.
Exeter’s progress, however, is out of their hands as although a win at PRO14 leaders Glasgow on Saturday afternoon will consolidate second place in Pool 3, they require at least one of Scarlets, La Rochelle or Ospreys to lose so they can qualify.
So even the Premiership leaders are nowhere near guaranteed a spot in the next round.
In Pool 1 Wasps have a slim chance of qualifying, but their progress will also be heavily dependent on other results.
They face group leaders Ulster at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday, where not only will they be needing a win, they will also hope that La Rochelle slip up at home to Harlequins (who are already out) and that other results go their way from other pools.
They have a slim chance of topping the group should they secure all five points, while beating the Irish province by at least eleven points.
Bath in Pool 5 have a very slim hope of qualifying after their loss to Scarlets last Friday.
Again they will require a multitude of results going their way and it would seem their European campaign is all but over. They face Benetton on Saturday.
Bath haven’t reached the quarter-finals since the 2014-15 season and yet again will put all their resources into competing for a play-off spot in the Premiership.
Should they get a try bonus point against the Italians, they will at least give themselves a fighting chance at progression.
The only English team that this article hasn’t mentioned yet is Leicester Tigers in Pool 4 and they confirmed their exit from the competition after suffering a 39-0 hammering at the hands of Castres on Sunday.
These are dire times for English rugby in Europe’s premier club competition.
Typically the strength of English clubs in European competition has coincided with success for the national team.
England’s recent success under Eddie Jones has coincided with a successful period for Saracens, while past glories for Wasps and Leicester coincided with the greatest era for England.
Fans of the national team will be hoping that their players’ club form isn’t reflected when those players pull on the white jersey for next month’s Six Nations.
Louis de Montfort, Pundit Arena