The dust has settled on rounds 3 and 4 of the Heineken Champions Cup. Now it is time for the calculators to come out and for the permutations experts to make themselves known. Predicting the eight Heineken Champions Cup quarter finalist’s is notoriously hard …..with so many different circumstances to consider.
Although, in saying that, here at Last Word on Rugby, we would like to ‘give it a go’.
There are some clear favorites to qualify and some sides have all but guaranteed their spot in the quarter-finals. However there is still much to be decided, so we will go through pool by pool trying to predict which sides are going to progress to the later stages.
Pool 1 – Leinster and Toulouse
Both Leinster and Toulouse have pulled clear of Wasps and Bath, therefore both aare likely to qualify. However, the big question is in which order will they qualify and who will get the coveted home quarter-final.
Given in round 5 Leinster host Toulouse at the RDS we predict them to win this then go to the Ricoh and beat Wasps as well. Leinster are likely group winners despite their slip up earlier in the tournament.
Toulouse should have no problem qualifying as a best runner-up as they face Bath at home in round 6. Vern Cotter’s team have been the big overachievers in this tournament and as a result we really feel for the side that has to come up against them in the quarter-finals. They have proven that they can win away from home and have the fight to win big games.
Pool 2 – Munster
This pool has to be one of the most unpredictable ones in the tournament. After Gloucester and Exeter beat each other in rounds 3 and 4 they looked all but out of the tournament. Only for Castres to pull Munster right back down and put themselves in contention after their win over Johan van Graan’s men.
Conceivably all sides can qualify from this pool. However due to everyone beating everyone only one side is likely to qualify. Given the unpredictability of this pool it would not be unreasonable to assume that all sides win one and lose one in rounds 5 and 6.
This then means, based on Champions Cup pedigree and their slight buffer at the top of the group, Munster are most likely to qualify. However it really could be any of the other three sides, this really is the pool to keep an eye on in January. It could well go down to head to head or even points difference at the end of round 6.
Pool 3 – Saracens and Glasgow
This pool is somewhat simpler. Saracens have looked imperious so far so expect them to win their remaining games and finish top of the group. Even one slip up would not derail them and they would still likely top the group.
Glasgow will also expect to qualify. They have been mightily impressive this year. Only losing the Saracens so far, and narrowly at that, as well as an away win in Lyon. However, they are not nailed on as Cardiff would love to spoil their party.
On balance it is difficult to see anyone else coming out of this group. Glasgow sit on 14 points so are well placed to have enough to be the best runner-up. But we all know what can happen on the last weekend of Champions Cup group stage rugby, so who knows.
Pool 4 – Racing 92 and Ulster
Racing 92, similar to Saracens, look fairly nailed on to qualify as group winners and could be looking at the top seed position. They have be very impressive in back to back wins over struggling Leicester and an impressive away win at Scarlets.
In second, Ulster sit on 14 points like Glasgow. Last season Ulster put themselves in a good position to qualify but squandered it at the death. This makes us hesitant to predict their qualification.
Looking at pool 5, Montpellier and Edinburgh cannot both win both games as they play each other. This opens the door more for Ulster. Even if they slip up somewhat they should, like Glasgow, have enough to qualify. Stranger things have happened but Rory Best’s team should return to knockout Champions Cup rugby.
Pool 5 – Montpellier
As stated above Montpellier and Edinburgh play each other in round 6. This makes it impossible for both sides to win both. It renders it improbable that both will qualify. This should make their clash on the 18th January a straight knockout game.
Although Edinburgh are at home for this match it is difficult to bet against the juggernaut that is Montpellier. They have not quite hit their straps this season but on a one-off game they should have enough to qualify.
Having said this we cannot completely write off Edinburgh, after back to back wins over Newcastle they will fancy their chances. Even a loss to Montpellier would not be devastating to their campaign. This is another pool that is very difficult to call but on balance, Montpellier are probably most likely qualifiers and given the state of the other pools Edinburgh might just miss out.
Probable 2019 quarter finalist’s
Overall our predictions are to win the groups, Leinster, Munster, Saracens, Racing 92 and Montpellier. To go through as best runners up are Glasgow, Ulster and Toulouse. As with any Champions Cup season, expect changes and unpredictable results come January.
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