The quarter-final line-up for this season’s Heineken Cup is taking shape following the penultimate round of pool action.
The six pool winners and the two best runners-up will make up the Heineken Cup quarter-final line-up later this year but there is a euro lifeline for three other runners-up in the form of qualification for the Amlin Challenge Cup knock-out stages.
Four of the last eight in the Heineken Cup have been decided with Northampton, Leinster, Toulon and Toulouse all assured of their places amongst Europe’s elite with the final four quarter-final berths set to be decided next weekend.
Northampton’s place was secured with victory over Edinburgh while Leinster booked their passage bybeating Saracens. Toulon joined them following theirtriumph over Munster and defending champions Toulouse made it five wins from five against the Dragons.
The battle for the final four places will reach a climax in Round 6 that will also decide the all-important ranking and quarter-final pairings. Ahead of those games it is worth remembering that no team has qualified as pool winners or as a runner up on less than four wins. And since bonus points were introduced no team has qualified as a pool winner on less than 18 points. In addition, since bonus points were introduced no team has qualified as one of the best runners-up on less than 19 points.
So who is in the mix and what do they need to progress?
Northampton have qualified as pool winners with Castres, Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh playing for an Amlin Challenge Cup euro lifeline.
Leinster have qualified as pool winners and their Round 6 victory ove Racing Metro assures them of a home quarter-final. Clermont Auvergne’s win against Saracens kept their hopes of progressing alive but they will have to wait on the weekend’s other results.
Toulon have qualified as pool winners with Munster, Ospreys and London Irish in the mix for the Amlin Challenge Cup only.
Biarritz, Ulster and Bath vying for pool top spot and possibly one of two best runners up places. Biarritz currently lead Ulster at the top of the pool due to the match points they have accrued in their two clashes this season. Biarritz play host Bath next Saturday with Ulster travelling to Aironi. Ulster need to earn more match points than Biarritz to pip them to top spot or hope they have done enough for a runners up berth. Bath need a big win against Biarritz and hope Aironi upset Ulster if they are to progress.
Perpignan, Leicester and Scarlets vying for pool top spot and possibly one of two best runners up places. Perpignan currently lead the pool from Leicester due to the match points they have accrued in their two clashes this season. Perpignan play host to the third placed Scarlets next Sunday with Leicester tackling Treviso at the same time.
Toulouse have qualified as pool winners while London Wasps need a big win against their French rivals to keep their hopes of a best runners-up spot alive.
For the quarter-final round, the pool winners will be ranked 1-6 in terms of the number of points earned. The runners-up will be ranked 7 and 8.
The current ranking (Played/Points):
1. Leinster (Q) – 19 – P6/26pts
2. Toulouse (Q) – P5/21pts
3. Northampton (Q) – P5/21pts
4. Clermont Auvergne – P6/19pts
5. Perpignan – P5/17pts
6. Biarritz – P5/17pts
7. Toulon (Q) – P5/17pts
8. Leicester – P5/17pts
Teams ranked 1-4 will have home advantage. The quarter-finals will be:
Team 1 v Team 8
Team 2 v Team 7
Team 3 v Team 6
Team 4 v Team 5
The three next best Heineken Cup runners-up (the third, fourth and fifth best) will qualify for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals. The top four Amlin Challenge Cup Pool winners will have home advantage with the quarter-finalists ranked accordingly:
1 ACC 1 (Top ranked ACC Pool winner)
2 ACC 2 (Second ranked ACC Pool winner)
3 ACC 3 (Third ranked ACC Pool winner)
4 ACC 4 (Fourth ranked ACC Pool winner)
5 Heineken Cup 1
6 Heineken Cup 2
7 Heineken Cup 3
8 ACC 5 (Fifth ranked ACC Pool winner)
The quarter-final pairings will be:
1 (ACC 1) v 8 (ACC 5)
2 (ACC 2) v 7 (Heineken Cup 3)
3 (ACC 3) v 6 (Heineken Cup 2)
4 (ACC 4) v 5 (Heineken Cup 1)