It might seem surprising to some but all four Irish provinces still have the opportunity to qualify for the knockout stage of the European Champions Cup. With two rounds still to be played, Leinster is the only team to have qualified for the quarter-finals, while Ulster and Munster are not far off.
Let’s take a closer look at what the permutations look like for the Irish sides:
The current top eight seeds:
1. Leinster - 19 points (Q)
2. Exeter - 19 points
3. Toulouse - 18 points
4. Racing 92 - 17 points
5. Ulster - 17 points
6. Clermont Auvergne - 16 points
7. Munster - 11 points
8. Gloucester - 9 points
Make-up for the quarter-finals will be as follows:
Seed 1 v Seed 8 (Quarter-final 1)
Seed 4 v Seed 5 (QF 2)
Seed 3 v Seed 6 (QF 3)
Seed 2 v Seed 7 (QF 4)
Make-up for the semi-finals:
Semi-final 1: Winner QF1 v winner QF 2
Semi-final 2: Winner QF3 v winner QF4
Leinster are currently unbeaten this season and are the first team to qualify for this years knockout stage. It is unlikely that the reigning champions wont go into the next round as top seeds but any slip up will see Exter possibly pip them to that much want top spot.
12 January 2020 - Leinster vs Lyon
18 January 2020 - Benetton vs Lyon
Although Ulster have wrapped up 17 points and are currently sitting in the top spot in Pool 3 there place isn't exactly guaranteed with Clermont one point behind them. The two face each other on Saturday and this will most likely decide who will automatically get a quarter-final birth.
11 January 2020 - Clermont vs Ulster
18 January 2020 - Ulster vs Bath
Munster have won two, drawn one and lost one of their opening four Champions Cup fixtures, leaving them with plenty of work to do in order to reach the quarter-finals. Winning the group might be out of their hands but if they want to qualify as “best second place” side they will need to get points in the next two weeks
12 January 2020 - Racing 92 vs Munster
19 January 2020 - Munster vs Ospreys
Connacht are the least likely to make it into the quarter-finals, despite landing two of the best results in their history during the pool stages. The Irish side is someway off the playoff places and will need to get maximum points in their next two games if they want a sniff at possibly scrapping in.
12 January 2020 - Connacht vs Toulouse
20 January 2020 - Montpellier vs Connacht