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European Champions Cup Round Six: Five Guinness PRO14 teams aim for quarter-finals

As we enter the final round of the Champions Cup, five teams from the Guinness PRO14 find themselves in contention for the knock-out stages of the competition.

Leinster sit pretty as the only team already through to the last eight, and they are guaranteed a home quarter-final before they even play Montpellier in the south of France.

Ulster and Munster are also in pole position before round six, while Scarlets and the Ospreys know that a win will guarantee a quarter-final spot in the case of the former, and almost certainly for the latter as well.

Montpellier v Leinster
Altrad Stadium
Date: Saturday January 20
Kick-off: 2pm local (1pm GMT)

Leinster are already assured of top spot in Pool 3, and as a result Leo Cullen has taken the opportunity to rest Johnny Sexton for their trip to take on Montpellier.

It is far from a weakened team however, with new Ireland call-up Jordan Larmour getting a start on the wing, while Ross Byrne steps into Sexton’s boots.

With an all-Irish, all-international pack, Leinster will expect to go toe-to-toe with their French hosts, and they can call on the electric Larmour, as well as Robbie Henshaw and James Lowe in the backline.

One player they will know very well is Montpellier scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, who makes his comeback from injury to face a side he came up against many a time with Ulster.

Glasgow Warriors v Exeter Chiefs
Scotstoun
Date: Saturday January 20
Kick-off: 1pm GMT

It’s been a frustrating European campaign for Glasgow Warriors, who found themselves all but out after the first two weeks – a narrow loss in Exeter and a heavy home defeat to Leinster.

Still searching for a first win of the campaign, they host the Chiefs, who were in fine form against Montpellier last week.

While there is only pride to play for, the return of a couple of injury absentees should really help the Warriors, Stuart Hogg starts having not played since last November, while Tommy Seymour is also back fit again.

Add in Leonardo Sarto and Alex Dunbar, who are both fit once more, and there’s a dangerous look to Glasgow’s backline as they look to contain the freeflowing Chiefs.

Clermont Auvergne v Ospreys
Stade Marcel Michelin
Date: Saturday January 20
Kick-off: 4.15pm local (3.15pm GMT)

A draw at home to Saracens last week left the Ospreys with their destiny in their own hands, and they travel to France knowing that a win will all but guarantee them a place in the last eight.

Three points behind Clermont heading into the final round, they need to win and either earn four more match points than their opponents, or finish three match points clear while winning by six points or more.

In Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar they have an in-form half-back pairing, while Olly Cracknell also starts after signing a new contract this week.

Clermont have major injury worries, but will welcome back a couple of long-term absentees in Greig Laidlaw and Noa Nakaitaci, both of whom are on the bench.

Scarlets v Toulon
Parc y Scarlets
Date: Saturday January 20
Kick-off: 5.30pm GMT

Scarlets head into their final pool game against Toulon in what is effectively a winner-takes-all clash. The Welsh side were brilliant away at Bath last Friday at the Rec, and can book their place in the quarter-finals with a win.

Leigh Halfpenny is back but only makes the bench, with Rhys Patchell continuing at full-back after a great display last time out.

Toulon are without Fijian winger Josua Tuisova, who has been suffering with the flu, and they have named a bench with six forwards, signalling their intentions.

Wayne Pivac’s side lost their first two games of the tournament, but know that a bonus-point win would guarantee them not only a place in the last eight, but also a home quarter-final.

Benetton Rugby v Bath
Stadio Monigo
Date: Saturday January 20
Kick-off: 6.30pm local (5.30pm GMT)

Benetton are still to pick up a win in Europe this season, although they came desperately close against both Toulon and the Scarlets.

They will be looking to finish on a high against a Bath team which still has an outside chance of making the last eight.

Kieran Crowley has gone for a side with Ian McKinley in the full-back jersey, to accommodate the return of Tommaso Allan at fly-half.

Young tighthead prop Marco Riccioni, who was named as an additional player in Italy’s Six Nations squad this week, gets the nod from the off.

Munster v Castres
Thomond Park
Date: Sunday January 21
Kick-off: 1pm GMT

Munster lost for the first time in Europe last week away to Racing 92, but they still sit top of Pool 4 as they welcome Castres to Thomond Park.

A win will guarantee top spot in the pool, and could also give them a home quarter-final if other results go their way.

Conor Murray and Ian Keatley continue their half-back pairing, while Simon Zebo and Keith Earls will be looking to build on their performances in Paris.

Castres can also still qualify mathematically after thumping Leicester Tigers last week, but they would need a lot of other results to go their way to make it through.

Wasps v Ulster
Ricoh Arena
Date: Sunday January 21
Kick-off: 3.15pm GMT

Ulster’s win over La Rochelle last Saturday saw them leapfrog the French side to the top of Pool 1. If they are to stay there, they may need all five points away to Wasps, but a win would be enough to reach the quarter-finals.

Charles Piutau will face his former side and hope to match his efforts in the first game between the teams when he inspired a second-half turnaround from Les Kiss’ team.

Christian Lealiifano will make his final appearance for the team before he heads back to Super Rugby to play for the Brumbies, and he will partner John Cooney in the half-backs.

Wasps have named a strong side, knowing that only a bonus-point success would give them any chance of making the last eight.

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie