Leinster and Munster homing in on French opposition in Champions Cup draw

Draw will be made on Tuesday for the last-16 and unseeded quarter-finals

Either Leinster or Munster will be drawn at home against Top 14 opposition in the knock-out round of 16 for the Heineken Champions Cup which will take place in Lausanne, Switzerland on Tuesday (noon Irish time).

The two Irish provinces are guaranteed home draws, as are Racing, Wasps and Bordeaux-Begles, by dint of winning both their two pool matches on the field of play with results not impacted by Covid-19. No two teams from the same league can be drawn against each other in the last 16, meaning Leinster or Munster cannot face Scarlets or Edinburgh either.

As there are seven French clubs in the last 16 they will have to be drawn in seven different matches, meaning only one of the eight ties will feature a match-up between sides from the Pro14 and the English Premiership.

Therefore, not only will one of Leinster or Munster have to face a Top 14 side, but the odds favour both of them doing so. For the purposes of simplicity, the seven ties involving the French sides will be drawn before the eighth tie.

The five remaining Top 14 sides who Leinster or Munster could face are La Rochelle, Toulon, Lyon, Toulouse or Clermont. Were one of them to avoid the French sides, the Premiership opponents who they could be drawn against are Sale, Bristol, Exeter or Gloucester.

The draw for the round of 16, which will take place over the first weekend of April (2nd/3rd/4th), will be immediately followed by the draw for the quarter-finals, which will take place a week later (April 9th/10th/11th).

This will be an unseeded ‘open’ draw, with the first team out of the hat will have home advantage, and as clubs from the same league can be drawn against one another, conceivably therefore Leinster and Munster could meet in the last eight if they make it past the next round.

The draws for the Champions Cup will be preceded by the draw for the last 16 in the European Challenge Cup. London Irish, Leicester and the Ospreys are the only three teams assured of home ties after winning both of their pool matches on the field of play. As clubs from the same league cannot play each other, Connacht and Ulster will not face the Ospreys or the other five Pro14 teams in the draw.

If they are not drawn away to London Irish or Leicester, Connacht and Ulster could face any of Agen, Montpellier, Newcastle, Northampton, Bath or Harlequins, either at home or away.

Likewise, once the last 16 ties in the Challenge Cup are finalised, this will also be immediately followed by the draw for the quarter-finals which, once again, will be an unseeded open draw in which clubs from the same league are permitted to meet each other.

The expectation is that all dates and kick-off times for the rounds of 16 will be finalised and announced early next week at the latest. The draws will be streamed live on HeinekenChampionsCup.com.

The return of the fit-again Jacob Stockdale in place of the uncapped Shane Daly is the only change in the 36-man Irish squad which was on duty against Italy for the final two rounds of the Six Nations. The squad reassembled on Monday to continue their preparations for the game against Scotland in Murrayfield next Sunday (kick-off 3pm).

Stockdale has completed two matches for Ulster on the left wing after recovering from the knee injury which ruled him out of the opening three rounds of the Championship. Given the way Hugo Keenan has grasped his opportunity, not least with that superb line off Garry Rongrose's offload for the pick of Ireland's six tries in the Stadio Olimpico, it would be a major surprise if the Ulsterman displaced him at fullback.

The odds appear against Stockdale returning at the expense of James Lowe on the left wing as well, meaning that at best he might force his way back onto the bench.

The Irish head coach and his assistant will be watching training closely this week before finalising their side on Thursday, with the announcement of the team and replacement to face Scotland set to be before midday on Friday.

The 48-10 win over Italy, after making seven changes in personnel and one positional from the defeat at home by France, has left the coaching staff with some other interesting selection questions. One of those will be whether to stick with some or indeed all of the new frontrow of Dave Kilcoyne, Rónan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne at his new position of blindside, Will Connors at openside and Jamison Gibson-Park at scrumhalf, and the composition of the outside three, where no less than Lowe and Stockdale, Jordan Larmour and Keith Earls are vying for the right wing slot.

As expected, the IRFU has confirmed that Earls, Ireland's second most prolific try scorer in Test rugby with 33 tries in 91 Tests, has signed a new one-year extension, following on from Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy (both one-year deals), Iain Henderson and Peter O'Mahony (two years).

This leaves only Tadhg Furlong and CJ Stander to agree new two-year deals of the seven players whose central contracts were due to expire this summer.

In the heel of the hunt it wouldn't be entirely surprising if Farrell announces an unchanged team next Friday, with the possible exception of Conor Murray returning at scrumhalf.