This is a round where this competition reaches its peak. The majority of teams still harbor ambitions of playoffs next Spring but a loss this weekend could be far reaching and devastating. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the pool fixtures.
Pool 1: Leinster in command
This is a pool where Leinster Rugby imposed their dominance last weekend. A 40+ point haul last weekend at Franklin Gardens but if you listened to Leinster Rugby head coach Leo Cullen, there is room for improvement. Ominous signs for Northampton Saints as they travel to the Aviva Stadium. Leinster Rugby will win this weekend. Ross Byrne at ten to provide a timely cameo of his skill set to new head coach Andy Farrell. Leinster Rugby pretty much through to the quarter final with this win. Northampton Saints still not out of it but need to beat Lyon and Benetton Rugby to potentially secure a best runner up spot. Benetton Rugby are done and Lyon’s interest in this competition wavers with each squad selection. Benetton Rugby may have a chance of beating Lyon at home but this is as good as a dead rubber fixture.
Pool 2: Exeter Chiefs primed
Exeter Chiefs pool performances have been standout here and another win here against Sale Sharks will be a huge stride to quarter final qualification. Sale Sharks have potency in attack but defensively have been exposed at key stages such as last weekend for instance. Exeter Chiefs’ pack will strangle the life out of Sale Sharks and with a back line unit who are chomping at the bit to score tries, this is a home win. Glasgow Warriors still with a chance of securing a best runner up berth. Nakarawa signing is huge. La Rochelle’s interest is domestic this season and this is a perfect opportunity for Glasgow Warriors to score a bonus point try win.
Pool 3: Can Ulster Rugby win on the road?
ASM Clermont should look to secure a bonus point try win over Bath Rugby this weekend. This then leaves the fixture at the Stoop and the question is whether Ulster Rugby can produce a performance on the road to beat Harlequins? Last weekend was a bit too close for comfort. Cooney amazing again and his late penalty secured the win. Ulster Rugby need to be better this weekend with a Harlequins side who will to take Ulster Rugby on in the pack to create platform for a very exciting half back and back line. Ulster Rugby won at Bath Rugby but not until Jacob Stockdale producing a sensational last ditch interception. Ulster Rugby need to be so tight tonight but I still have concerns. This pool and the runner up berth will be still in the melting pot after this weekend. Harlequins win.
Pool 4: Racing 92 up up and away
No disrespect to Ospreys but this is a mission impossible fixture. They fought gallantly last weekend after that early red card to Dan Evans but Racing 92 will relish the home confines and offload throughout. BP win looks on the cards for Racing 92 despite Finn Russell on the bench. Saracens and Munster Rugby lock horns tomorrow. Mark McCall has named a strong side; a game where set piece could be decisive early before the game opening up in the third quarter. Saracens favorites but can Munster Rugby still in the contest long enough to unsettle the hosts? A loser point is not out of the question for the Irish province. Racing 92 nearly into the quarter finals after this weekend but two tasty fixtures will make this an interesting end to the pool.
Pool 5: Toulouse in control
Connacht Rugby entertain Gloucester Rugby in the early Saturday kickoff. A performance from Connacht Rugby which offered plenty did not yield any loser point due in part to defensive misreads and lapses. Tom Marshall had a proverbial field day.
Connacht Rugby’s record against Gloucester Rugby is not good reading; no win in the last four fixtures. Gloucester Rugby are inconsistent and whether Connacht Rugby can pressurize them to turn over ball early is a big if. Given the injury list, Connacht Rugby could struggle down the stretch off the bench so a hesitant nod to Gloucester Rugby.
Toulouse travel to Montpellier. The French fixtures in this competition are always an enigma. How serious will Montpellier be in this fixture? Toulouse have all the ambition and motivation to win this fixture. Another win and Toulouse are virtually into the quarter finals but their gaze is at a top seed berth.