The Heineken Cup takes centre stage once again over the next fortnight, and we thought it was worth a recap on how things currently stand in each pool.
Northampton Saints top Pool One after narrow victories over Castres and Edinburgh, and they now face second-placed Cardiff in back-to-back matches that could decide the outcome of this pool before Christmas. Having lost in Castres, the Blues will be desperate for two big performances to keep their qualification hopes alive, but they’re up against the form team in the Aviva Premiership and I don’t fancy their chances.
Meanwhile, Castres and Edinburgh will both be looking for two wins and a favour from Cardiff if they are to stand any chance of making the knockout stages.
Revised prediction: Northampton to qualify and keep up their 100% record before Christmas.
Leinster are sitting pretty with 9 points from two wins, but the next two fixtures are crucial – away and then home to Clermont Auvergne, who ought to be their main challengers to top the pool.
They come into these games on the back of slightly shaky Magners League form, but that was the case for the first two rounds and they exceeded expectations. Home advantage is likely to be telling, and one win apiece would set up a great finish in January.
Meanwhile, Racing Metro will be looking to do the double over winless Saracens, who might just pick a weaker side now that they are highly unlikely to qualify. That could keep the pool very interesting if Leinster and Clermont do indeed share the points in the next fortnight.
Revised prediction: still backing Clermont Auvergne to qualify and would expect them to pick up a losing bonus point in Dublin.
The pool of death is proving just as close as expected with Munster, Ospreys, Toulon and London Irish all winning one and losing one in the first two rounds. The wily Munster top the table though having picked up two bonus points from their fixtures.
Munster will face the Ospreys twice in the next fortnight, and a confidence-boosting home win in Round 3 would set them up for a good crack at their Magners League rivals in the return leg.
Meanwhile, Toulon and London Irish will do battle, knowing that any slip-ups could see them fall out of contention very quickly. If the trend of winning at home continues, Rounds 5 and 6 could be fascinating.
Revised prediction: still backing Munster to proceed, and expect two wins over the Ospreys.
Biarritz are very much in command of this pool having won at The Rec and with the prospect of back-to-back meetings with Aironi to net maximum points. The French will fancy 10 points from the next two weekends which ought to see them through to the quarters.
Bath and Ulster should have their eyes on a best runners-up spot, and their imminent encounters should be fascinating. Ulster have been in fine form in the Magners League, and after a rest weekend thanks to the snow, will be raring to go against the out-of-form Bath.
Revised prediction: Biarritz to qualify as pool winners, Ulster as best Runner Up
The Tigers top pool 5 with maximum points from their first two Heineken Cup outings, but face a tough trip to Perpignan this weekend before the return fixture at Welford Road the following week.
Their injury troubles don’t seem to be affecting them too much and are in ominous form once again – a win at London Irish at the weekend will help the confidence as well.
The Scarlets will need consecutive wins over Treviso to remain in contention, but with the Italians’ home form this season, that is easier said than done and it’s likely they’ll need to rely on Perpignan to stop the Tigers running away with it.
Revised prediction: Tigers to qualify
Toulouse are in the driving seat in Pool 6 having edged past Wasps and then thrashed the Dragons. A tricky trip to Glasgow in the cold on Friday night is in store, but if they come through that, they’ll be favourites to go through.
Wasps could do with back-to-back wins over the Dragons to keep on their tails, and that could set up a thrilling climax to the pool stages as they entertain the French in Round 6.
Revised prediction: Toulouse to win pool, Wasps to qualify as best runners-up
Take a look at the Heineken Cup fixtures here.