Precariously placed Leinster and Munster need some tricky permutations
The Heineken Cup resumes with the final two rounds of pool games, and the typically complicated array of permutations, which this time are of more than normal interest to Leinster, especially, and Munster, given they are precariously placed.
Currently ranked fifth of the second-placed sides, to qualify for the eighth time in nine years, Joe Schmidt’s back-to-back reigning champions must do so as one of the two best runners-up. To that end, they need wins at home to the Scarlets on Saturday and away to Exeter, with at least one bonus point and, given they have only scored three tries to date, most probably a brace of bonus points. Even then, Leinster will need other results to go their way.
Destiny in their own hands
Ulster at least have their destiny in their own hands. They could even qualify this weekend if they beat Glasgow at Ravenhill on Friday night and Northampton beat Castres although to secure a home quarter-final – most probably along with Harlequins, Clermont and Toulon – they will also need to beat Castres away on the final weekend, possibly with a bonus point or two.
Munster too know that a brace of wins away to Edinburgh and at home to Racing on successive Sundays, with bonus points, would pretty much assure them of qualification, and a nine-point haul would most likely suffice.
Winning the pool
There is even a possibility of Munster winning the pool if Racing Metro, who looked like no-hopers for much of the first-half in their opener against Munster, beat Saracens in Nantes on Saturday, which in turn would make the Thomond Park set-to a pool decider. As a sign of intent, Racing (who ended Toulon’s seven-month unbeaten home record last weekend) have learned from their marketing debacle for that opener in Stade de France to ensure a near 35,000 sell-out this Saturday.
All in all, events on Friday night could be significant for Ulster, but also Leinster, as Sale beating Montpellier especially and Northampton beating, preferably without a bonus point, could significantly open the door toward one of those two best runners-up slots.
Failing a Sale win, Leinster and others would not want Toulon to have secured a lucrative home quarter-final in Marseilles prior to facing Montpellier away on Saturday week.
That Leinster will have three pools completed before they kick-off in Sandy Park on Saturday week could be helpful, though it could be even more helpful for Munster that their pool is the penultimate group to finish the next day when they host Racing.
It could even be that Munster will be endeavouring to secure the second best runners-up slot ahead of Leinster. The third, fourth and fifth best runners-up will be rerouted to the Amlin Challenge Cup, the final of which will be held in the RDS the night before the Aviva Stadium final on May 18th.