The Heineken Champions Cup returns this weekend and its time to for the quarter-finalists to be decided. Pool Two is about to reach fever pitch with all four sides having a good chance of qualification.
Here at Last Word on Rugby we will be going through the permutations and combinations for each team and work out what they need to do to qualify. With all sides still in contention that makes it very unlikely anyone will qualify in second place so we are looking for just the group winner here.
Munster – Favourites by a Nose
Sitting on 12 points and three clear of Castres, Munster are in pole position. It is pretty clear that two wins would see them qualify regardless of bonus points. They still have a chance to go through if they lose a match but they would be relying on other teams and need bonus points to do so.
'Happy with where we're at but this is Europe and a massive game on Friday night.'
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) January 10, 2019
For Munster to miss out all the sides below the need to win both games so if Munster do lose then they could be in trouble. Things get even more complicated when bonus points are considered. Munster’s advantage over their rivals at this stage could prove helpful if they pick up a few bonus points even if they lose a game. Overall, Munster are still favourites to qualify but any slip up could put them in danger.
Castres – Still in Contention
Castres are one point ahead of Exeter and Gloucester on nine points which could be vital come the end of round six. They need to win both of their remaining games to qualify. However, two wins may not be enough as Castres do not play Munster round five or six. This means Munster could also win both of their games and finish ahead of them.
— Castres Olympique (@CastresRugby) January 10, 2019
Despite this, the one-point advantage Castres do have over Gloucester and Exeter could prove key. This makes bonus points all the more important. Should Castres finish equal on points with any of their rivals they could also be in trouble. They have a worse head to head record against Munster and will have to overturn one against Gloucester. However they did beat Exeter at home so that could play to their advantage. Castres are by no means outsiders to qualify but there may just miss out if things get really tight at the end.
Exeter Chiefs- Back From the Brink
Again two wins is a must for Rob Baxter’s men if they wish to qualify. Simply nothing else will do. However despite being one point behind Castres they could plausibly qualify without any bonus points. This is because they play both sides ahead of them in the pool.
🏉 – Scrum-half @white_nic says @ExeterChiefs are feeling energised ahead of their @ChampionsCup clash with @CastresRugby this Sunday at @SandyParkExeter ⬇️https://t.co/mlVhBBBJ3G pic.twitter.com/qyvtQrV7Dg
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) January 8, 2019
They also sit quite pretty if they are to finish equal on points. Given they need to win both games to qualify if they do finish level with Gloucester and Munster they would have a better head to head record. They would need to overturn a deficit against Castres but this is unlikely to be relevant as they need to beat the French outfit to stand a chance. Overall, Exeter actually look in reasonable shape to qualify especially given the dire position they were in after their third-round defeat to Gloucester at home.
Gloucester – Too Close to Call
Gloucester are in an almost identical situation to their west country rivals Exeter. They are equal on points and face the same sides over the next two weeks. This therefore means they need two wins to qualify which will take them above Castres and Munster.
Kingsholm will be ready. pic.twitter.com/5omQEeR7gZ
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) January 10, 2019
However, they do have a key disadvantage compared to Exeter, their head to head record. Their inferior head to head record means they may have to rely on bonus points to qualify. This puts the pressure on Gloucester slightly but they still will fancy their chances of qualification with two wins.
Concluding Thoughts on Champions Cup Pool Two
This pool is definitely the one to watch over the next two weeks as anything could happen and anyone could qualify. If any side wins two games they have to fancy their chances of qualification. Munster are obviously favourites as it stands but any slip up could still cost them.
After that it is pretty much wide open. Castres’ point advantage may prove vital as could Exeter’s head to head record over Gloucester. Things will also become much clearer next weekend as at least one side will be out of the running after their round five match.
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