With two pool games remaining in the Heineken Cup a number of teams can cement qualification to the quarter finals this weekend before the final round of pool games are completed. The difficulty of that challenge can depend on the opposition and the possibility of that opposition making the play-offs.
If the opposition is playing away from home and has no chance of qualification they rarely make a huge effort to upset the apple cart. But playing at home can make a huge difference and this applies particularly to the French teams.
Obviously draws and bonus points, which are difficult to speculate on, can also skew the possibilities of qualification. But those occurrences apart the pools could play out as follows:
Castres and Ospreys have no chance of qualifying from this pool, but they could still prevent Northampton and Leinster from progressing. If Leinster beat Castres at Stade Pierre Antoine it would give them complete control of the pool and make qualification almost certain with their final game at home against the Ospreys at the RDS. But if Leinster are defeated by Castres and Northampton beat the Ospreys it would leave Leinster and Northampton tied on points. Then Round 6 would determine the ultimate winner of the pool.
Toulon have Cardiff breathing down their neck with Exeter and Glasgow out of the running. Toulon host Cardiff and if they should see off Cardiff it would pretty much guarantee qualification. But should Cardiff prevail it would put them in the driving seat in Pool 2 going onto the final week. It is as simple as that.
This pool is pretty much a two horse race between Toulouse and Saracens who are tied on points. This weekend Toulouse host Saracens and having beaten Saracens in London should hold the slight advantage at home. But should Saracens win they would take control of the group. Both Toulouse and Saracens would be strong favourites against Zebre and Connacht respectively in their final pool games. So apart from a draw, this weekend’s clash will pretty much decide the pool winner.
Harlequins, in second place, are four points behind Clermont and host them at home at The Stoop. Having already lost two pool games, this is a must win game for Harlequins and playing at home they will certainly fancy their chances. With Scarlets and Racing Metro out of the running Clermont can kill off the group by beating Harlequins. So if Clermont win this pool would be done and dusted by the weekend.
This pool has almost been unfair to Ulster. They are still the only undefeated team in the tournament but have to win against Montpellier to keep qualification on track. It is likely with Montpellier being unable to qualify they will travel light to Ravenhill. For that reason Ulster need to go for the jugular and attempt to get a winning bonus point and put themselves on twenty-three points going into Round 6. The reason being is that Ulster’s Round 6 game is away to Leicester at Welford Road. Leicester are just three points behind Ulster and will certainly target a bonus point win away to Treviso this weekend. If both Ulster and Leicester win this weekend and Ulster were to lose at Welford Road in Round 6, they would have to depend on winning qualification through a best runner-up spot. For that reason they need to take every point they can from the Montpellier game.
Despite losing their opening game away to Edinburgh, Munster are in control of this group and on top with fourteen points. With Gloucester five points behind in second spot a Munster away win at Kingsholm would make Munster pool winners before Round 6. But if Munster were to trip up it would throw Gloucester a lifeline going into the final week. But even if Munster lose to Gloucester they host Edinburgh and Gloucester travel to Perpignan for Round 6. This gives Munster overall advantage in the pool.