Heineken Champions Cup 2018/19 Pool Stages: As things stand
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 09/01/19 11:25am
The next two weeks in Europe will separate the best from the rest as the final two rounds of Heineken Champions Cup pool fixtures take place.
Come Sunday January 20 we will know 2019's eight European Cup quarter-finalists, but there's a mountain of rugby and potential scenarios which could play out across the five pools before then.
Were things to end right now before another ball is kicked, the top eight would read: Racing 92, Saracens, Toulouse, Edinburgh, Munster, Leinster, Glasgow Warriors and Ulster - with Montpellier and Castres in hot pursuit. But you can almost be certain it will not end this way.
Here's how things stand in each pool ahead of another pivotal round of matches this weekend...
The opening pool of this season's Champions Cup was composed entirely of former winners, but has turned into an out-and-out two horse race.
Champions Cup Pool 1 2018/19
Indeed, both Bath and Wasps are already mathematically eliminated with two rounds to spare - the only such pool where this has happened yet.
As such, defending champions Leinster and four-time winners Toulouse will battle for top spot and face each other this Saturday at the RDS in a massive clash - a game which talisman Johnny Sexton looks likely to miss through injury.
Toulouse have played some of the best attacking rugby in the competition so far and if they can win in Dublin this weekend, will be assured of top spot and a likely home quarter-final.
Leinster, who lost away in Toulouse back in October, will likely have to beat the Top 14 outfit at home and win away at Wasps to clinch the pool. This weekend's game couldn't have much more riding on it...
Pool 2 is the most open pool left in the competition this season, with all four teams still within range of qualification.
Champions Cup Pool 2 2018/19
Much of the reason for this rests on the fact that Munster failed to win in Castres during their most recent European clash in December - a result which would have seen the Irish province take a firm hold of the group had they won.
Gloucester and Exeter Chiefs beat each other away from home during their December back-to-backs and as such, neither of them are out either.
Munster next face Gloucester away on Friday, a game both dare not lose - Gloucester if they want to progress; Munster if they still harbour hopes of a home quarter-final.
Exeter host Castres on Sunday before travelling to Thomond Park on the final weekend in what could prove a pool decider. If Castres can nick a win at Exeter, they'll fancy their chances of beating Gloucester at home to potentially top the pool too.
This pool is anyone's call!
If Pool 2 is the most open pool left, then Pool 3 would appear at this stage to be the most clear cut.
Champions Cup Pool 3 2018/19
Two-time winners Saracens lead the pool after four wins from four and next face Lyon in France - who are winless and already out.
Glasgow will have to beat the Cardiff Blues at home this weekend to stay within touch of Saracens, before potentially creating a winner-takes-all clash at Allianz Park on the final weekend to top the pool.
Either way, if Saracens and Glasgow can both win this weekend it would appear likely they will both progress in one form or another such is the points total they have both built so far.
Pool 4 appears at the moment to be another two horse race, with last season's semi-finalists Scarlets already eliminated and Leicester required to win in Llanelli this weekend to keep faint hopes alive.
Champions Cup Pool 4 2018/19
Racing 92 are in control of this group with a five point cushion at the top, and if they can head to Belfast and beat Ulster this Saturday they will be assured of top spot and almost certainly a home quarter-final too.
Ulster host Racing before travelling to play Leicester at Welford Road in the final round of pool fixtures in what will be a crucial clash regardless of how this weekend pans out for the Irish province - they could yet squeeze into the last eight alongside Racing.
The final pool of this season's campaign is the only other group - like Pool 2 - where all four teams remain in play in some form.
Champions Cup Pool 5 2018/19
Edinburgh top it currently but must travel to Toulon this Saturday, before hosting Montpellier in a vital match next weekend - indeed that is shaping up to be a potential qualification decider.
Montpellier host Newcastle this weekend before that trip to Murrayfield, with the Falcons still very much in the fold if they can pick up an unlikely win in France.
Toulon appear all but out but will still have a say, particularly this weekend when they host Richard Cockerill's Edinburgh. Expect this pool to be far clearer after this weekend's fixtures.