With two rounds to go, there is all to play for in the Champions Cup when the top teams from seven countries do battle this weekend.
In four of the five pools the front-runners and are in a good position to clinch their quarterfinals berths, although some of them are not yet home and dry.
Brenden Nel reports Munster are not in quite the all or nothing situation that fellow PRO14 Rugby participants Connacht find themselves facing in the penultimate pool round of the Champions Cup, but there is nonetheless a desperate need for Johan van Graan’s Munster to get back to winning ways.
Munster, comprehensively beaten by Ulster in the PRO14 last weekend after again coming second to their all-conquering arch rivals Leinster the week before that, face French club Racing 92 in the last game of the round on Sunday and it is seen by many as the plum game of this phase of fixtures.
The two teams played to a thrilling draw in the first round game at Thomond Park and that has left the Irish team six points behind their French rivals, leaving them vulnerable to the intentions of the chasing Saracens in their group. Saracens are away this weekend but you wouldn’t expect them to have too many problems dealing with Ospreys on Saturday.
Munster are in a very different position to Leinster, who are unbeaten in both competitions and who play the other big Sunday game. They dug deep to beat Lyon 13-6 in France in the first round game but should be expected to keep their unbeaten record intact on their home ground. A win will confirm the inevitable for Leinster, meaning their place in the quarterfinals, for they are currently 10 points clear of Northampton Saints.
Northampton will be playing at the same time as Leinster on Sunday as they host another PRO14 team, Benetton. Again there is something in it for both teams for although the Italian side is currently last in their pool they could jump to second if they win and and other results in this round go their way.
It was admittedly a home game for Benetton, but the memory of what happened in the first round game between these teams does add to the appeal of this meeting, with eight tries being delivered in Italy and the Saints only securing their win through a late Dan Biggar penalty.
Meanwhile Connacht have to win at home against Toulouse if they are to keep alive their hopes of a first qualification in the Champions Cup quarterfinals. The Galway game is not out-ranked in importance by the clash between Glasgow Warriors and Exeter Chiefs that takes place at the same time as Dave Rennie’s Glasgow have won twice and lost twice and are also in desperate need of a win.
Their position, challenged by the Toyota Cheetahs in their pool for the right to play in the play-offs, is no less tense in the PRO14, which breaks for the northern based teams for a couple of weeks.
Weekend Champions Cup fixtures -
Bath vs Harlequins (Friday, 21:45)
La Rochelle vs Sale (Friday, 21:45)
Ospreys vs Saracens (Saturday, 15:00, Live Supersport8)
Clermont Auvergne vs Ulster (Saturday, 15:00)
Connacht vs Toulouse (Saturday, 17:15)
Glasgow Warriors vs Exeter (Saturday, 17:15)
Gloucester vs Montpellier (Saturday, 19:30, Live on Supersport1)
Leinster vs Lyon (Sunday, 15:00, Live on Supersport8)
Northampton vs Benneton (Sunday, 15:00)
Racing 92 vs Munster (Sunday, 17:15, Live on Supersport1)