Heineken Cup: The race to the quarters
January 16, 2012
Ulster - and scrum-half Paul Marshall - face a test of their mettle away to Clermont Auvergne in the final round of Heineken Cup Pool play © Getty Images
With one round remaining in this season's Heineken Cup Pool stages, Europe's finest are jostling for position behind Leinster and Munster - who booked their places in the last eight with hard-fought victories this weekend.
Leinster, the reigning champions, have progressed as winners of Pool 3, having seen off the gutsy challenge of Glasgow at Firhill on Sunday. Their 23-16 victory puts them on 20 points, with a home quarter-final theirs for the taking in next weekend's meeting with Montpellier at the RDS.
Two-time winners Munster have swept all before them in Pool 1 to qualify, but Tony McGahan's men have a tough assignment ahead of them if they are to secure a quarter-final at Thomond Park.
Their 26-10 victory over Castres on Saturday was their fifth in Europe this season, but with a fired-up Northampton waiting at a sold-out Stadium:MK next time out, they may struggle to secure a prized home tie. The Saints - beaten finalists last season - are out of the running this time around, but with 12 points already in the bag they will hope to secure passage into the Amlin Challenge Cup, a competition they won as recently as 2009.
The game of the final round is set to come from Pool 4, where Clermont Auvergne and Ulster will battle for top spot at the Stade Marcel Michelin. Ulster put in the performance of round five by routing Leicester 41-7 at Ravenhill on Friday, while Clermont decimated Aironi 82-0 in their weekend clash.
Ulster currently lead the way on 19 points, with Clermont three behind them. The Irish province have a mountain to climb given Les Jaunards' wonderful home record in Europe, but their healthy points total means that they are also in contention for a best runners-up spot.
That will depend on Friday's action in Pool 6, where Toulouse and Harlequins are in search of away wins. Guy Noves' European heavyweights are on the road to Gloucester, after the weekend's 24-3 win over Connacht, while Quins travel to face the Irish newcomers at the Sportsground, having narrowly beaten the Cherry and Whites 20-14 on Saturday.
Two away wins could scupper Ulster's plans, with Quins currently on 16 points and Toulouse out in front on 18. Connacht could do their Irish neighbours a huge favour by seeing off the Aviva Premiership leaders - a feat that would bring them a maiden Heineken Cup win.
Pool 2 remains the tightest of them all, as it has been throughout. Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh are locked together at the summit on 17 points, with the Scottish side currently ahead on tries scored. That could all change next weekend however, with the Blues needing only to match Edinburgh's result to progress as final standings are determined by head-to-head action.
Cardiff lead that race 5-4 in terms of match points - thanks to a losing bonus point at Murrayfield. Having defeated London Irish 22-15 on Saturday, the Blues take on Racing Metro at the Cardiff City Stadium in the final round, with the Exiles on their way to Murrayfield. Phil Godman's last-gasp drop-goal gave Edinburgh a 27-24 win over Racing on Friday, and given the home ties it is likely that a best runner-up will emerge from this group.
In Pool 5, the equation is relatively simple for Saracens. While they could have got the job done on Sunday, their narrow 20-16 win over Biarritz at Vicarage Road was enough to ensure that they require only a single point from next weekend's away trip to Benetton Treviso to progress.
Provisional Heineken Cup quarter-finalists and seeding (following round five):
1. Leinster (Q, 20pts)
Heineken Cup quarter-final qualification explained:
(i)The Pool winner will be the Club with the highest number of match points earned in each Pool. The runners-up will be the two second placed clubs from all six Pools with the next highest number of points. For the quarter-finals, the Pool winners will be ranked 1 to 6 in terms of the number of points earned. The runners-up will be ranked 7 and 8. Clubs in the same pool
(ii) if two or more clubs are equal on points and the clubs are in the same Pool, then qualification / ranking will be based on the matches played between the clubs concerned:
(iii) if still unresolved, or the clubs have not played each other previously in the Pool stage, qualification / ranking will be based on:
Clubs ranked 1-4 will have home advantage. The quarter-finals will be:
Quarter-finals - 6/7/8 April
Amlin Challenge Cup
The five Pool winners will qualify for the quarter-finals and will be the clubs with the highest number of match points earned in each Pool. For the quarter-finals, the Pool winners will be ranked 1 to 4 and 8 in terms of the number of points earned.
The three next best Heineken Cup runners-up (the third, fourth and fifth best) will qualify for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals. The top four Amlin Challenge Cup Pool winners will have home advantage with the quarter-finalists ranked accordingly:
1 ACC 1 (Top ranked ACC Pool winner)
The quarter-final pairings will be:
Quarter-finals - April 5/6/7/8
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ireland have the world sitting up and taking notice - and rugby's structure in Europe will aid their Rugby World Cup bid, writes John Mitchell
Where does Italy's win over Scotland rank among their successes in the Six Nations? Scrum Sevens investigates
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown