The big news this week isn’t the return reverse fixtures in a mirror image from last week but the announcement that the RFU are trying to find a way for English clubs to play in the Heineken Cup next season.
Very laudable but I’m not sure how the clubs feel about that and I’m guessing that they will resist anything that involves the ERC – we will see.
Anyway – on to this week’s matches.
In Pool 1 the Ospreys are out of it – they host Castres but even a win will not help their cause – it would however give Northampton a little hope. Having said that after the mauling the Saints got at home it would be a brave man who bet on their coming away from Leinster with very much.
Expect Leinster to have pretty much wrapped up qualification before the Christmas break.
Pool 2 is much more interesting with current Champions Toulon having only a slight lead in the group.
The Chiefs gave them a hard time at Sandy Park last week and may run them close again but I don’t think they’ll have much for their efforts come the final whistle.
Cardiff Blues are in Glasgow on Friday night and will need Leigh Halfpenny’s accurate boot if they are to take the points again. If they can get the win then they will just about stay in touch with Toulon – if not the group will be over with Toulon almost certainly qualifying and no one else in with a chance of being one of the best runners up.
Connacht’s brilliant win in Toulouse last Sunday has opened up pool 3 although Zebre out of it now. Saracens, Toulouse and the Irish will fight it out for the top place – and, depending on the last two rounds next year, one of the others may also do enough to scrape through as well.
Saracens will top the group after the weekend but the other two still have fixtures against whipping boys Zebre and it will make for an exciting finish when the final round is played in Mid -January
This group will go to the wire.
Pool 4 went through a transformation when Harlequins stunned Racing Metro on their home ground on Sunday coming away with a bonus point win and leaping up to second. Racing are likely to welcome Wales and British Lion Jamie Roberts back – he could line-up alongside fellow Lions Mike Philips, Johnny Sexton and Dan Lydiate. But Quins have started to show some form and will be hard to beat at a packed Stoop on Sunday lunchtime.
Pool leaders Clermont travel to Scarlets and although French sides often travel badly I expect them to come away from Wales with all 4 points and cement their position at the top.
Pool 5 looks to be between Ulster and Leicester at the moment but the Irish will get at least 4 and probably 5 points from their trip to Benneton Treviso whilst Leicester will have a much bigger task when they travel to Montpellier. The French side showed last week at Welford road that they can be a real handful – but for a slow start they may well have got 2 bonus points. Ulster are likely to have pulled further away at the top by nine o’clock on Sunday evening.
Finally in Pool 6 there is much more of an open field – Munster looked good against Perpignan at Thomond Park but will find it much more difficult at Stade Aime Giral. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the French side be on the same points as the Irishmen after the game finishes.
Gloucester finally showed form last week when they defeated Edinburgh in the Scottish capital – they haven’t been consistent at Kingsholm but should get all 4 points on Sunday and could find themselves surprisingly on top of the Pool. If so – then the final two rounds in January will be very interesting.