Ahead of the final weekend of the pool stages in the Champions Cup, here is what is at stake for the Irish provinces.
Munster and Leinster sealed their passages to the knockout stages last weekend, while Ulster’s defeat to Exeter all but confirmed their elimination.
Connacht’s expected facile win over Zebre came to pass and, as it stands, they hold their fate in their own hands notwithstanding a daunting task this weekend. In essence, three Irish sides in the last eight of Europe’s premier competition is a possibility.
Home advantage is what all sides crave, and the decision by the EPCR this season to put paid to the random semi-final draw – the home semi-final draw will be based on “performances by clubs during the pool stages as well as the achievement of a winning a quarter-final match away from home” – makes the final round even more intriguing.
Here is what the Irish provinces require this weekend.
Currently the top ranked side in the competition, they travel to Castres on Friday night (7.45pm) in the knowledge that a win will guarantee home advantage, while a win bonus point will ensure a first or second ranking (Clermont also have 21 points and host the Exeter Chiefs).
Leinster are the only side currently in the top four who play away this weekend.
Rassie Erasmus’ side, buoyed by their impressive win away to Glasgow, welcome a Racing 92 side to Thomond Park who have long since checked out of the competition.
A win should be well within their capabilities and would guarantee a home quarter-final, while a bonus point win would improve their chances of a top-two seeding for the semi-finals.
The Pool 2 leaders complete their campaign away to Toulouse, with fans hoping for a repeat of their historic win in 2013 at the Stade Ernest Wallon.
Toulouse are still in the mix themselves, but a win or a draw for Pat Lam’s side will confirm their passage past the pool stages for the first time.
The Pro12 champions can lose and still qualify.
They will progress if they deny Toulouse a try bonus and claim a losing bonus point, an also if they claim both a losing bonus point and a try bonus.
Les Kiss’ side can mathematically make the quarter-finals, but it is an almost impossible task.
A win bonus point against Bordeaux would take them to 14 points, where Glasgow currently occupy the final spot.
They would need all teams in the current eight to lose and not claim a losing bonus point to stand any chance, a most unlikely scenario.
With the change to the semi-final draw, the quarter-final rankings will now determine which half the semi-finalists will be in.
If for example Leinster and Munster were to achieve a ranking of first and second or third, they will be in opposite halves of the semi-final draw, and therefore could not meet before the final.