Runners and Riders

Here’s how the race for the 8 Champions Cup quarter-final berths stands

Leinster and Munster have already booked their places in the knock-out stages, but there’s still work to do for Connacht.

THE RACE TO qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup will come to a head next weekend when the group campaign concludes.

There is still a lot of rugby to be played before we can pencil in the eight quarter-finalists but the picture is beginning to look somewhat clearer.

The five pool winners will automatically take a berth, leaving three spots open for the best-performing runners-up.

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As we know, Leinster and Munster both secured a place in the quarter-finals with victories over Montpellier and Glasgow respectively at the weekend.

Leo Cullen’s side are currently the leading qualifiers, and top seeds, with 21 points but are the only team inside the top four to have an away game in the final round of fixtures. The eastern province travel to Castres on Friday night.

Munster, meanwhile, welcome Racing 92 to Thomond Park and five points from that game would assure Rassie Erasmus’s men of a much-coveted home quarter-final.

That would bring them to 25 points while defending champions Saracens could also reach that tally with a bonus point win over Toulon.

As it stands, Connacht, who are top of Pool 2, are in fifth but Pat Lam’s men face a trip to Toulouse next weekend, who are still harbouring hopes of qualification themselves.

We can assume Wasps will pick up a bonus point win against Zebre, so the western province will need two points to keep Toulouse behind them.

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To advance to the quarter-finals, the Pro12 champions need to:

  • Win – and a victory with a bonus point would secure top spot in the pool.
  • Draw.
  • Deny Toulouse a try bonus and claim a losing bonus point.
  • Claim both a losing bonus point and a try bonus.

If the teams were to finish level on points in the pool, it would mean Toulouse have won more match points from the head-to-head encounters between the teams (Connacht claimed four points, and Toulouse a losing bonus in Galway in round one) and so the Top 14 side would advance on that basis.

Ulster aren’t mathematically out of the running to progress either, but they’ll need something close to a miracle if they’re to extend their European campaign into spring.

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After yesterday’s defeat to Exeter, Les Kiss’s men must beat Bordeaux in Belfast with a bonus point to bring them to 14 points. It realistically won’t be enough with the northern province requiring a string of other results to go in their favour — but whilst there’s life, there’s hope (and that’s being extremely optimistic).

Round 6 fixtures:

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