The round four fixtures are now in the books and it is time to look at those pool standings ahead of the final two pool fixtures in January. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the state of play.
Winners this weekend:
This is was a key weekend for a number of sides.
- Leinster Rugby — another five points against Northampton Saints at the Aviva Stadium. Their attacking play from deep with Larmour in unstoppable form set the tone. Saints if more composed could have secured a bonus point try but it was not to be. Leinster Rugby advance to the last eight with two games to spare.
- Exeter Chiefs — it has being an outstanding start to the tournament for Exeter. A bonus point win in Sandy Park over Sale means that they are virtually into the last eight and a potential home quarter final in the offing if they can beat either La Rochelle or Glasgow Warriors in January.
- Racing 92 — Forty points scored against Ospreys on Friday night. Their expansive style of play seen to full effect. A tricky last two fixtures await though, first a crunch fixture with Munster Rugby who are in must win territory and then travel to Allianz Park against a Saracens side who may still be in contention for the pool. Intriguing subplots in that pool.
- Ulster Rugby — bonus point try victors at the Stoop. Ulster Rugby go 4/4 and are one foot in the quarter finals. A daunting road trip to ASM Clermont awaits in January but a home fixture against Bath Rugby could yield the win to formally stamp their progression into the last eight.
- ASM Clermont — the true Jekyll and Hyde team. Harlem Globetrotter stuff again at home. Fifty plus points on a hapless Bath Rugby side. It all comes down to the Ulster Rugby home fixture to decide who tops the pool and with their superb home form, few would argue that Clermont Auvergne won’t turn on the style.
Best Runner Up:
- Munster Rugby: The decision not to go for the three points at the Allianz Park and secure a loser point against Saracens could come back and bite them in the ass come January. Must win territory heading into that Racing 92 fixture; tough ask. If no team relish the backs against the wall scenario, the Irish province does. Always drama aplenty when Munster Rugby are in a pool.
- Saracens: A key win against Munster Rugby and will fancy a five point haul over Ospreys next time out. This will setup an interesting home fixture with Racing 92 for the pool finale. A win there and they could potentially top the pool; a dangerous side if they secure a best runner up berth given their squad depth.
- Northampton Saints: A reality check in the last two weeks. Leinster Rugby put the hurt on the Saints who leaked ninety points plus in the last two weeks. A side who are well capable of securing wins against Benetton Rugby at home and Lyon on the road who will field a second string side given they are out of the running. A vulnerable side if they are in the last eight. Any of the top seeds will go to draw them given their form in recent rounds.
- Glasgow Warriors: La Rochelle home loss. I did not see that coming. The red card was a big decision but given Arno Botha’s red card last week, no surprise. Glasgow Warriors suddenly are in must win territory. Exeter Chiefs (home) and Sale Sharks (away) are tough fixtures to finish out, realistically need nine points at least to secure a spot in the big dance.
- Gloucester Rugby: A massive setback yesterday in Galway. No sugar coating this loss, it is devastating for their playoff ambitions. A road trip to Toulouse — victory looks remote. A home game to Montpellier could provide some bonus point try cheer but the manner of the loss yesterday is going to dent confidence. Another team who look vulnerable heading into the last two rounds of this competition.
- Connacht Rugby: Euphoria reigned in Eyre Square upon the final whistle; somehow Connacht Rugby got the win. Offload game and line break skill set superb in that last ten minutes. Conor Fitzgerald impressed yet again at ten. Munster Rugby’s loss? The final two games look tough though. Away to Montpellier and home to Toulouse. A win on the road is required; tough to know how Montpellier will approach the fixture and then expect to beat a Toulouse side who will enjoy the open game plan of Connacht Rugby. Tough run in for Andy Friend’s side.
The pool winners are confirmed for three of the pools. Pools 3 and 4 winners be more clear after round five. If Munster Rugby were to beat Racing 92 on the road, all bets are off on who gets through from Pool 4 in the final round. If they lose, then opportunity knocks for the likes of Northampton Saints, Glasgow Warriors and Gloucester Rugby to secure playoff rugby next Spring.