AS THE HEINEKEN Cup reaches the climax of the pool stages, Conor Buckley assesses each pool.
Only one winner from this group. Northampton (16pts) to qualify and they face Edinburgh this weekend and Castres away in last game.
Although their form has stuttered somewhat in recent weeks, domestically they should have enough to close this pool out.
Cardiff and Edinburgh are both out of contention; Castres have a tiny chance of a runner-up spot but would require two bonus-point wins.
This weekend’s games: Blues v Castres, Saints v Edinburgh
Prediction: Blues by three, Saints by eight
Only the Saints to qualify.
Leinster are riding high (14pts), five clear of Clermont and Racing. The Irish pronvince are hitting a rich vein of form at the moment despite going into the last couple of games with some injury worries, and they will claim the top spot.
Saracens are out, Racing Metro and Clermont are in a dogfight for second, although I think it will be too little, too late
This weekend’s games: Leinster v Saracens, Clermont v Racing
Prediction: Leinster by 12, Racing by three
Only Leinster to qualify.
Almost too tight to call: only three points separate Toulon (13pts), Munster (11pts) and the Ospreys (10pts). Only London Irish are out of this pool.
Toulon will not roll-over at home as they did in Thomond in October that’s for sure, and Munster will have to earn every single point on offer this weekend. This group is wide open, but I am leaning towards Munster to scrape through with their decade-plus of Heineken Cup experience key.
This weekend’s games: Toulon v Munster, London Irish v Ospreys
Prediction: Munster by 2, Ospreys by 12
If Munster can win this weekend the pool is theirs…
Biarritz (16pts) look likely to qualify, but there is the threat of Ulster leap-frogging them, who travel to Ravenhill this weekend.
It’s a tough place to go and win as Stade will testify from last season. Ulster’s recent poor form of late counts against them so I’m going to go for Biarritz. Aironi and Bath’s European dream is over for another season.
This weekend’s games: Bath v Aironi, Ulster v Biarritz
Prediction: Bath by 25, Biarritz by two
Biarritz to win the group, whilst Ulster have an outside chance of going through to the quarters as a best runner-up.
Another very tight group, and I’m predicting heartbreak for the Scarlets. Even though the Tigers sit in second position in this pool, I tip them to go through.
They face first-placed Scarlets this weekend in what will be a cracker of a game, with two teams with very contrasting styles going head-to-head. Treviso are definitely out, and the other three spots are to be decided.
This weekend’s games: Trevsio v Perpignan, Scarlets v Tigers
Prediction: Perpignan by 15, Tigers by 10
Tigers to top the group, and next week’s final game of the round between Perpignan and Scarlets will probably see the winner go through to the quarters as a runner up.
A bit more cut-and-dried in this group with two teams riding high. Expect wins for both Toulouse (17pts) and Wasps (15pts) this weekend, which should be enough for both to go through. Glasgow and the Dragons were only making up the numbers in this group.
This weekend’s games: Toulouse v Dragons, Glasgow v Wasps
Prediction: Toulouse by 18, Wasps by 6
Both Toulouse and Wasps to qualify for the quarter-finals.
All going well (and my predictions rarely do!) this is how I see the quarter-finals shaping up:
1. Toulouse v 8. Perpignan
2. Biarritz v 7. Wasps
3. Saints v 6. Munster
4. Tigers v 5. Leinster
This post first appeared at NinetyNineCall.