David Davies/PA Archive/Press Association Images
Euro Vision

Crystal balls: who'll make it through to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals?

It’s a fool’s errand at this stage of Europe’s premier club competition – but let’s to pick the last eight anyway.

Reproduced with permission from Whiff of Cordite

PREDICTING THE WINNER of the Heineken Cup from the off is folly, given the importance of home advantage in the knock-out stages.

For example, Northampton rode a powder puff 6-0 pool last year to advance all the way to the final via home games with Ulster and Perpignan.

At least the Saints earned a home quarter – the semis are literally a lottery.

Of the last four semi-finals, arguably all would have gone the other way if played in the opposition’s ‘home’ venue. So, even at this stage, it’s something of a fool’s errand, but sure, let’s crank up the crystal ball anyway.
Pool 1

What to say? Munster are the only team left that are four from four, but they have been pretty poor by their own standards.

It’s arguable that without Paulie and Rog (and better kicking coaches at opposition teams), they could be 0 from 4. They just know how to get over the line.

We think they will beat a disinterested Castres and probably secure a bonus point, but lose in Franklins Gardens. Saints may be out, but they’ll be up for that game.  Scarlets should win twice, but with no extras. We think it’s:

Munster 22

Scarlets 19

Pool 2

The Group of Dearth at the start, but it’s shaping up to be a very interesting finish, thanks to the rejuvenation of Scottish “club” rugby (more of which anon). Tim Visser has Embra have done well to get three wins, but one of those was in rather farcical circumstances. It’s one thing to beat Racing 95-94 at home, but winning away? Nah.

We fancy Cardiff to go to Fortress Reading and come away with a win, and then hockey Racing in the last game.

Cardiff 22

Embra 17

Pool 3

Its been all Leinster so far. As expected, a tough opener, but afterwards they have had it more or less their own way, opening a serious can of whoooooooooooooooooooohhhp-ass on Bath at the weekend.

Glasgae have been nothing if not brave, helped in their second-chasing endeavours by Montpellier giving up. Leinster should get nine more points roysh, and a home win and a losing bonus point in Beautiful Bath will get Glasgae second place, but no cigar.

Leinster 25

Glasgae 15

Pool 4

Tighter than the proverbial Kiwi duck’s butt – and as expected, it’s going to come down to bonus points. On that score, Clermont are in control – Leicester “lost” one away to Aironi and in Clermont, and Ulster lost one in Leicester.

Ulster will come away empty handed from the Michelin, and will probably get their hoops handed to them as well. If they beat Leicester by more than 7 at home, second is theirs, but even if Marshall and Pienaar are the halves, Leicester are dogs and know how to tough it out.

Clermont 21

Leicester 18 (ahead of Ulster on head-to-head)

Ulster 18
Pool 5

Sarries have done some very hard work with a tough win in Osprey-land, but with Biarritz having picked up four bonus points so far, they still need to beat them and possibly Treviso away to ensure passage. They will do both, very narrowly, and progress. Biarritz will get six more points.

Saracens 23

Biarritz 18
Pool 6

Quins threw the tournament wide open (and forced Gerry to praise English rugby, albeit between gritted teeth) by winning in the toughest club venue in Europe (except the Aviva? Discuss).

Still, Toulouse are in the saddle here, they should swat Connacht aside and although not a fait accomplis, they should win in Gloucester to go through as winners. Quins will beat Gloucester, possibly with a bonus point, and should win in Galway without one.

Toulouse 22

Harlequins 21

So, we have the eight quarter-finalists ranked as follows, bearing in mind it will come down to tries scored to seperate ties:

  • Leinster 25
  • Saracens 23
  • Toulouse 22
  • Munster 22
  • Cardiff 22
  • Clermont 21
  • Harlequins 21
  • Scarlets 19

Munster are currently two tries ahead of Cardiff – if they get the bonus point against Castres, they should maintain that advantage, but not overtake Toulouse. Amazingly, if the Scarlets slip up, Biarritz are in pole position to take advantage – the nous to scoop up bonus points while playing badly is worth its weight in gold in Europe (Asterisk Miracle Match).

The quarters will then be:

  • Leinster-Scarlets
  • Saracens-Harlequins
  • Toulouse-Clermont
  • Munster-Cardiff

Four home wins I hear you say? Even predicting this far ahead once the quarter-finalists are decided is fraught with peril – there’s a whole Six Nations in between so things can look very different when the Heiny resumes.

You’d still fancy Leinster to take Scarlets and Munster would most likely have the Mental to grind down Cardiff and should win.

Toulouse-Clermont – mouth-watering, Toulouse to edge it. Sarries-Quins will depend on how the sides are motoring at the time in the Premiership … and where their prioirities lie.

Note, our eight quarter-finalists at the beginning were Northampton, Cardiff, Leinster, Clermont, Biarritz, Toulouse, Leicester, Saracens – so if we’re right this time, last time we’ll have called five from eight. Meh.

But, y’know, we’ll probably be wrong again.

Read more at Whiff of Cordite

What a Croc! Mascot shoots basketball player with an air rifle’s sporting Advent calendar, day 22