Last chance saloon in Heineken Cup
January 17, 2014
Toulon are closing in on a home quarter-final © Getty Images
With six teams through to the last eight of the Heineken Cup, there are still two places to play for and plenty of permutations. With the carrot of a spot in the Amlin Challenge Cup also on offer, teams will be going all out to ensure they will be playing some sort of European rugby come April 5 and 6.
There is not the usual intrigue surrounding the final round of the European pool stages as for many, there needs to be a strange batch of upsets to turn pools on their respective heads, but there should still be some entertaining rugby on show this weekend.
Ahead of Round Six, ESPN brings you a rundown of how the knockout stages should work out alongside the latest team and betting news.
Heineken Cup permutations
Pool One: Leinster need one match point against Ospreys to qualify for the quarter-finals. They need the Toulon and Munster results to go their way to get a home quarter-final. Northampton Saints still have some hope of qualifying if they beat Castres and Leinster slip up. At present, they look most likely to qualify for the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Pool Two: Toulon have qualified but need a win versus Glasgow to secure a home quarter-final. Cardiff Blues need a bonus point win against Exeter coupled with a Connacht victory against Saracens to get through.
Pool Three: Toulouse are already through to the knockouts and a win over Zebre will get them a home quarter-final. Saracens will join them in the last eight if they beat Connacht but there is still some hope for the men from Galway. If Connacht beat Saracens and both Castres and Exeter win, they will take their place in the final eight for the first time.
Pool Four: Clermont are already through and a bonus point win over Racing Metro will get them a home quarter-final.
Pool Five: Ulster and Leicester have qualified for the knockouts and anything less than a Tigers win will see the Belfast side top the pool.
Pool Six: Munster are through and have hope of a home quarter-final tie but realistically need a bonus point win and Toulon or Clermont to falter. Edinburgh can also get through but they need a win away at Munster and Saracens to lose without a bonus point and the Blues and Saints to also falter.
Tie of the round
There are two eye-catching games with the best likely to come at Welford Road as Leicester Tigers and Ulster do battle for the top spot in Pool Five. Ulster have been the pacesetters in that pool but the Tigers can still topple them with a win. With plenty of internationals on show, it should be an entertaining match. The other is likely to come at Allianz Park as Saracens host Connacht. A surprise win for the Irish side could see them secure passage to the final eight but the hosts will fancy their chances of clocking up another win.
The incredible Clermont Auvergne are 70 games unbeaten at their Stade Marcel Michelin home and will be clear favourites to topple Racing Metro on Sunday. Leinster were also impressive last weekend as Jimmy Gopperth helped inspire them to a win away at Castres while Toulouse mixed power and panache to see off Saracens. Toulon are up there with the favourites to lift the Heineken Cup at the end of the season having lost just once in the pool stages. They scored four tries last weekend against Cardiff Blues and will look to continue that winning feeling against Glasgow.
The Scarlets and Edinburgh also warrant a mention here having knocked over French opposition last weekend in the form of Racing Metro and Perpignan respectively.
Out of form
Racing Metro have had an abysmal season and have won just one of their five games so far in the Heineken Cup. Exeter Chiefs have also struggled and lost to the Warriors last weekend while the Ospreys crashed to yet another loss in the same round. All three teams are playing for pride this weekend and it is a similar state of affairs in Italy with Zebre and Treviso the only sides to fail to w in a single game this season the Heineken Cup.
The key odds
On Friday evening Leinster will beat the Ospreys with Northampton overcoming Castres. Saturday will see victories for Saracens, Toulouse, Cardiff Blues, Toulon, Leicester Tigers and Montpellier. And on Sunday, Munster, Perpignan, Clermont and Harlequins will triumph.
Predicted quarter-final line-up:
Toulouse v Saracens
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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