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Provinces sow seeds of glory

SO where are we now? Or rather, to be more accurate, where are they now? The holders Leinster, the contenders Munster, the pretenders Ulster and the rest of the great and good of European rugby.

Amazingly, the three Irish provinces |occupy seeds one, two and three; two-thirds of the way through the Pool stage.

With Toulouse falling to their own |arrogance as much as Harlequins’ ingenuity |on Sunday, the shape of the quarter-finals takes on a whole new dimension.

The revered All Black captain Shaun Fitzpatrick has changed his tune from last week when he announced Leinster and Toulouse as the ones to watch.

The demise of the French champions |on their own churned-up turf at Stade Ernest-Wallon and the Leinster blitz of Bath edged Fitzpatrick towards the reigning champions.

“They are the standout team in the |Heineken Cup this year, fully dominant, physical, players in every position just doing their jobs,” he said. “They’re doing the simple things well and they’ve got rugby brains.

“Losing someone like (Brian) O’Driscoll is a huge blow. But, we saw, there are enough players there in what they have.

“They have real depth off the bench to win this competition.”

If the clock stopped and the world stood still right now, who would qualify for a Heineken Cup home quarter-final? Who would make an away date? Who would miss out?

Well, the basic rules reveal that the six Pool winners and two best runners-up will qualify for the quarter-finals.

If any of the winners from the different pools are level on points, the seedings will be decided by the following measurements:

(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.

Therefore, at the moment, Leinster and Munster are the only two clubs on 16 points, with Leinster seeded one because of their superior try total – 13 against seven – between the two clubs.

Next, Ulster, in Pool Four, and Saracens, in Pool Five, are tied together on 14 points. But, Ulster have scored 12 tries, while Saracens are on 10.

Admittedly, Ulster’s |has been schewed by the presence of Italian club Aironi in Pool Four. But, as they say, that is the luck of the draw.

Surprise package Edinburgh lead Cardiff Blues on tries scored – 10 against five – in Pool Two, and they also head Pool Six leaders Toulouse in tries scored – 10 against nine – to be seeded fifth, giving Michael Bradley’s and Guy Noves’ clubs away quarter-finals.

The mad scramble for the two best runners-up slots is headed by Cardiff Blues in Pool Two. The final piece of the quarter-final jigsaw would be completed by Biarritz from Pool Five who have scored more tries (12) than Leicester Tigers (8) in Pool Four and Harlequins (8) in Pool Six.

The simple, clear quarter-final structure pits 1 v 8; 2 v 7; 3 v 6; 4 v 5. This would mean home quarter-finals for Leinster against Biarritz Olympique, Munster against Cardiff Blues and Ulster against Toulouse.

There are still two rounds of the Pools to go. Anything can and will happen. It is the dramatic nature of the European Cup. But, three Irish clubs with home quarter-finals? Oh to dream.