Thursday 14 December 2017

Heineken Cup - Pool by pool

David Kelly

David Kelly

Three-time champions Leinster are back in the driving seat as they try to make up for missing out on the quarter-finals for only the second time in the past nine seasons in 2012/13.

Their 19-7 home win over French champions Castres put them three points clear at the top of the table. Now they face back-to-back clashes with the side they beat at the Millennium Stadium in the 2011 Heineken Cup final, Northampton Saints.

The Saints inflicted a second successive defeat on the Ospreys – and their 27-16 triumph included three tries to atone for their first-round defeat in Castres.

What Leinster need v Northampton (Saturday away; December 14 home) – They must emerge with something from this weekend's visit to the midlands and hope to deny the English side a bonus point in defeat in the Lansdowne Road return a week later.

Everybody has won a game in this pool, following Cardiff Blues' amazing upset of reigning champions Toulon at the Arms Park and Glasgow Warriors' home triumph over Exeter Chiefs.

The Chiefs are joint top of the pool with Toulon – the only English side enjoying the privilege – in what is only their second season in the tournament.

The top two teams now meet in the back-to-back matches in December, with Rob Baxter's Chiefs at home first.

The Blues, horrendous against Exeter before trumping Toulon in Wales, now face fellow Pro12 side Glasgow Warriors, kicking off at home.

Saracens picked up a bonus point in defeat to Toulouse at Wembley last time out, but they will need to pile on the points in the home and away games against Zebre if they are to make up ground on the leaders.

Connacht face back-to-back games with Toulouse, starting in France this Sunday. They can still have a massive impact on the pool if they can pick up points in those two games.

What Connacht need v Toulouse (Sunday away, December 14 home) – A miracle, really, with Toulouse banking on the memory of two wins against the Westerners during their debut campaign two seasons ago.

The Scarlets and Racing Metro lead the way after sharing a draw in west Wales, but last season's runners-up Clermont Auvergne are breathing down their necks after extending their unbeaten home run to 65 games against Harlequins.

The 26-26 draw at Parc y Scarlets ensured the Welsh region retained pole position on six points thanks to tries scored. Racing Metro, who almost snatched a last-gasp victory, are two tries adrift of the early pace-setters.

Scarlets coach Simon Easterby now faces a double dose of Top 14 opposition in December with back-to-back games against Clermont. The French side, without the injured Morgan Parra, scored three tries and 20 points in the opening 25 minutes against Harlequins, but only won 23-16 in the end. It was a second defeat in a row for Quins, who travel to France once again in Round 3 to take on Racing.

Ulster are in pole position to advance to a fourth successive quarter-final following their impressive 25-8 victory at Montpellier – the French club's first home loss this season.

The 1999 champions had kicked off their campaign with a hard-fought win over Leicester Tigers and they have now stretched their winning run to five matches and sit two points clear of the English champions. Mark Anscombe's men face Benetton Treviso in back-to-back matches, beginning at Ravenhill on Saturday.

Leicester have never faced Montpellier in the Heineken Cup, but need a win in England this weekend to keep the pressure on Ulster.

What Ulster need v Treviso (Saturday home, December 14 away) – Not to slip up. Two wins, with a bonus point in the home fixture, will keep them on track to earn the home quarter-final which could carve open a path to another final appearance. James Hook has steered Perpignan to the top of the pool with 33 of his side's 53 points in the opening-round defeat at Gloucester and the bonus-point home win over Edinburgh.

That win, along with Munster's Thomond Park triumph over Gloucester, means that everyone has won a match in the pool.

Perpignan's two bonus points have carried them to the top of the table – a point ahead of Munster going into the back-to-back rounds in December.

They travel to Thomond Park on Sunday for what will be the eighth meeting in the tournament between the teams.

What Munster need v Perpignan (Sunday home, December 14 away) – Nothing less than a win this weekend, followed up by at least a point the following week.

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