The final round of pool matches will not only settle which eight teams will qualify for quarter-final action in April, but also determine which three sides join the five Amlin Challenge Cup pool winners in the last-eight of that competition.
As usual, the six Heineken Cup pool winners and the best two runners-up will make up the last eight for the Heineken Cup. But, for the first time, the next three best runners-up will join the race for the Amlin Challenge Cup crown.
?With the carrot of more European competition dangling before them, and the possibility of potentially winning a coveted European title, there is bound to be an added edge to the final 24 Pool fixtures.
"We are used at this time of year to doing the maths to find out who might qualify for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, but now the calculations will run even deeper with three more teams in the running to reach the last eight of the Amlin Challenge Cup," said ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath.
"Whoever comes out on top in the Amlin Challenge Cup Pools will have home advantage over their Heineken Cup rivals and the quality of those games promises to be of the very highest standard."
There is still a big battle going on in the Amlin Challenge Cup for the teams to top the Pools. With Connacht and Wasps already assured of qualification, it's Leeds Carnegie v Bourgoin in Pool 1, Toulon v Saracens and Newcastle Falcons v Montauban in Pool 5.
HOW THEY QUALIFY FOR THE HEINEKEN CUP QUARTER-FINALS
The Pool winner will be the Club with the highest number of match points earned in each Pool. The runners-up will be the two second placed Clubs from all six Pools with the next highest number of points. For the quarter-final round, the Pool winners will be ranked 1 - 6 in terms of the number of points earned. The runners-up will be ranked 7 and 8.
CLUBS IN THE SAME POOL
(ii) if two or more Clubs are equal on points and the Clubs are in the same Pool, then qualification / ranking will be based on the matches played between the Clubs concerned.
(a) the Club which has earned the most number of match points from the matches
(b) the Club which has scored the most tries in the matches
(c) the Club with the best aggregate points difference from the matches
NB: Therefore if Blues and Sale both end on the same number of points at the end of the group phase, the Blues will be placed above Sale courtesy of the 36-19 win at Cardiff City Stadium last weekend:
CLUBS FROM DIFFERENT POOLS
(iii) if still unresolved, or the teams have not played each other previously in the Pool stage, qualification / ranking will be based on:
(a) the number of tries scored in all Pool matches
(b) aggregate points difference from all Pool matches
(c) the Club with the fewest number of players sent off and / or suspended in all Pool matches
(d) toss of a coin
NB: Therefore if Blues and another team from a different group, such as Northampton, end on the same number of points at the end of the group phase, the Blues will be placed below the Saints, unless they can match Northampton's try count, which currently stands eight tries higher than the Blues.
Teams ranked 1-4 will have home advantage. The quarter-finals will be, if they ended today:
Team 1 (Munster) v Team 8 (Ospreys)
Team 2 (Leinster) v Team 7 (Northampton)
Team 3 (Toulouse) v Team 6 (Stade Francais)
Team 4 (Biarritz) v Team 5 (Leicester Tigers)
THE AMLIN CHALLENGE CUP QUARTER-FINAL DRAW
The top four Amlin Challenge Cup Pool winners will have home advantage with the
quarter-finalists ranked accordingly:
1 ACC 1 (Top ranked ACC Pool winner)
2 ACC 2 (Second ranked ACC Pool winner)
3 ACC 3 (Third ranked ACC Pool winner)
4 ACC 4 (Fourth ranked ACC Pool winner)
5 Heineken Cup 1
6 Heineken Cup 2
7 Heineken Cup 3
8 ACC 5 (Fifth ranked ACC Pool winner)
The quarter-final pairings will be:
1 (ACC 1) v 8 (ACC 5)
2 (ACC 2) v 7 (Heineken Cup 3)
3 (ACC 3) v 6 (Heineken Cup 2)
4 (ACC 4) v 5 (Heineken Cup 1)
… AND THIS IS HOW IT WOULD LOOK TODAY
As things stand in the Pools in both tournaments at present, the draw for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter finals would be as follows:
Amlin Challenge Cup Rankings - 1. London Wasps 22 pts, 2. Connacht Rugby 21 pts, 3. Leeds Carnegie 19 pts (19 tries), 4. Newcastle Falcons 19 pts (14 tries), 5. Toulon 18 pts
Heineken Cup Pool Rankings - 9. Scarlets 15 pts (HC 1), 10. Sale Sharks 13 pts (HC 2), 11. Ulster 13 pts (HC 3)
DEMONSTRATION Amlin Challenge Cup Draw (after 4 rounds only)
London Wasps v Toulon
Connacht v Ulster
Leeds Carnegie v Cardiff Blues
Newcastle Falcons v Scarlets
For the chance of any progress into the Quarter Finals of either competition, Cardiff Blues must first and foremost win their game at the Stoop on Sunday, then they must match or better the possible victory for Sale against Toulouse at Edgeley Park. Beyond that the permutations are almost endless, with try count and other factors coming into play.
What's certain is with London Irish facing Leinster, the Dragons entertaining Gloucester, Scarlets travelling to 8/Brive, Northampton visiting Munster, Ulster against Bath at the Rec, and a three-way tussle between Ospreys, Clermont /and Leicester, every group still has a bearing on the potential Quarter Final line-ups.
Let the shakedown begin.