Originally published: December 16, 2013.
IT’S TIME TO take down the tree and pin up the Heineken Cup fixture list and pool tables instead.
Ireland’s four proud provinces have much of the hard work behind them after four matches against three opponents. However, the next two games bring the small matter of finishing the job.
Here’s what your province needs in order to play European rugby this April.
Round 5 and 6: Zebre (h), Saracens (a).
Home defeat to Toulouse has stacked the probability of winning a Heineken Cup quarter-final berth against Pat Lam’s side.
However, if they can claim a bonus point at home to Zebre and Saracens lose in Toulouse, then the westerners will head to Allianz Park to play off for second place in the pool.
A win there (hey, it’s not as if they haven’t shocked the world before) would put them on 18 points and in with a solid shout of reaching the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals as one of the third, fourth or fifth seeded second-placed sides.
Connacht’s main rivals for one of those places will be Gloucester (facing Munster and Perpignan in final rounds) and Northampton (v Ospreys and Castres) who are also on nine points.
Round 5 and 6: Gloucester (a), Edinburgh (h).
JJ Hanrahan’s stroke of late late genius against Perpignan has injected real impetus into Munster’s bid for the quarter-finals. And Gloucester’s loss to Edinburgh means Munster are almost certain of winning pool five now, so let’s look at how they can bring a quarter-final to Thomond.
Toulouse, Clermont, Toulon and Ulster currently hold the grip on the top four seedings needed to host a last eight fixture, but Munster are sitting right behind the three French giants as seed number five.
Rob Penney’s side will head for Gloucester in round five confident that they can chisel out another precious away victory. Then, we would find it very hard to bet against them claiming a bonus point at home to Edinburgh.
That scenario would bring Munster to 23 points. Ulster would need five points from their two games (assuming they keep top spot in the pool) to keep above the southern province. The most likely to drop out of the top four seeds are Clermont, who would need eight points from clashes with Harlequins (a) and Racing Metro (h) to bring the Stade Marcel Michelin into play.
Round 5 and 6: Castres (a), Ospreys (h).
It’s probably best not to look back at the what-might-have-beens, so here are some what-ifs instead.
Coming up pointless from the home tie with Northampton has left Leinster top of pool one, but as the sixth seeded team. It has also given the Saints a lifeline and they will hold some belief that they can steal top spot.
Two wins would of course book a quarter-final berth for Leinster, but away to Castres and at home to Ospreys, the wins won’t come easy. Still, should they win those fixtures they will go to 21 points (23 with two bonuses) and will be looking for stumbles from the three big French guns currently on 15.
Round 5 and 6: Montpellier (h), Leicester (a).
Probably the most difficult final two fixtures on paper of our four provinces, but Ulster have so far made light work of pool five and deservedly sit as the competitions number one seed having beaten Montpellier in France and scored 11 unanswered tries against Treviso.
Leicester Tigers, on 15 points, will not have given up the chance of winning this group though – and if they do it will throw a big spanner in the works for Ulster and Leinster – so much will rest on the round six meeting at Welford Road.
Who knows what shape Treviso will be in under a new coach, so we can only assume Tigers will take five points from the Italians. If Mark Anscombe’s men beat Montpellier at home then it will come down to a winner takes all bout in Leicester. A bonus point at home to the French side would mean a losing bonus point at Welford Road could be enough if they keep the Tigers’ match score under 22 points.
Everything will be much clearer after this weekend’s fixtures, but until then here’s a reminder of how teams who are level on points in the pool will be separated:
- Highest number of match points in games involving both sides.
- Most tries scored in the two games.
- Best aggregate points difference
And if they are still inseparable after that*…
- Total number of tries scored in pool stage.
- Best aggregate points difference.
- Fewest suspensions
- Draw straws.
*These latter four will be used to separate teams level on points in final seedings. The first three are to separate teams level on points in a single pool.