At this point in time there are five teams that have qualified for the quarter finals. Technically, there are six teams that can secure one of the three remaining places.
In reality it would be a major shock if they don’t go to Toulouse, Saracens and Leinster. The rank outsiders are Northampton, Cardiff Blues and Connacht. For even one of these teams to make it would require some quite extraordinary (and extremely unlikely) results over the weekend.
The teams already through are Toulon, Clermont, Ulster, Munster and Leicester.
Leinster need to beat or draw against the Ospreys – they’ll do that comfortably. Assuming they do win (or draw) then Northampton are out. If by any chance they slip up and lose then a win for the Saints plus a bonus point at Franklin’s Gardens against Castres would, theoretically, put them into contention on 18 points.
In Pool 2 Cardiff can also get to 18 points if they get a win bonus at home to the Chiefs. This is not impossible and it would come down to tries and points difference against any other team who gets to 18.
I am convinced that even in the event of these teams getting to 18 points it won’t be enough and I believe that 19 is a minimum this season.
In Pool 3, Toulouse will end up top by collecting all 5 points away to Zebre – I also expect Saracens to defeat Connacht thus taking the last runners up spot and ending Connacht’s slim hopes of getting to 18. In the unlikely event of Connacht actually winning you can put your house on them not getting four tries against the mean Saracens defence – especially at the Allianz Stadium.
Pools 4, 5 and 6 are done and dusted – with Clermont, Ulster, Leicester and Munster all home and hosed.
Assuming my predictions are in fact right – then the last 8 will be –
Toulon, Saracens, Toulouse, Leicester and Clermont plus the three major Irish sides – Ulster, Leinster and Munster. Saracens are the most vulnerable but I expect them to dispose of Connacht without too many problems.
The big question then is to do with who gets the major advantage of a home draw.
I think that these will be Toulon, Toulouse, Leicester and Munster.
The one possible upset for these predictions would be if teams who are already out decide to field weakened sides to protect players for competitions that are now more important to them. But even then I’d back my predictions.
Should be a good weekend of rugby (again)