Stars of the global game head into an intense final weekend of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage with seven coveted quarter-final places, as well as home venue advantage, still up for grabs.
Two-time tournament winners, Saracens, have booked their berth in the last eight, however, the English champions still have the top spot in Pool 3 to contest when they go head-to-head with Glasgow Warriors at Allianz Park in on Saturday – one of all 10 Round 6 matches to be screened live in the UK and Ireland on BT Sport.
Saracens’ Gallagher Premiership rivals, Exeter Chiefs, kept their hopes alive with a bonus-point win over Castres Olympique in Round 5, but to emerge from Pool 2, they will need to upset the odds in Limerick on Saturday and end Munster Rugby’s 11-match European winning run at Thomond Park.
Were they to do so, they would be the first club in the history of the tournament to qualify for the knockout stage having failed to win any of their opening three matches. The permutations should make for a thrilling encounter which is live for free-to-air viewers on Virgin Media (Ireland) and Channel 4 (UK).
Elsewhere in Round 6:
- Montpellier’s bonus-point home win over Newcastle Falcons has given them a lifeline in Pool 5 as they face a critical trip to leaders, Edinburgh Rugby, tomorrow evening with qualification on the line.
- Holders, Leinster Rugby, can guarantee progress from Pool 1 on Sunday with a win away to Wasps who they will face for the 11th time in the tournament having won five and drawn one of their previous meetings. Toulouse are waiting in the wings for any slip-up from Leo Cullen’s men when they host Bath Rugby. As with all pools, the two matches will kick off simultaneously on Sunday (15.15 UK and Irish time).
- Racing 92 will defend a 100% record in Europe’s top flight at Paris La Défense Arena when they welcome Scarlets on Saturday. Last season’s runners-up missed out on their first chance to seal a place in the last eight last weekend as they lost to Ulster Rugby who head to Leicester Tigers bidding to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2012. The Welford Road clash will be the 10th between the clubs, with Ulster leading the way with six wins.
Meanwhile, six places in the knockout stage will be fought over in the concluding round of the Challenge Cup with only ASM Clermont Auvergne and Worcester Warriors already assured of progression as pool winners.
Two-time tournament winners, Clermont, who are also guaranteed a home quarter-final, are bidding to become only the second club after the Ospreys to earn a maximum haul of 30 match points in the pool stage when the travel to take on the Dragons tomorrow evening.
Other Challenge Cup highlights include:
- Sale Sharks and Connacht Rugby are level on match points at the Pool 3 summit heading into the final round. Two-time winners, Sale, will launch their bid for supremacy at home against Perpignan, whilst Connacht head to Bordeaux-Bègles on Saturday.
- Northampton Saints are targeting one of the three places for best runners-up which they will seal with a bonus-point win over Timisoara Saracens at Franklin’s Gardens tomorrow evening.
- Both Italian clubs are in the qualification mix, needing to win this weekend and hoping results elsewhere go in their favour. Zebre Rugby Club defeated Pool 4 leaders La Rochelle the last time they met in Italy in the tournament and need a repeat now with second-placed Bristol Bears hosting Enisei-STM also hoping to make it through. Meanwhile, Benetton Rugby are one point behind leaders Harlequins as Pool 5 reaches an exciting climax in France – the Guinness PRO14 club heads to Grenoble whilst three-time winners, Quins, go to Agen.