European rugby: How do you qualify in the Champions and Challenge Cup?
This weekend sees the final group stage matches in the European Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup.
With a number of sides still able to make it into the respective rounds of 16 due to the new competition format, there’s a lot on the line.
So with fixtures kicking off this evening, what are the permutations for the coming three days of rugby action?
In European Pool A, five teams have already qualified: Leinster, Cell C Sharks, Saracens, Exeter and Edinburgh.
Of those five, Leinster are the only ones who have confirmed themselves a home tie in the next round – the other four can be caught by the Bulls and Harlequins.
If Leinster manage to finish top of Pool A, it is likely that they will be at home for every game until the final – which itself is being held a few streets away from the RDS in Dublin.
Gloucester and Lyon, currently in 9th and 10th and set to drop down to the Challenge Cup, can climb their way into qualifying for the next round while Bordeaux and Castres can catch the two former clubs and take their places in the second tier competition.
In Pool B, Toulouse, La Rochelle and Leicester Tigers have qualified for the next round but no one has yet secured a home tie.
Based on the current standings, bottom-placed Northampton and London Irish in 11th can climb into the Challenge Cup spots but they’re unable to ascend any hire because Sale and Ulster play one another and so the winner will take the final spot – Sale will take it if they draw.
European Challenge Cup
Pool A in the Challenge Cup is pretty simple, really. Cardiff, Toulon, Connacht, Glasgow and Bristol have all guaranteed their qualification for the next round.
The top two have 15 points, the next two have 14 and Bristol have nine after being deducted five points for breaking tournament rules – the top four after this weekend will be at home in the next round.
Beyond that there are five teams without a win and therefore in with a shot of the final qualification place.
There is a situation where a side doesn’t win a match in the entirety of the group stage and still makes it through – which is madness.
Pool B only has eight sides in it so just two will miss out from progressing through to the next round.
Scarlets and Benetton are through and the welsh side are guaranteed a home tie.
The Lions, Stade Francais, Dragons, Pau and Cheetahs are all in the fight for the other four places – four points separate third from seventh.
It was also announced this week that any South African side who earns a home semi-final will need to play it in Europe unless the other semi-finalist is also from the African continent.
It marks yet another weird turn for a competition that’s seemingly as muddled as it has ever been.