Leinster’s strength in depth should be enough to see off Castres and secure a home quarter-final, according to Tony Ward.
The Blues play in France this evening (live coverage on 2fm’s extended Game On, KO 7.45pm) knowing that a win would be enough to earn an Aviva Stadium date in late March or early April.
The Top 14 side won’t progress in Europe and that lack of incentive can only help the visitors, says the former Ireland out-half.
“There’s a strength in depth and a quality of rugby they’re playing that’s undeniable, and they’ve really been fantastic to watch,” Ward told RTÉ Sport.
“For some reason, the French teams just blow hot and cold, you don’t know how they’re going to turn up on the day but one thing they do need is an incentive to be involved and I just don’t see that with Castres at the moment.
“Leinster are in a really good place. When you look at the changes they are making tonight, the quality that they are bringing into the front row and how they are able to mix it around – Cian Healy and Richardt Strauss.
“Obviously, Jack Conan retaining his place, with Seán O'Brien still injured, and deservedly so. Even in the second row, with young Ross Molony coming in – they are strong everywhere at the moment. I think the incentive is great and I think they’ll do it.”
“You saw last week just how good they were against Montpellier, they were absolutely outstanding and Jack had a magnificent game in every respect.
“Seán O’Brien is a world class player and that’s the quality that Leinster have at this point in time but Conan is some replacement for O’Brien."
Ward also predicts that Munster will also come out of their clash against Racing 92 (Saturday 5.30pm) with the win needed to secure a home berth but has called for the French side to “show respect” having surrendered against Munster in the Paris match two weeks ago.
Connacht, on the other hand, appear to have the hardest task with a visit to Toulouse awaiting them. Pat Lam's side know a win or bonus-point win would put them firmly in the mix for qualification.
“There are so many permutations involved and it’s without doubt the most difficult game and it’s really frustrating,” said Ward about Sunday's 3.15pm kick-off (live on RTÉ Radio 1).
“Connacht are leading the pool but Wasps are playing Zebre – they’re going to pick up five [points] there, guaranteed so they’ll most likely finish top of the pool.
“[Connacht] need that point to get through, I’d love to see it happen. They have key players coming back this week, guys like Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane in the second row could possibly be there.
“Jake Heenan and Eoghan Masterson will be available for the back row. And Jack Carty, crucially at out-half, even though John Cooney did particularly well last week.
“So they will have the players is situ. I just think the incentive for Toulouse is massive.
“You know where the heart is, the head says there’s too big an incentive for Toulouse and I think they’ll do it.”
Meanwhile, Ulster must play out a dead rubber against Bordeaux in Pool 5 on Saturday afternoon (KO 1pm).
“They’ve got to restore confidence. I think they will beat Bordeaux...they need it for morale going forward,” added Ward.