The state of play as European rugby returns

Joe Leavey
09 January 2019

Share this article

The Guinness PRO14 takes two weeks off as the sides return to action against the best Europe has to offer in the final rounds of the Champions Cup.

Plenty of Guinness PRO14 sides are still in with a chance of progressing to the knockout stages, and this penultimate weekend of group-stage action will be crucial in deciding the Pools.

This is the state of play after four rounds of absorbing rugby.

Champions in need of victory

Leinster fell to a 28-27 defeat at Pool 1 leaders Toulouse in Round 2, and a repeat of that result would all but condemn the holders to second place.

They are still likely to reach the quarter-finals, however, as one of the best second-placed teams thanks to a pair of victories over Bath.

The Leinstermen went behind at The Recreation Ground in Round 3 and were made to battle hard but tries from Sean Cronin and Jordan Larmour saw them claim their second win of the competition.

It was a more comfortable affair back in Dublin the following week, however, as Joe Cullen’s men completed a bonus point win thanks to six converted tries.

The results leave Leinster two points behind Toulouse ahead of Saturday’s crunch match, where a win would put them in pole position heading into the final round next weekend.

Edinburgh sitting pretty

Edinburgh Rugby took full advantage of Montpellier’s Round 3 defeat, moving top of Pool 5 courtesy of home and away wins against Newcastle Falcons.

The Scottish side are now well-placed to reach the quarter-finals in their first top-flight European appearance since 2013-14.

Tries from Hamish Watson, Chris Dean and Blair Kinghorn saw off the Falcons at BT Murrayfield as Edinburgh moved top.

And they extended that lead with a superb second-half display at Kingston Park, as James Johnstone and Duhan Van Der Merwe overturned the Falcons’ 8-6 half time lead.

Edinburgh travel to Toulon knowing a win would all but confirm a quarter-final berth.

Munster in charge despite Castres defeat

Munster remain at the top of a tight Pool 2 with just four points separating them and bottom of the table Gloucester.

The Munstermen cruised past Castres Olympique at Thomond Park thanks to tries from JJ Hanrahan, Rory Scannell and CJ Stander.

But they took only a losing bonus point from their trip to France in a 13-12 defeat to leave all four teams eyeing qualification.

Johann van Graan’s men travel to Gloucester on Friday and will be looking to extend their advantage over Castres.

Warriors can deal final blow to Blues

Cardiff Blues opened their Champions Cup campaign with victory in Lyon, but three straight defeats have left them on the brink of crashing out of Pool 3.

Saracens put seven tries past them at Allianz Park and then battled past the Blues at Cardiff Arms Park, with the hosts being made to pay for conceding 16 penalties.

Elsewhere in the Pool, Glasgow Warriors overturned Lyon at home and away to put them in contention for a quarter-final spot.

Adam Ashe’s pair of tries helped the Warriors to a bonus point in France before Niko Matawalu’s try after 44 seconds set them up for a 21-10 win at Scotstoun Stadium.

And Glasgow can further stake their claim for the last eight by beating Cardiff Blues, who need a bonus point win and other results to go their way to stand any chance.

Ulster aim for the top

Ulster will be looking to draw level with last season’s runners-up Racing 92 when the two sides meet at the Kingspan Stadium.

After losing in France in Round 2, Dan McFarland’s men edged past Scarlets 25-24 at Parc y Scarlets to claim a bonus point, a feat they repeated in Belfast thanks partly to Iain Henderson’s double.

It leaves Ulster five points behind Racing 92 ahead of a must-win game.

Meanwhile, last year’s semi-finalists Scarlets are out of the Champions Cup having lost all four matches so far.

Wayne Pivac’s side take on Leicester Tigers in Llanelli and have the chance to leapfrog the English outfit.

Challenge Cup enters its final rounds

There’s still plenty of Guinness PRO14 interest as the Challenge Cup’s group stages reach their climax.

Back-to-back defeats have left Dragons eliminated while Ospreys are in a promising second place with 11 points in Pool 2.

Zebre’s pair of victories over Enisei-STM, including a 58-14 mauling in their last outing, leaves them a point off the top of Pool 4, the same situation Benneton find themselves in after defeat at Harlequins in Pool 5.

Connacht boosted their chances with wins home and away against Perpignan in Pool 3.

Share this article