European Champions Cup Round 5 Preview

Round five kicks off this weekend in the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup before the final pool games just a week later.

That said, it gives teams a chance to launch their assault on a spot in the knock-out stages of the competitions. Some pools are all but over, but in others it’s anything but – and with several teams on equal points or in close proximity it’s all to play for!

History can also be made in round five, with defending champions Saracens one win away from the record of consecutive wins in Europe. A victory over their Welsh opponents Scarlets, will surpass Munster’s tally of 13 wins between 2005 and 2007.

Racing 92 are the big name side to fall at the first hurdle. Last year’s runners up have failed to win any of their pool fixtures, so I’d expect a very different line-up in round’s five and six as they now focus their efforts on the Top 14.

But in this week’s preview, I’m analysing the Champions Cup pools as it stands and the possible knock out stage scenario with teams I’m predicting to progress.

As it stands:

champions-cup

With the eight qualifying places settled on points rather than pool position, based on results thus far, the quarter finals would look something like this:

  1. Saracens (18 points)
  2. Clermont Auvergne (17 points)
  3. Leinster (16 points)
  4. Munster (16 points)
  5. Wasps (13 points)
  6. Toulouse (13 points)
  7. Connacht (13 points)
  8. Glasgow Warriors (13 points)

Therefore the quarter final fixtures would be:

QF1. Saracens v Glasgow Warriors

QF2. Munster v Wasps

QF3. Leinster v Toulouse

QF4. Clermont Auvergne v Connacht

With Toulon currently down the pecking order to qualify, it would be a huge blow if they were to leave the competition at this stage. It means nothing short of two wins from the final two games will do for the French side. Even still, that could still prove to be a bridge too far if results elsewhere do them no favours. With Saracens to come in round 6 at Allianz Park, I’d be putting my eggs into the Saracens basket – the form of the North Londoners in the competition has been something to admire of late. Sale should provide some resistance on the French coast but the power and strength of Toulon is likely to come through victorious.

Predictions for Quarter Finals:

As predictions go, Saracens and Clermont have been a cut above the rest and I’d be in no doubt that they will be occupying the top two positions. Munster have been playing like a team possessed since the unfortunate passing of coach Anthony Foley and expect them to be in strong contention for a home quarter final. The final spot for a home tie will be Leinster’s. The Irish teams have really come to the fore during the European competition and should have a strong showing in the knock out stage. Wasps and Connacht both have the firepower to emerge from the pool stages, but feel Wasps might be the stronger of the two, particularly having overtaken Saracens for top spot in the Premiership. My final picks would be Glasgow Warriors with an outside shot at Montpellier. Both have shown glimpses of brilliance during the respective campaigns – Glasgow should be strong enough to pick up points against Munster and Leicester in their final two games. Similarly, with Montpellier – away to Leinster, they are more than capable of picking up a losing bonus point before home tie against Northampton could be a maximum pointer, particularly with Saints’ form.

The corresponding fixtures will therefore be:

QF1. Saracens v Montpellier

QF2. Leinster v Wasps

QF3. Munster v Glasgow Warriors

QF4. Clermont v Connacht

Whatever the outcome, there’s no doubt the big players will come to the fore – after all, the Lions Tour is just on the horizon and competition for places looks to be greater than ever. But I’m sure round five will not be a one to miss!

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