With two pool games remaining in the European Rugby Champions Cup, the shortlist of potential quarter finalists has narrowed considerably.
While the likes of Saracens already look to have one foot firmly planted in the next round, last season’s beaten finalists, Racing 92, are yet to win a game this campaign.
Fellow Top 14 giants Toulon are also looking down the barrel of a pool stage exit, and will probably have to record a bonus point win over Saracens in Allianz Park if they are to have any chance of qualification from pool 3.
Likewise, Montpellier will need to beat Leinster in Dublin in order to make it into the knock-out phase. While Bordeaux Begles have to overcome Clermont Auvergne if Ian Madigan and company are to have any chance of making it through to the next round.
Ulster’s chances also hang by a thread. With only nine points accumulated to date, anything short of equaling that total in their remaining games will see the Irish side crash out.
Pool 2 is the most intriguing group with three teams tied on 13 points. Wasps will be confident of qualification as a result of having Toulouse at home in the next round and a final pool game against Zebre to come.
Although much will depend on the outcome of their match against the four time European champions, Wasps can almost be guaranteed a bonus point win over the hapless Italians on the final day.
Connacht should also secure five points against Zebre in round five, giving them a chance of qualification against Toulose.
However, even if the French aristocrats were to come away from the Ricoh Arena without a losing bonus point, they could still qualify by beating an injury ravaged Connacht side in Toulouse in round six.
Although both Munster and the Glasgow Warriors should qualify from Pool 1, the order in which they do is open to debate. Gregor Townsend’s team will need to beat the Irish side at home in the next round, before travelling to the Leicester Tigers to make sure of a quarter final spot.
Despite having won the same number of games as Munster, the Warriors have only picked up one bonus point, and find themselves three points behind the Reds on 13.
This makes the forthcoming clash between the sides a must-win for Glasgow, as they will need at least 19 to make it into the knock-out phase.
Conversely, Munster can afford to lose at Scotstoun before welcoming a disinterested Racing team to Thomond Park in round six.
At present the top eight sides looks like this, however a great deal can change over the next two rounds.
[table id=80 /]
In Pool 1, The Glasgow Warriors should have just enough to win their remaining games against Munster and Leicester Tigers, but without bonus points, leaving the Scottish side on 21.
However, by our reckoning Munster will top the pool on 22 by earning a losing bonus point in Scotstoun, and taking maximum return from their final round tie with Racing.
We expect Wasps to collect nine points against Toulouse and Zebre, leaving the Premiership side on 22. Despite some heroic performances, Connacht’s catalogue of injuries will take their toll.
Although the Pro12 Champions should record a comfortable win over stragglers Zebre, without the likes of Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane, it’s hard to imagine them coming away from Toulouse with anything.
Consequently, it’s likely Connacht and Toulouse will each finish the pool phase on 18 points, leaving them to be separated by outcome of their the head-to-head encounters. Sadly for the Irish side, we are tipping the French aristocrats to sneak into the quarter finals.
Saracens should emerge as the only quarter finalists from pool 3 with six wins from six games on at least 27 points. Making them the first seeds in the last eight shake up.
Provided they claim a minimum of nine points from their remaining games against Montpellier and Castres, in-form Leinster are likely to be the third seeds on 25 points.
Clermont should wrap up their pool campaign with two bonus point wins over Bordeaux and the Exeter Chiefs. This well see this season’s most entertaining side become the second seeds with 27.
This leaves the final place vacant, and should allow Ulster to claim the an unlikely quarter final berth by seeing off the Chiefs and Bordeaux with two massive performances.
All going to plan, out predicted top eight sides and quarter final line-up should look something like this.
[table id=81 /]
[table id=82 /]
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
On this week’s Oval Office Podcast we look at Leicester Tigers’ options and discuss Johnny Sexton’s potential Lions tour.