Although Munster are home and hosed with a game to spare, Rassie Erasmus will be leaving nothing to chance in their last pool match against Racing 92.
The opportunity to claim a home quarter-final in Thomond Park so as to swell the province’s financial coffers, and to further foster the positive atmosphere that currently surrounds Munster Rugby has unexpectantly become available.
At times during the glory years, Munster seemed to struggle to attain a home seeding in the last eight, so to be in with a chance of doing so now is really something.
While Anthony Foley may no longer be with us, it’s difficult not to feel his presence. In my 20 years acquaintance I always referred to him as “the Great Foley”, he always gave 110% and I carried around a photograph saying so for much of that time. Munster played in his image against the Glasgow Warriors, and were rewarded with a famous win over a quality side.
Leinster find themselves in a similar position to Munster. Already qualified with an away game at Castres to spare, the three-time European Champions should claim yet another win on French soil this Friday night.
Although Castres can be plucky opponents at the Stade Pierre-Antoine, they will be focusing on their subsequent fixture against Montpellier in the Top 14. Leinster should therefore attain at least four match points, guaranteeing them a home quarter-final, and an easier route into the last four.
Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have a powerful squad at their disposal, and face the difficult task of leaving some international back rows out of their match day squads each weekend.
As it stands four teams have officially qualified for the knockout phase, better to make that five, for although Wasps have not crossed the line yet, they will do so with a five-pointer over Zebre, which will see them conclude the pool phase on 22 points.
However, that total will probably not be enough for Wasps to attain a home quarter-final. 24 points will probably be the cut-off, leaving them facing the difficult task of travelling to either Saracens or Munster in the last eight.
Wasps though could yet be pipped for the top spot in Pool 2 by Connacht, provided the Irish side claim a bonus point win over Toulouse. An unlikely outcome, but something that would complicate the situation for all involved.
Conversely, if Toulouse secure a four-try bonus point win over Pat Lam’s side, then they would also be in the mix for a place in the last eight on 19 points. Indeed, the head-to-head results between Connacht and Toulouse could yet prove to be the final factor in determining who emerges from Pool 2 in second place.
If that were to come to pass, then the Irish side only hold a slight two-point advantage after beating the French aristocrats 23-21 in Galway.
The real fun and games begin when you try and decipher who will claim the final three quarter-final places up for grabs. Something which the codebreakers in Bletchley Park would struggle with in seasons past.
The computations: If Glasgow (14 pts) can beat Leicester away at Welford Road, then they should secure a quarter-final with either 18 or 19 points. Toulon (15 pts) are also in the running, but they must beat Saracens away to finish the pool phase on 19 or 20.
If the above computation fails then things become trickier again. If Exeter (11 pts) were to beat Clermont away and end on 15/16, and Montpelier (11 pts) beat Northampton Saints at home and conclude the pool phase on 15/16 points, both sides will come into the reckoning.
In the end, I expect Leinster and Clermont to be ranked as the top two sides on 26 points, with Munster and Saracens competing for the two remaining home quarter-final slots on 24/25 points. Wasps should follow as the fifth seeds, but after that, it’s difficult to call.
However I wouldn’t be surprised to see four Pro12 sides take their place in the last eight, one hell of a turn-around from last season, three from the Aviva Premiership and one solitary, but very dangerous, qualifier from the Top 14.
Looks like a super Euro weekend, enjoy it.
Frank Quinn, Pundit Arena
In this week’s edition of The Oval Office Podcast, we speak to the Pro12 Communications Director Adam Redmond, who outlines how the league will evolve in the coming seasons.