A host of teams from the Guinness PRO14 remain in contention for the knock-out stages in the Champions Cup, looking to follow in the footsteps of Leinster who lifted the trophy last season.
So as we prepare for round five and the crucial denouement in Europe, it is time for a review of where each of the Guinness PRO14 sides stand with a couple of group games to go.
LEINSTER’S DATE WITH DESTINY
The Guinness PRO14 and Champions Cup winners in 2018 remain firmly in contention to repeat the trick this time around. However Saturday’s clash could go a long way to deciding the fate of Leo Cullen’s side. Beaten by a point in the reverse fixture in France, Leinster know that they will need a win at the RDS Arena to take top spot in Pool 1. If they can beat their fellow four-time champions, Leinster will likely overtake the French side as they trail by just two points in the group. That would leave a trip to eliminated Wasps to negotiate in order to secure a potential home quarter-final.
MUNSTER STILL IN CONTROL
Defeat to Castres in round four left Munster with plenty of work to do in the final two rounds, but Johann van Graan’s side have their fate in their own hands. They currently sit top of Pool 2 with 12 points, three points clear of the French side, with Gloucester and Exeter just behind on 8. That means this weekend’s trip to Gloucester is huge, with Munster knowing that a win would put them in pole position ahead of a clash with the Chiefs at Thomond Park. Munster could yet qualify with just a win in their final home game, but success away to Gloucester would give them a great shot of a home quarter-final for the third successive year.
WARRIORS ON TRACK FOR SECOND
A home defeat to Saracens on the opening weekend left Glasgow Warriors with some work to do to turn things around, but they have done just that picking up 14 points from a possible 15 since. This weekend they host Cardiff Blues at home, and with a bonus-point win could even move top of Pool 3 if Saracens slip up in France. It may well come down to a trip to London to take on the English champions in round six, but as it stands Glasgow are well-placed to go through as a best runner-up, even if they have faltered in recent weeks in the league. The Blues are effectively out, but will be keen to finish on a high after a relatively successful block of Welsh derbies.
ULSTER TEST AT THE KINGSPAN
There are three unbeaten teams left in the competition and Ulster will be looking to end one of those records at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday when they host Racing 92. It would require a bonus-point win and nothing for the French side for Ulster to go top of Pool 4, but any sort of win would put them in great position to get through. If they lose to the Parisians, however, they will face a tricky trip to Leicester Tigers in round six. Scarlets, meanwhile, saw their European hopes ended by back-to-back defeats to Ulster in December, but they will be looking to build on victory over the Dragons in the Guinness PRO14 last week when they host the Tigers on Saturday.
EDINBURGH BACK ON TOP
Edinburgh have now won five games in a row in all competitions including a pair of victories over Newcastle Falcons that have them in perfect position going into the last two games. This weekend they travel to three-time champions Toulon, but with the French giants effectively eliminated, Richard Cockerill will be keen to get one over the team he once coached. That could set up a shot at a home quarter-final against Montpellier in round six, with the French side still not out of it, sitting on 11 points, four behind Edinburgh.