2020 has been a massively surreal year and the fact that professional rugby union is back playing is extraordinary. The new look Heineken Champions Cup format with the two pools has seen some standout results but also unfortunate cancellations which could be pivotal in the final standings.
Leinster Rugby and Wasps lead the way in this pool and they look primed to secure the top two spots in the Pool A.
Montpellier have massively underperformed (yet again) in Europe and will field second string outfits to play out the remaining two fixtures which should boost both the Guinness Pro14 and Gallagher Premiership sides.
Both Leinster Rugby and Wasps have negotiated their other fixture with the minimum of fuss (Northampton Saints and Dragons) respectively so far and a repeat of those results should follow suit after Christmas and consolidate their pool positions.
Bordeaux Begles will also fill one of the top four spots. Dragons and Northampton Saints fixture schedule has been kinder to the French side compared to others but Bordeaux Begles went to Franklin Gardens and secured a 12-16 away win, a fixture which would have lost in seasons gone by.
Bordeaux Begles demolished Dragons in round two 47-8. If they run the table on their two opponents after Christmas, they will fancy themselves to advance from the quarter final with a home draw.
La Rochelle had to battle hard to secure a road trip win over Edinburgh Rugby in the opening round and then Covid-19 intervened to cancel their home fixture against Bath Rugby (resulting in a 28-0 win to La Rochelle).
They are in good position but will need to secure at least nine points to guarantee a playoff berth. Bath Rugby away could be a banana skin while Edinburgh Rugby could still have a say in the playoff picture by the time that the two sides lock horns at the end of the pool phase.
Scarlets are on the coat tails of La Rochelle with nine points too. Their Guinness Pro14 form was a concern entering into this competition but thankfully Scarlets have regained their form in Europe; a superb away win over Bath Rugby in the opening round (19-23) and then came the farce that was Toulon’s late withdrawal from the round two tie. 28-0 win for Scarlets.
Toulon’s team selection in round three will be duly noted given the events of round two. The integrity of the competition is key and these Covid-19 walkovers have provided an opportunity for sides to perhaps look elsewhere and field weakened sides. Scarlets’ home game against Bath Rugby looks season defining.
Edinburgh Rugby could have been forgiven to look to Guinness Pro14 when trailing late to Sale Sharks in round two but a superb comeback win means that Richard Cockerill’s side are in the playoff mix. McInally impressive in that Sale Sharks win.
Edinburgh will look to secure the double over Sale Sharks in round three before a potential winner take all fixture away to La Rochelle. Edinburgh Rugby on their day are a match for anyone, a team to watch.
As mentioned, Toulon are a team who could impact the Pool A standings significantly. The French side still have a possibility of securing a top four berth so their home game against Scarlets next time out is must win territory.
Their home form is so good and their 26-14 opening win over Sale Sharks in the opening round is a timely reminder of their talent and power when provided with quick ruck ball. Their mindset in round three will be duly noted.
The other sides in this pool are done. Montpellier have underperformed yet again in Europe. The side’s record in Europe is horrendous. Dragons have found the elevated opposition tough to handle. Sale Sharks will rue their last quarter performance against Edinburgh Rugby and Bath Rugby (due to Covid-19) have been eliminated without a meaningful punch.