Who could the Worcester Warriors face in the last 16?

Worcester Warriors; Sione Vailanu breaks through Newcastle Falcon's defence at Sixways Stadium

They may have a week off as the European Challenge Cup returns this weekend but that’s not to say that all associated with the Worcester Warriors will for one minute not be paying attention to this weekend’s fixtures.

After finishing their European campaign back in January as they saw off United Championship Rugby side Zebre 36-26 at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, the Warriors already know that they will be finishing the pool stages on 9 points.

Overall, 10 of the 15 teams who feature in the pool stages of the Challenge Cup can make it through to the last 16 of the competition with 6 teams coming into it via the Heineken Champions Cup.

As it is, mathematically, four of the current 15 teams from the Challenge Cup pool stages cannot finish on more points than Warriors either because a win – with or without a bonus point – wouldn’t be enough to eclipse the 9 points Warriors have OR because the teams who can finish on more points have games where it’s a winner takes all game against each other where a loss even with a losing bonus point wouldn’t be enough.

Still with me?.. Fantastic.

So the question everyone has is this…

Who can the Worcester Warriors face in the last 16 of the Challenge Cup?

This is where it really does get tricky and if the above didn’t confuse you then this very well may do so. The best thing to do is first and foremost to look at who potentially faces who in the last 16 and while the seeding of the Challenge Cup sides is still to be determined, the seeding of the Heineken Champions Cup is already set in stone and can not change.

Heineken Champions Cup and their rankings

Barring a massive unlucky weekend for Warriors, this will most likely be one of the opponents they will face AT HOME because only the third-best third-placed team and the fourth-best placed team overall from the pool stages of the Challenge Cup can play away from home.

To make things simple, here are the Heineken Champions Cup teams and their rankings for the last 16:

Cardiff Rugby – 7 points – HCC Ranking: 1
Wasps – 6 points – HCC Ranking: 2
*Castres – 5 points – HCC Ranking: 3
Glasgow Warriors – 5 points – HCC Ranking: 4
*Northampton Saints – 2 points – HCC Ranking: 5
Bath Rugby – 2 points – HCC Ranking: 6

*Castres are the third-ranked HCC team by virtue of a better points difference over Glasgow. Northampton is the fifth-ranked HCC team by virtue of a better points difference than Bath.

Potential Round of 16 matchups

Now we can see how each team is ranked coming into the last 16 from the Champions Cup, now is the best time to look at who they would face in regards to the Challenge Cup pool stage ranking which is, of course, still to be determined but nonetheless, it’s useful to see the potential matchups. Below is an overview of what the matchups are with their respective match numbers which are very useful should you wish to determine the matchups for the quarter-finals:

Match 1: CC ranked 1 v CC ranked 10
Match 2: CC
ranked 2 v CC ranked 9
Match 3: CC ranked 3 v Bath Rugby
Match 4: CC ranked 4 v Northampton Saints
Match 5: CC ranked 8 v Cardiff Rugby
Match 6: CC ranked 7 v Wasps
Match 7: CC
ranked 6 v Castres
Match 8: CC
ranked 5 v Glasgow Warriors

As you can see now, as mentioned earlier, only the 9th and 10th ranked teams from the pool stages of the Challenge Cup can face an away trip in the last 16. Again, as mentioned, the 9th seed is the third-best third-place team and the 10th is the leading fourth-placed team. In short, you do not want to be either of those sides.

What does this mean for potential opponents of the Warriors?

Opponents the Worcester Warriors could face

Well, in short there as multiple opponents the Warriors can face and that’s not just at home because a best fourth-placed finish overall and an away trip is still very much a possibility. Of course, that’s not something we want to talk about!

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Anyway, let’s for example say that all games were finished and it’s all said and done. As it stands, the Warriors would face Top 14 side Castres at Sixways in the last 16 as the third-best pool runner-up. However, as we know, that isn’t a given so that game unless something very strange happens in the final round this weekend, it isn’t a realistic possibility.

It’s a possibility, of course, but both Biarritz and Newcastle Falcons (who the Worcester Warriors lost to a few days ago) would have to lose their respective games against Toulon and Zebre without a losing bonus point. Trust me, that’s the most simple bit about all this, so make sure whatever you go, you cross everything for that to happen. Unless you want to avoid Castres that is.

Best-case scenario and what is realistic

Note: Absolute best-case scenario is that the Warriors can not get a better finish than the third-best runner-up in the Pool stages.

In terms of what is really realistic in those two games? That would be Toulon beating Biarritz away and comfortably so there’s no losing bonus point for the hosts. That would mean that the Warriors would then drop down to third place in Pool A should Newcastle beat Zebre at Kingston Park. If this was to happen then that is where the fun really starts!

This would be because as things stand the current third-place teams in the other two Pool’s, who are Benetton and Saracens still have to play the fourth-placed teams in their respective groups who are Perpignan and Brive and all four teams currently have the same amount of points which are four and six. So all of those teams have an opportunity to leapfrog Warriors in the rankings should they win their games.

If either winner of the Benetton vs Perpignan wins and win with a bonus point then they would move equally on 9 points with Warriors. If either winner of the Brive vs Saracens game wins with a bonus point then they would move to 11 points. Second place Edinburgh in Brive and Saracens’ group currently have 10 points but also have a game this weekend.

Should Edinburgh win then they will claim the top spot on Pool C meaning London Irish will then be a runner up with 12 points which will then come into play should the Warriors finish as a runner up in Pool A but as we know already, Warriors would still finish as the third-best runner up regardless and face Castres at Sixways.

What if the Worcester Warriors end up third in Pool A?

The best possible outcome which would see the Worcester Warriors finish as the second-best third-place team would be if the winner of Benetton vs Perpignan fails to win with a bonus point. Should this happen then the winner would only finish on 8 points behind the Warriors which would mean the Warriors would face Cardiff Rugby at Sixways in the last 16.

Remember, a bonus-point win for either Benetton or Perpignan in their game would see them equal points with Warriors but have more total wins of two to Warriors’ one. This would mean that the Warriors would finish as the third-best third-place team and a ranking seed of number 9 meaning An away trip to the second-best Pool winner which would be Toulon (15 points) as it stands. Lyon is currently on 18 points and should Toulon win then it would be a trip to Lyon for the Warriors.

What about the dreaded leading fourth-placed team from the Pool stages?

Should all go very very wrong for Warriors this weekend then finishing as the leading fourth-placed team (10th ranked CC team) is also a possibility. Should this happen then Biarritz and Newcastle would both have to both win but also Section Paloise would have to lose to Edinburgh. Section Paloise currently has 5 points and one win with that game away against Edinburgh to come this weekend.

IF both Biarritz and Newcastle win and Section Paloise lose then it’s would be An away trip to the top-ranked pool winner which again, if Toulon wins it would be them but if not then it’s Lyon away.

I’m off to lay down

If you are still with it then congratulations on making it to this point because it is certainly all very confusing but to put it all in a simple way. The Worcester Warriors simply cannot play another CC team unless they finish as the third-best third-place team or the leading fourth-placed team.

The possible opponents who the Worcester Warriors could potentially face in the last 16 of the Challenge Cup, in a nutshell, are Cardiff or Castres at home or Toulon or Lyon away should it really go all pear-shaped results-wise and then Toulon win away to Biarritz.

After that, I’m off to lay down for a day or so. It’s only going to get more confusing come the weekend’s games but whatever you do…



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