The first European Rugby Champions Cup group stages are now two thirds through. So as we have a few weeks until the next round it’s a good time to take stock and have some fun predicting who will make the quarter finals.
Sat 17 Sale Sharks v Clermont Auvergne
Sat 17 Saracens v Munster
Sat 24 Clermont Auvergne v Saracens
Sat 24 Munster v Sale Sharks
Clermont stumbled at first with a loss away to Saracens but since then have looked like the European powerhouse they have been over the last couple of years. Away to Sale should be another 5 points. Home advantage should be just enough to see them past Saracens even though they have lost the last two games between the sides.
Saracens were very disappointed with their performance away to Munster, especially after toppling Clermont. But back to back wins over Sale has put their fate back in their hands. At home they should reverse the result against Munster and finish second on 17 or 18 points, will that be enough?
Munster battled well to pick up the LBP against Clermont but I think have left themselves too much to do. They must win away at Saracens but I can’t see it happening and so the final game against Sale is going to be just for pride.
Sale are out so it’s only pride and experience from here, they never really were expected to qualify so it’s not such a disappointment. Clermont at home will be a grand occasion and travelling to Munster will be great experience for the team. The primary goal, always was the premiership and re-qualification for this tournament next year.
Sat 17 Harlequins v Wasps
Sat 17 Leinster v Castres
Sat 24 Castres v Harlequins
Sat 24 Wasps v Leinster
Quins have finally come good and started to play like we know they can. They have the most slender of leads and as the ranking is how teams played against each other they effectively have an extra point over Leinster. Quinn should pick up two wins from the last two games but the Wasps one will be close.
Leinster have the harder job as Wasps have been much more difficult to beat at home than away. But will this home form move with Wasps to their new home up in Coventry? We will know by the time these games are played. As of now I think Leinster will pick up two wins because Wasps will be out and so maybe resting players. So this group could come down to bonus points.
Wasps have given themselves a fighting chance and they know that if they win their next two games they qualify. Unfortunately their away form just hasn’t been good enough and so it looks like a loss away to Quins will end their hopes.
Castres have been poor this season and with the coaching staff knowing that they are getting replaced in the summer it’s no surprise. Two more losses are on the cards and probably giving up TBPs as well.
Sat 17 Toulon v Ulster
Sat 17 Leicester Tigers v Scarlets
Sat 24 Scarlets v Toulon
Sat 24 Ulster v Leicester Tigers
Toulon have not had everything their own way but are still sitting pretty at the top of the group as the other teams have taken points off each other. As we get to the business end of the group stages I think their experience and greater squad depth will tell and they should finish with two more wins.
Scarlets are the surprise package of the group, sitting mid-table in the Pro12 I really didn’t expect much of them. 8 points is the lowest number of points for second place, so it’s as much the other teams taking points off each other, as it is Scarlets going well. As Tigers have their players back from injury I think Scarlets will lose the last two games, but they have surprised me before.
Tigers are coming good as their players come back but it’s probably too late. They should pick up a win over the visiting Welshmen but traveling to Ulster is a hard ask and I can see them losing points there.
Ulster have had a disappointing campaign and traveling to Toulon is going to add to that. I fully expect that they will pick themselves up for the home game against Tigers, but will they rest players to concentrate on Pro12?
Sat 17 Toulouse v Bath Rugby
Sat 17 Glasgow v Montpellier
Sat 24 Montpellier v Toulouse
Sat 24 Bath Rugby v Glasgow
Toulouse are the only side to have won all their games but with no TBPs they don’t have the clear advantage of top seeds. Toulouse should have enough to beat Bath at home but I don’t see it as being a TBP win. However the trip to Montpellier is a clear TBP opportunity.
Glasgow will be disappointed with two losses to Toulouse, with better kicking in the second game they could easily have won it. Bonus points could decide second and so Montpellier at home offers a good TBP opportunity. Then it comes down to the game against Bath.
Bath had a hard time at the start of this competition but back to back wins over Montpellier will have restored confidence. I still think a trip to Toulouse will be a step too far for this developing squad. But revenge could be on the menu for the visit of Glasgow. I think they will beat Glasgow at home it’s just a question of bonus points for who comes second.
Off the field Montpellier are an absolute disaster at the moment. Will things be sorted out by the time this competition resumes? Will anyone at Montpellier care about this competition at that point? Probably not on both counts, so two more losses.
Sat 17 Racing Metro v Benetton Treviso
Sat 17 Ospreys v Northampton Saints
Sat 24 Benetton Treviso v Ospreys
Sat 24 Northampton Saints v Racing Metro
Saints have got their tournament back on track after losing to Racing away. Whilst they are top they will know it’s still very close but I fully expect them to get the win in Wales. Then follow up with a win at home over Racing to go through as pool leaders.
Racing will pick up 5 points to put pressure on Saints. But I feel that home field advantage will put Racing in second on 19 points. Will that be enough to go through as a best loser?
Ospreys are out of this now and only playing for pride. I feel that Saints will have too much firepower and then they will take a reserve team to Italy for a final win.
Treviso have had the expected 4 losses and I think they will be adding two more to that. Only in this competition as there has to be an Italian side, the only question is will they manage to pick up a LBP or be the only team that doesn’t even register 1 point?
So how does that leave the quarter finalists looking?
Pool winners: Clermont Quins Toulon Toulouse Saints Best 2nd places: Saracens Leinster Racing
In my tournament preview I predicted the below teams making it to the quarter finals:
ASM Clermont Leinster Rugby Harlequins RC Toulon Toulouse Glasgow Warriors Northampton Saints Racing Metro 92
So I still have 7 out of 8 of my original predictions and if Glasgow win away to Bath then it will be my original list. It’s going to be an interesting last couple of rounds and there is still time for there to be some changes.
Here is a link to my Challenge Cup strep.