As we enter the final rounds of the Champions Cup the qualification excitement hots up. As per usual the qualification situation is immensely complicated.
Therefore, David Challis is attempting to simplify the situation somewhat.
Taking each pool one by one hopefully the picture will begin to be deciphered. However, a lot can change between now and two weeks’ time and much is still up in the air.
Pool 1 – A race for Second
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 6, 2020
Pool 1 is one of the most simple to look at on the face of it. Leinster has already qualified as group winners and all that is on the line for them is their seeding in the quarter-finals.
However, the race for second is a little more complex. Northampton sits on nine points in front of Lyon on seven and Treviso on six. Northampton does also have the added advantage of not having to play Leinster in this round of games, unlike their rivals.
As we will see from the other pools the number of points to qualify as a second-placed team may be small in comparison to previous years. So if Treviso or Lyon were able to pick up 10 points in their two games, granted this is very unlikely, they could still sneak into the quarter-finals.
Northampton is in good shape to get through. However, they are likely to need eight points at least to qualify.
Pool 2 – Chiefs in Control
Embed from Getty ImagesChiefs have Pool 2 on lockdown and Champions Cup qualification is all but a certainty. They need just one match point across two games, so we can lock them in. Glasgow like Northampton sits on nine points but faces Exeter in Round five.
This makes Champions Cup qualification for the Scottish side much more difficult. If they are aiming for 17 points minimum then they will have to find a way to beat Rob Baxter’s men.
Below them Sale sit on six and La Rochelle on five points. 10 points gives them a chance but in it is a big long shot for both sides.
Pool 3 – Battle Between Ulster and Clermont
There’s a man in form and then there’s @JCooney09 ?
The dynamic Ulsterman has been simply SENSATIONAL in this season’s #HeinekenChampionsCup ?
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 8, 2020
Pool 3 is very likely to see two sides emerge into the latter stages and it is more about the order they do so. Ulster is a point ahead of Clermont on 17 but travels to the south of France in Round five.
Ulster likely only need to pick up a couple of bonus points across the two rounds to secure qualification. However, if they want to finish top they either need to rely on a Clermont slip up in round six or pull of a famous victory at the Marcel Michelin.
Bath and Harlequins are out of contention mathematically but can have a say on how Ulster and Clermont qualify.
Pool 4 – Three-way Race to Qualify
Embed from Getty ImagesPool 4 is immensely intriguing, with Ospreys out of it on one points it has given Saracens, Munster and Racing all the chance to qualify. Saracens and Munster sit on 10 and 11 points respectively but both play Ospreys where both will expect a bonus-point win.
Racing plays Munster at home followed by Saracens away knowing that one win would be enough to secure qualification. In reality, this makes this pool rather simplistic. If Munster and/or Saracens win both games they qualify and if Racing win one they will do as well
Pool 5 – Another second-placed shootout
Embed from Getty ImagesToulouse has control of pool five on 19 points and only need a solitary match point to qualify. They are being chased by Gloucester on nine and Connacht on eight points. Behind them sits Montpellier on five.
This pool is very similar to pools one and two in that the race for second place is the main battle. Gloucester and Connacht they both have tough fixtures. They are both at home in round five but then travel to France the following week. Much as has been discussed above two wins for either side will probably see them through but this seems like a big ask.
Bringing it All Together
After looking at the pools individually a clearer picture emerges. Leinster, Exeter and Toulouse are almost certainties to win their pools. Ulster and Clermont will both probably qualify as a pool winner and best second place.
This leaves us with two spots up for grabs. If Saracens or Munster win both of their games they will get to around 20 points which will be insurmountable for any other team in the remaining pools.
This means that Northampton, Gloucester and Glasgow are the most likely candidates to be in a shoot out for the last place or two if they are lucky. Given all these teams sit on nine points, the final qualification place or two places will come down to who gets the most points out of these teams.
All the teams have a tough away trip in their so history would suggest that two wins would be enough to qualify. However, this being the champions cup, qualification is never quite that simple. Upsets are bound to happen and while it is mathematically possible for a side on six points to qualify I would not rule it out.
“Main Photo Credits”
Embed from Getty Images