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European competition hots up with last eight beckoning

Gilbert Rugby News — Published on January 12 , 2016

Europe’s premier club rugby competition has delivered some cracking action and as we move into the business end of the group stage it is all to play for.

The five group winners and three best runners-up make the last eight, and it looks like only two teams are assured of their progress.

Saracens are one of those sides – sitting pretty in Pool 1 on 19 points. On match day five they host Ulster at Allianz Park, who themselves are in need of a victory to keep themselves in with a chance of topping the group. Oyonnax face Toulouse in the other game.

The other side looking strong for the quarters is Racing Metro 92. Powered by the stardust of Dan Carter, Racing have 17 points, with Northampton Saints (10 points) and Glasgow Warriors (9) giving chase. Racing can confirm their place in the last eight by beating Scarlets at home, with Saints and Warriors battling at Franklin’s Gardens aiming for a best runners-up spot.

Pool 2 is a much tighter affair. ASM Clermont lead the way on 14 points and travel to second place Ospreys who have 12. Exeter Chiefs will be looking to jump up to second by beating Bordeax-Begles, albeit away from home.

It looks to be a two horse race in Pool 5 with Leicester Tigers out in front on 18 points. They could be boosted by a starting Manu Tuilagi when they host bottom club Treviso, and a win over the struggling Italians will mean qualification for the knockouts. Stade Francais will aim to keep the pressure on with victory at Munster who will be buoyed by the recent appointment of ex England Rugby assistant Andy Farrell as a coaching consultant.

The much-hyped Pool 5 – that caused so much interest when the draw was made, is beautifully poised. Wasps sit top with 14 points, with reigning champions Toulon on 12 points and Bath on 9. The top 2 meet at the Stade Felix Mayol in what should be a titanic battle, while Bath will look to take advantage of a Leinster side already out of the competition.

Meanwhile, the Challenge Cup is really starting to come to the boil. With five pool winners and the three best runners up going through to the quarter-final, there are no dead rubbers likely in the final two fixtures.

Two Gilbert-wearing teams are in with a great chance of making the last eight. Newport Gwent Dragons are top of a difficult Pool 2. Dragons (15 points) meet Castres (11) in what could prove a decisive contest, while Sale (13) travel to France to take on pointless Pau.

Newcastle Falcons sit second in Pool A on 11 points, level with Brive, 2 points behind Connacht. Falcons face the long trip to Sochi to take on Enisei-STM where a win would put them in a strong position to make the quarter-finals.

Harlequins look to have Pool 3 sewn up, with Blues and Montpellier playing off for second and a shot at the quarters.

Pool 4 is all but decided with Gloucester clear on 17 points. Zebre, La Rochelle and Worcester Warriors have 8, 5 and 4 points respectively so it will take an extraordinary effort for one of these to make the knockout stages.

The top 3 in Pool 5 are separated by just 2 points. Grenoble lead the way with 14 with London Irish and Edinburgh behind them on 12 each. Irish host Grenoble while Edinburgh host bottom placed Agen.

The road to Lyon firmly kicks in to gear now. Who will make a decisive move in round five of European rugby?

 

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