Tyrone Howe: Plenty to fight for in closing rounds
Published 10/01/2013 | 06:59
If you are still alive in Round Five of the Heineken Cup it must slightly feel like the last few rounds of a heavyweight boxing match.
You have gone toe to toe for the majority of the contest and you desperately want to be there at the end.
You either want to clinch qualification or at least have a chance in Round Six — you do not want to be knocked out this weekend.
In every pool there is a chance that teams could secure qualification for the knockout stages one week early.
In Pool One should Munster lose, Saracens have a chance of qualification if they beat Racing in Paris. Having just beaten Toulon, Racing may be a tough nut to crack, while Munster will fancy their chances in Scotland. In reality, this should go down to the last round.
Leicester would qualify as Pool Two winners if Toulouse were not to pick up either a win or a bonus point against Treviso. One suspects the final round shootout at Welford Road will have an awful lot at stake.
At the Stoop in Pool Three Connacht’s task will be mighty as Harlequins simply need to win, draw or lose with a bonus point to top Pool Four.
Meanwhile, Ulster fans will be hoping for a home win not only at Ravenhill but also at Franklin’s Gardens. Should the Saints beat Castres and not allow bonus points, Ulster would know, on the basis of better match points against the Saints, that they would top Pool Four. A home quarter-final would be the next goal.
After their demolition of Leinster, Clermont were the European team of the last round and a win or draw against Exeter would see them further establish their credentials as real contenders by winning Pool Five. The match is at Stade Marcel Michelin where the home side just doesn’t lose. Sounds like a done deal.
Finally, if Toulon win or draw and Montpellier lose, another French team would make it through.
By Sunday evening we should know four of the eight quarter-finalists.