Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Toulouse & Leinster Heineken Cup Favourites At Group Halfway Stage

The halfway point in the Group stage of the Heineken Cup was reached last weekend, with only three teams, Munster in Pool 1, Cardiff Blues in Pool 2 and Toulouse in Pool 6 able to boast 100% records and top their respective Heineken Cup Pool Tables. As a result, all three teams look certain to qualify for the knock out stages but it remains competitive as to which teams will be joining them.

Pool 1

Billed as the ‘Pool of Death’ beforehand, Munster took control after winning their first match 23-21 in an epic encounter against last season’s runners up, Northampton. They followed that win up with narrow away wins against both Castres and Scarlets, which leaves them ‘sitting pretty’ on top. Meanwhile Scarlets having beaten Castres at home and Northampton away, earning themselves two valuable bonus points in the process, lay in second place on ten points. Castres are in third place on six points while Northampton who has yet to win a game are looking down and out on three points, all earned via the bonus points system.

Pool 2

Cardiff Blues have Pool 2 at their mercy having won three from three although they still must travel to both London Irish and will take on Edinburgh again this Friday at Murrayfield having trounced them in Cardiff last weekend by 25-8. With an away win already ‘in the bag’ against Racing Metro, a repeat win against Edinburgh this week should see the ‘Blues’ through. London Irish, currently on seven points, could go second in the Pool this weekend; provided they beat Racing at home and Edinburgh indeed lose to Cardiff.

Pool 3

Defending champions Leinster consolidated their position at the top of the Pool with an away win at Bath last weekend, courtesy of a kicking master class, from fly half, Johnny Sexton. The win comes on top of their home victory over Glasgow and their draw away at Montpellier. With two away wins in the bag, Leinster is virtually assured of qualifying for the knock out stage and are also the bookmakers favourites to win this season's trophy. However which side qualifies with them is very much in the balance, with Glasgow on eight points, Bath on six and Montpellier, who entertain Glasgow this weekend on four.

Pool 4

With Leicester losing their unbeaten tag last weekend away at Clermont this Pool is now a very open affair. Clermont sit top with ten points, Ulster are in second on nine points, while Leicester are now in third on eight points, Aironi, clearly the pool ‘whipping boys’ are just about out of the tournament with no points from three games. Leicester play host to Clermont this weekend, in a game which could effectively seal the Heineken Cup destiny for this season of the ‘Tigers’. Defeat for them on Saturday and a win with bonus points for Ulster over Aironi in Italy on Saturday could well see the two time winners out!

Pool 5

This Pool is a very tight affair, with Saracens currently holding sway on ten points having beaten Ospreys in a titanic struggle at home on Saturday. The two must face off again this Friday with this time Ospreys having home advantage and knowing that a win would lift them above ‘Sarries’. Should that be the case and Biarritz nail Treviso at home then they too could go above Sarries in the Pool. However that might be easier said than done as the Italian team defeated the French outfit last weekend to keep them well and truly in the Pool 5 picture. It is very much all to play for all four teams in this Pool.

Pool 6

Having beaten second place Harlequins at the Stoop last weekend, four times winners Toulouse can make sure of qualification with a repeat success over the Premier League leaders this Sunday, this time on home soil and as co-favourites to win the competition, a place in the enxt stage is expected. Should that be the case then it would allow Gloucester back into the Pool 6 picture, assuming that they repeat their success of last weekend against Connacht. Given that Toulouse look certain to win the Pool, the runner up spot could be decided in a straight showdown between Harlequins and Gloucester who face off against each other next month.

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