This week sees the penultimate round of the Pool stages and by Sunday evening we should have some idea as to who is likely to be contesting the quarter finals.
In Pool 1 Northampton have an outside chance following their fine win in Leinster in the last round. They are away to the Ospreys who are already pretty much out of contention but whose pride is at stake. The Saints will need another strong performance and to hope that Castres upset visiting Leinster. It is a long shot for both the Saints and Castres and I favour Leinster to be the only team to emerge from the group.
The Pool 2 qualifier is between Toulon, the current champions, and Cardiff Blues. They face each other on Saturday in the South of France and despite Toulon’s surprising loss in the Top 14 last weekend I take the French team to win with something to spare and guarantee top spot in the group. Cardiff will not be helped by the absence of Rhys Patchell who is side lined for up to 16 weeks
The other match is between Glasgow and Exeter at Sandy Park – although there is little to play for expect a highly combative game with the Chiefs coming out ahead.
The last game on Sunday is a massive one in Pool 3 – Saracens travel to Toulouse. Both teams are on 15 points and this is effectively the decider for qualification – they will both fancy their chances in round 6 and so winning this weekend is essential for both teams. Saracens are rampant in the Premiership but playing Toulouse away is a step up. I think they might have to settle for a losing bonus point but I can see both teams emerging from this group for the quarters.
In the other game Connacht should pick up a five point haul away to Zebre
After losing their first two games in Pool 4 Harlequins have resurrected their Heineken season with the double over Racing Metro. If they can topple Clermont at the Stoop they could catch the French side at the top of the group. It would be a fairy tale story but I think they will fall short as Clermont look too good at the moment.
The Scarlets are at Racing with both teams having little to play for – Racing to come out on top.
Pool 5 sees another two horse race between Ulster and Leicester. This group will not be settled until the final round when The Tigers entertain the Irishmen at Welford Road. This week Leicester should get 5 points at Treviso and will be hoping that Montpellier can pick up a shock win at Ulster.
The chances are that whoever wins at Welford Road – both teams will qualify for the quarters – with the winner getting a home tie.
Pool 6 is Munster’s for the taking. They are away to Gloucester and based on the home sides recent forward performances Paul O’Connell and his men will cement their top place without much sweat.
Perpignan are at Edinburgh in a dead rubber and I think the Scots will send the French home without anything to show for their efforts.
At the moment there are potentially twelve or thirteen teams who could get one of the eight places in the quarters – by Sunday that is likely to be down to 9 or 10.
With no sign of a European rugby tournament being agreed for next season I suggest we enjoy the here and now and simply keep our fingers crossed for the future.