European Cup: Road to the play-offs

Tue, 07 Jan 2014 07:33
Large european cup balls Large ulster fans Large euro cup trophy

Qualification for the knockout stage of Europe's premier club tournament is on the line. rugby365 takes a look at all six pools.

Qualification for the knockout stage of Europe's premier club tournament is on the line once again as the tension-packed Rounds Five and Six of the European Cup assume centre stage in the coming fortnight.

Once the drama and number-crunching conclude, six pool winners and the two best pool runners-up will have booked prized spots in the European Cup quarterfinals, while the three next best pool runners-up will extend their season in Europe by qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Challenge Cup.

Since 2010 when Cardiff Blues became the first European Cup qualifier to win the Challenge Cup, Biarritz Olympique in 2012, and Leinster Rugby, last season, have also triumphed via the same route.

Once the pool stages of both ERC tournaments are completed, all roads will lead to the Cardiff 2014 finals with the European Cup decider going ahead at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, May 24 the day after the Challenge Cup final kicks off Europe's big club weekend at the Cardiff Arms Park on Friday, May 23.

With heavyweight Anglo-French clashes between Toulouse and Saracens, and Harlequins and ASM Clermont Auvergne, to savour in Round Five, the 35,624-capacity Allianz Riviera in Nice will become the 104th venue to stage a European Cup fixture when reigning champions, Toulon, host Cardiff Blues in a potentially decisive game at the top of Pool Two.

Ulster, currently the only unbeaten club in the tournament, are probably not too mindful of the haunting statistic that no club which has come through the pool stage with six wins has gone on to win the trophy in the same season.

Defeating Montpellier at Ravenhill in Round Five and setting up a possible pool decider with Leicester Tigers in Round Six is more on the 1999 champions' agenda at the moment.

Pool by pool!

Pool One:
Qualification places are still very much on the line going into Round Five with Leinster leading the way by four points from Northampton Saints. If Leinster manage to pull a result out of the fire in Castres, and if Northampton happen to be turned over by Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium, then Leinster will be guaranteed a place in the last eight. But they are big ifs …

Pool Two:
The much-anticipated clash of Toulon and Cardiff at the Allianz Riviera in Nice – the 104th venue to stage a European Cup game – has all the makings of a pool decider. A win for Toulon would go a long way to sealing a quarter-final spot, but Cardiff are equipped to cause an upset. Exeter and Glasgow could have a best runners-up spot in their sights.

Pool Three:
The reverberations of Sunday's clash between Toulouse and Saracens at Stade Ernest Wallon will be felt throughout European rugby. With both clubs deadlocked on 15 points, the winner will be set fair for the knockout stage. Connacht, who host Zebre, are still in the shake-up.

Pool Four:
Harlequins' battle for qualification continues when they meet pool leaders Clermont at the Twickenham Stoop. Last season's beaten finalists are four points clear, and a win will send them through to the quarter-finals. However, a Quins victory will leave qualification hanging in the balance for Round Six.

Pool Five:
Ulster will look to preserve the only unbeaten record in the tournament with a win over Montpellier at Ravenhill while Leicester face a tricky assignment in Treviso. Wins for the leading two will set up what promises to be a classic European showdown at Welford Road in Round Six.

Pool Six:
Munster will be looking good for qualification if they turn Gloucester over at Kingsholm, but Gloucester simply have to win to stay in the race. Not one for the faint-hearted! Edinburgh will also need to beat Perpignan to keep their hopes alive.

There are currently no matches being played
FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Thu, 23 February 2017
Rebels v Blues 08h45 Melbourne
Fri, 24 February 2017
Highlanders v Chiefs 06h35 Dunedin
Reds v Sharks 09h00 Brisbane
Harlequins v Leicester Tigers 17h45 Twickenham Stoop
Edinburgh v Cardiff Blues 19h05 Myreside
Dragons v Leinster 19h30 Rodney Parade
Munster v Scarlets 19h35 Thomond Park
Sat, 25 February 2017
Sunwolves v Hurricanes 04h15 Tokyo
Crusaders v Brumbies 06h35 Christchurch
Waratahs v Force 08h45 Allianz Park
Saracens v Sale Sharks 12h45 Allianz Park
Exeter Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons 13h00 Sandy Park
Northampton Saints v Worcester Warriors 13h00 Franklin's Gardens
Cheetahs v Lions 13h05 Bloemfontein
Scotland v Wales 14h25 BT Murrayfield
Kings v Jaguares 15h15 Port Elizabeth
Ireland v France 16h50 Aviva Stadium
Stormers v Bulls 17h30 Cape Town
Sun, 26 February 2017
Bristol v Bath 11h00 Ashton Gate
Treviso v Connacht 12h30 Stadio Comunale di Monigo
Wasps v Gloucester 12h30 Ricoh Arena
Zebre v Ulster 12h30 Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
Ospreys v Glasgow Warriors 13h05 Liberty Stadium
England v Italy 15h00 Twickenham Stadium
Mon, 27 February 2017
UCT-Ikeys v Maties 14h45 Cape Town
Rhodes v Fort Hare 16h30 Grahamstown
CUT-Ixias v UJ 16h30 Bloemfontein
UWC v TUT 16h30 Cape Town
UP-Tuks v Wits 16h30 Pretoria
CPUT v UKZN-Impi 16h30 Cape Town
Shimlas v NWU-Pukke 17h00 Bloemfontein
EUROPEAN CUP
MORE LOGS
Pool 1
Team P W D L Pts
Munster 6 5 0 1 24
Glasgow Warriors 6 4 0 2 19
Leicester Tigers 6 2 0 4 8
Racing Metro 6 1 0 5 5
Pool 2
Team P W D L Pts
Wasps 6 4 1 1 22
Toulouse 6 3 2 1 18
Connacht 6 4 0 2 18
Zebre 6 0 0 6 0
Pool 3
Team P W D L Pts
Saracens 6 5 1 0 24
Toulon 6 3 0 3 16
Scarlets 6 2 1 3 11
Sale Sharks 6 1 0 5 4
Pool 4
Team P W D L Pts
Leinster 6 4 1 1 23
Montpellier 6 3 0 3 16
Castres 6 2 1 3 12
Northampton Saints 6 2 0 4 9
Pool 5
Team P W D L Pts
Clermont Auvergne 6 5 0 1 26
Bordeaux 6 3 0 3 14
Exeter Chiefs 6 2 0 4 12
Ulster 6 2 0 4 10