European Rugby cup pool ending tighter than ever

The European Rugby Champions and Challenge Cup final rounds are all set for an exciting finish as Europe’s elite clubs ready themselves for either ecstasy or agony.

With as many as 12 quarter-final places up for grabs across both tournaments, the new formats which see five pool winners and three best runners-up reaching the knockout stages have thrown up a tension-packed a series of games.

With only RC Toulon already through to the last eight, the last throw of the Champions Cup qualification dice begins on Saturday when a crowd of 25,000 is expected at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena for the Pool 2 top-of-the-table clash between Wasps and Leinster Rugby.

In Pool 3, Leicester Tigers will be looking for a big win over Ulster Rugby at Kingspan Stadium to keep their hopes alive of securing a best runners-up spot, while Northampton Saints and Racing Metro 92 are engaged in a Pool 5 showdown at a sold-out Franklin’s Gardens also on Saturday.

On Sunday, the permutations in Pool 4 are seemingly endless with leaders Toulouse travelling to Montpellier and second-placed Bath Rugby hosting Glasgow Warriors at The Rec which also has the ‘Sold out’ sign up.

Finally, all the qualifiers and their rankings, as well as the clubs who have banked a precious home quarter-final, will be revealed when old rivals, ASM Clermont Auvergne and Saracens, go toe-to-toe in Pool 1 at a packed Stade Marcel-Michelin.

Then in order to facilitate advance planning by the clubs who qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup, and to map out the route to the London 2015 finals, the semi-final draws for both tournaments will be made directly after the Clermont v Saracens game.

The Champions Cup draw will take place at Stade Marcel-Michelin at approximately 17.15 (UK and Irish time) and will be followed by the draw for the Challenge Cup semi-finals. Both draws will be broadcast live on BT Sport, Sky Sports and France Televisions, and will also be available on epcrugby.com

Also following the conclusion of the pool stages, a longlist for the prestigious EPCR European Player of the Year 2015 award will be announced. Selected by a panel of rugby experts, the longlist for one of the most prized individual accolades in the world game, which was won last season by RC Toulon’s Steffon Armitage, will consist of 15 players who have performed outstandingly during the 2014/15 tournaments to date.

The panel of judges will then have the option to consider additional players who make major contributions during the knockout stages of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup before announcing a five-man shortlist following the semi-finals with the overall winner named directly after EPCR’s finals in London in May.

The European action, which includes the second round of pool games in the Qualifying Competition for the 2015/16 Challenge Cup, gets underway this evening with Gloucester Rugby aiming to secure the No 1 ranking going into the Challenge Cup quarter-finals when they take on Brive in Pool 5 at Stade Amedee Domenech.

Meanwhile, the first of a whole host of Champions Cup Round 6 showdowns kicks off on Saturday with that much-anticipated meeting of Wasps and Leinster.

Current standings

Pool 1

Clermont 5 4 0 1 122 74 2 18
Saracens 5 4 0 1 113 77 1 17
Munster 5 2 0 3 79 104 2 10
Sale 5 0 0 5 72 131 2 2

Pool 2

Leinster 5 4 0 1 128 81 2 18
Wasps 5 3 0 2 135 85 4 16
Harlequins 5 3 0 2 88 80 1 13
Castres 5 0 0 5 67 172 1 1

Pool 3

Toulon 5 4 0 1 155 86 2 18 — qualified
Leicester 5 3 0 2 101 100 1 13
Scarlets 5 2 0 3 87 108 0 8
Ulster 5 1 0 4 90 139 3 7

Pool 4

Toulouse 5 4 0 1 100 97 0 16
Bath 5 3 0 2 126 93 3 15
Glasgow 5 3 0 2 93 64 2 14
Montpellier 5 0 0 5 63 128 2 2

Pool 5

Racing Metro 5 4 1 0 136 61 1 19
Northampton 5 4 0 1 170 50 3 19
Ospreys 5 1 1 3 90 98 2 8
Treviso 5 0 0 5 39 226 0 0

Note: Five group winners and best three second-placed teams qualify for the quarter-finals

Saturday

Pool 2 (1300GMT)
Wasps (ENG) v Leinster (IRL)
Castres (FRA) v Harlequins (ENG)

Pool 3 (1730)
Scarlets (WAL) v Toulon (FRA)
Ulster (IRL) v Leicester (ENG)

Pool 5 (1515)
Northampton (ENG) v Racing-Metro (FRA)
Treviso (ITA) v Ospreys (WAL)

Sunday

Pool 1 (1515)
Munster (IRL) v Sale (ENG)
Clermont (FRA) v Saracens (ENG)

Pool 4 (1300)
Bath (ENG) v Glasgow (SCO)
Montpellier (FRA) v Toulouse (FRA)

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