Schmidt's observations true, flaws of Cup are also its beauties
Leinster are currently the fifth best runners-up on 10 points, and need other results to go their way such as, perhaps, the Ospreys beating Leicester in round five and Toulon winning away to Montpellier in round six to keep the latter on 18 or 19. Even though Toulon might already be through by then, they could have the carrot of a money-spinning home quarter-final in front of 50,000 at the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles. Besides which Toulon assuredly have the best second team in the competition.
Ultimately, it’s hard not to envisage at least two runners-up finishing on 19 points or better, so not only have Leinster to beat the Scarlets at home and Exeter away, but probably record bonus-point wins as well. For in the event of sides from different pools finishing with the same points, tries scored is the next criteria and Leinster have only scored three to date.
Only tryless Edinburgh have scored less. So even 19 points would, most likely, not be sufficient for the holders. All that said and done, 20 points could conceivably be enough to progress, and if that were to happen, then Fergus McFadden’s break-out 80th-minute try could yet be priceless.
On mature recollection, we may have been a bit too downbeat in these pages yesterday about Munster’s chances. Not alone, as stated, have they a viable chance of winning the pool were Racing to beat Saracens in a game they have switched to Nantes, but with 11 points and seven tries, and Edinburgh away and Racing at home, they are both likelier to reach the 20-point threshold and better set if they did so. Indeed, you’d back Munster to win those matches and, were they to win with bonus pints then, barring a freakish set of results elsewhere, 21 points would ensure their presence in the last eight.
Connacht’s hopes of extending their European campaign beyond January, even by dint of reaching the Challenge Cup quarter-finals as third, fourth or fifth best runners-up have been seriously damaged by defeat to Biarritz. It leaves Eric Elwood’s team sitting on eight points and, a la Leinster, with only three tries, as well as now having a worse head-to-heard record against Biarritz.
Their hopes of qualifying for next season’s tournament by dint of a fellow Irish team winning the Heineken Cup have receded too, although then again it’s not beyond the bounds that one of them might yet win the Challenge Cup at the RDS next May, given Leinster could conceivably be re-routed there.
In any event the quarter-final line-up could read something like: Harlequins v Munster, Clermont v Montpellier, Toulon v Toulouse, Ulster v Saracens.