The European Champions Cup is set for a climactic round of pool action, with three PRO14 sides looking to join Irish side Leinster in the last eight.
Marcell Coetzee’s Ulster, Irish rivals Munster and Glasgow Warriors all have a possible chance to make the playoffs, but they will need top-class performances in the final round to leapfrog other sides and claim one of the final three places up for grabs in the competition.
Reigning PRO14 Champions Leinster have continued their magnificent run of form and currently top their pool, having already qualified. They are joined in the last eight by French clubs Toulouse and Racing Metro, as well as English club Exeter Chiefs. However, this weekend’s round of fixtures will determine where these sides are seeded for the playoff rounds.
Ulster have possibly the best chance of qualifying, and will face Francois Louw’s Bath in a game they need to win to qualify for the quarter-finals. While their winning run in Europe was stopped by Clermont-Auvergne last weekend, they have an excellent record against Bath, winning all five European clashes against them although the last three were by less than five points.
A win for Ulster will see them qualify as either runners up or the top side in Pool 3, depending on the result between Harlequins and Clermont. Ulster have also won 12 of their last 13 games at home and will go into the match high on confidence to try and grab a qualifying place.
The picture looks a lot different for Johann van Graan’s Munster, especially after their late-game collapse to see Top 14 outfit Racing 92 pull off a bonus-point win and claim top spot in Pool 4 in the process.
Munster aren’t out of Europe just yet, but they need some luck to go their way this weekend, including a win for Racing over Saracens and a bonus-point win over the Ospreys at Thomond Park. Should Munster achieve that objective, it will leave them on 16 points which will be enough to claim a qualifying spot if all of Gloucester, Glasgow and Northampton fail to win this weekend.
Glasgow Warriors put in a brave performance to draw 31-31 with Exeter last weekend and will fancy their chances of making the last eight, but require a win away at Sale Sharks – and losses for Northampton Saints and Gloucester – to secure their spot in the last eight.
Leinster though, will be looking for a top seeding with an away fixture to Benetton Treviso and will need the win to secure a home quarter-final, as a loss could see the four sides below them overtake them in the standings.
The final weekend of pool action promises a lot of drama with the three PRO14 sides needing more than just their own performances to get them into the quarters.
Who can still qualify for the last-eight?
Pts (Points difference)
1 Leinster (Q) 24 (+105)
2 Racing (Q) 22 (+71)
3 Exeter (Q) 22 (+62)
4 Toulouse (Q) 22 (+56)
5 Clermont (q) 20 (+86)
6 Ulster 17 (+15)
7 Saracens 14 (+30)
8 Gloucester 14 (+21)
9 Northampton 14 (-29)
10 Glasgow 12 (-12)
11 Munster 11 (0)
12 La Rochelle 10 (-20)
Lyon v Northampton Saints
Benetton v Leinster (3:00pm, Live on Supersport 1)
Ulster v Bath (5:00pm, Live on Supersport 1)
Harlequins v Clermont
Sale Sharks v Glasgow Warriors (7.25pm, Live on Supersport 1)
Exeter Chiefs v La Rochelle.
Munster v Ospreys
Saracens v Racing 92 (3:00pm, Live on Supersport 8)
Toulouse v Gloucester (5.10pm, Live on Supersport 8)
Montpellier v Connacht
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