Oval Insights: Who are the favourites to reach the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals?
The knockout stage of the Heineken Champions Cup are club rugby’s test matches. Looking forward to the Round of 16, Oval Insights – the official data provider for the tournament – have weighed in who the numbers expect to see in the quarter final.
Numbers crunched and form analysed… 📈
Want to know who @Oval_Insights believe will win the Round of 16 matches and make it through to the #HeinekenChampionsCup Quarter Finals 👇
Just under 2️⃣ weeks until we find out! 👀 pic.twitter.com/BiIBsSM9Pq
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) March 20, 2023
Unsurprisingly given their standing in the United Rugby Championship (URC), pedigree in the competition, and decisive performances in the pool stage, Leinster Rugby are backed heavily to progress in the competition. Adjudged to have a 75% chance of overcoming Ulster Rugby in their Round of 16 fixture, they are the current favourites to become fifth-time champions.
Given the completeness of their performances so far in the competition – even against variable opposition – it is difficult to pinpoint their identity beyond being brilliant across the board. However, there is no doubt that the great Heineken Champions Cup sides have invariably boasted a fearsome pack.
The particular strength of the Leinster forwards is their fitness and dynamism, which allows them to play at a pace unliveable for other teams. Their average ruck speed in the opposition half so far this season has been below three seconds – just electric. They combine this with an ability – underpinned by a tight kicking game – to control possession for extended periods: they’ve had a total of 405 rucks this season, more than any other team.
Even operating at this pace, Leinster show great skill and power in the carry, boasting a 62% gainline success rate as a team. The sparkle of their premier talents is also self-evident, with Caelan Doris ahead of any other Heineken Champions Cup player for try assists (five) and Josh van der Flier the tournament’s top-try scorer. Is this the year that Leinster avenge their recent late-stage disappointments? As ever, the odds seem in their favour.
Next up, #HeinekenChampionsCup is BACK 🤩
Any favourites changed after the #SixNations action? 👀 pic.twitter.com/foGPOltUec
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) March 19, 2023
Elsewhere in the Round of 16, an unstoppable force will meet an immovable object when Cell C Sharks meet Munster Rugby in Durban. Oval anticipate this will be the most tightly contested fixture of the round, with Munster only 6% more likely to progress than their South African hosts. Before the teams are released later in the week, this forecast is largely based on the relative strengths of the squads and how these teams have performed of late in all competitions, as well as their experience individually and as a unit.
Their respective styles and reputations foreshadow this as a combative, even gladiatorial contest. In their Heineken Champions Cup performances this season, Munster have been able to grind out fixtures with their bloody-mindedness. They have made an average of 147.5 tackles per 80 minutes – brutal work. This saw them overcome Northampton Saints twice and keep Stade Toulousain – who are statistically backed to be the major challenger to Leinster for the title – within a score at home and away.
Gavin Coombes has epitomised the Munster zeitgeist this season. He has made more tackles individually than any other Heineken Champions Cup player – 25 in Round 2 alone – and, scrapping for possession, has won turnovers by jackalling at the ruck, disrupting the maul, counter-rucking, driving players into touch, and even making interceptions. Coombes embodies his team’s warrior spirit and will be crucial if they are to stand up to the power game of the Cell C Sharks.
The unstoppable force in the aforementioned analogy, Cell C Sharks will provide a confrontational challenge to Munster at home. Their gainline success rate is the highest in the competition (64%) due to the physicality of their players. They too have a back-row talisman in the form of Siya Kolisi, who has made six dominant tackles so far – one shy of the league-leading Toulouse giant, Emmanuel Meafou. This match will be fierce and hotly contested.
🥊 TIME FOR THE KNOCKOUTS 🥊
Which team has the best run to the #HeinekenChampionsCup Final? pic.twitter.com/HWLOKcaRa8
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) March 27, 2023
A team who are less statistically likely to reach quarter-finals is Ospreys. Facing Saracens this weekend – who are performing strongly in the Premiership and have been potent competitors in the Heineken Champions Cup in the last decade – Ospreys are adjudged to lack the form and homogeneity of their opponents. However, they performed strongly against the odds in the group stages, beating Montpellier Hérault Rugby twice.
Their success in the pool stage was based on a well-drilled pack, particularly at the lineout and maul. Adam Beard has claimed a total of 26 lineouts – 49% of Ospreys’ successful throws – more than any other player. When Beard has hit the ground after winning the ball, the Swansea-based side have found their maul of great profit, making 92 metres in total and setting up a competition-high three mauls which have travelled more than ten metres.
Saracens have been similarly successful in the maul, making 87 total metres but crucially scoring four tries as a result. How well the teams stand up in this battle may be critical to their success in this stage of the tournament. Ospreys are the team whose predicted chances of victory this weekend is most disproportionate to the points they accrued in the group stages. Can they pull off another upset?