As we approach the final two rounds (possibly ever – there’s a sobering thought) of the Heineken Cup pool stages, here are some predictions for how the final tables will end up. Be sure to revisit this page after the next couple of weekends have played out and laugh at how spectacularly wrong we got it.
R5: Castres v Leinster, Ospreys v Saints
R6: Leinster v Ospreys, Saints v Castres
Tough to see anyone but Leinster coming out of this pool. An away trip to Castres will be tricky but they are good enough to triumph, while they should win comfortably at home to the Ospreys. The Welsh side could give Northampton a difficult time at home, and if so any hope of qualifying the Saints had will vanish.
Leinster: 21pts (Q)
Northampton Saints: 15
Cardiff Blues: 13
R5: Toulon v Cardiff, Exeter v Glasgow
R6: Glasgow v Toulon, Cardiff v Exeter
Toulon are in the driving seat here, despite their blip in Cardiff. They should rectify that at home next round – arguably the shock loss there to Grenoble last weekend is the worst thing that could have happened for the Blues. The way things are looking in other pools, it doesn’t look like a home win the week afterwards, even with a bonus point, would be enough to get Cardiff through. They have a whiff of a chance if they can get a BP (losing then winning) in both games, but it’s slim. Exeter and Glasgow are out of contention but can still spoil the other teams’ parties.
Toulon: 24pts (Q)
Cardiff Blues: 18
Exeter Chiefs: 12
Glasgow Warriors: 7
R5: Toulouse v Saracens, Connacht v Zebre
R6: Zebre v Toulouse, Saracens v Connacht
Sunday’s game at the Ernest Wallon will decide the pool winner, but I’d expect both Sarries and Toulouse to emerge from this one anyway. The North London side will hold no fear going down to the South of France, given their exemplary form, but Toulouse have lost just once at home this season and have taken down some big names there. Saracens could be added to that list. Connacht have performed valiantly this campaign and should be rewarded with a bonus point win against Zebre at the weekend to end on a respectable 14 points.
Toulouse: 24pts (Q)
Saracens: 21 (q)
Clermont Auvergne: 15pts
Racing Métro: 6
R5: Harlequins v Clermont, Racing v Scarlets
R6: Scarlets v Harlequins, Clermont v Racing
Pool 4 is going to be all about bonus points – and how much Racing Métro and Scarlets care. Quins have been playing very well – frustration against Saints aside – and I’d back them to win at the Stoop against a Clermont team that hate travelling. If they can grab a win at Scarlets the week after, as well, they’re in with a chance of a best runner-up spot, but then bonus points come into play – I think they’ll do very well to get one in either game, while I can see Clermont getting a losing one in round 5 and a winning one in round 6. That should be enough to see them top the pool. If Quins can win both fixtures and grab a BP, they could scrape through.
Clermont Auvergne: 21pts (Q)
Racing Métro: 10
Leicester Tigers: 15
R5: Treviso v Tigers, Ulster v Montpellier
R6: Tigers v Ulster, Montpellier v Treviso
Again, bonus points are key here. Ulster should destroy Montpellier at home (the French side have no interest left in this competition) securing five points, while I have a nagging suspicion that the Tigers may fail to do so in Italy. They have been below par recently, and haven’t always had it their way in Treviso in the past (they only secured a BP win at home this season with the last play of the game). That would leave Ulster on 23 points and Tigers 19 heading into the final game at Welford Road – whatever happens, that is one not to be missed. Ulster’s superb form this season, combined with the Tigers’ relative struggles at home to top teams so far, should see the Irish province at least grab a losing bonus point, which would be enough for them to top the pool. A Tigers win would give them one of two best runner-up spots.
Ulster Rugby: 24pts (Q)
Leicester Tigers: 23 (q)
R5: Gloucester v Munster, Edinburgh v Perpignan
R6: Munster v Edinburgh, Perpignan v Gloucester
This pool, thankfully, is a little more straightforward. Munster should have a pack capable of steamrolling an undercooked Gloucester unit at Kingsholm, and a home win against Edinburgh the week after should see them top the pool comfortably. None of the other teams are in contention for qualification (unless Gloucester can pull off remarkable back-to-back wins), so are unlikely to be able to stop Munster’s march to the knockouts.
Munster: 23pts (Q)
If, in the unlikeliest of chances, things play out exactly as above, Ulster, Toulouse, Toulon and Munster would secure home quarter finals. With three teams left on 24 points, I believe it would come down to tries scored to determine the ranking from 1-3; obviously that is very tough to predict with two rounds left, but I’ve given it a go anyway. Here are what I think the quarter finals will look like:
Ulster vs Saracens
Toulouse vs Leicester Tigers
Toulon vs Clermont Auvergne
Munster vs Leinster
The chances of all that happening (not to mention all of my maths being right) are slim, to say the least. But those are some tasty looking quarter finals! How do you see the final two rounds playing out?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images