A bit like the third day of a major golf championship, Round 4 is ‘moving day’ in the Champions Cup and will separate the men from the boys.
They may have lost away in France in Round 2 but Leinster are still the champions and remain the team to beat but Saracens’ run of 21 games unbeaten in all competitions will have people starting to back them instead and Racing are the other main contender, having won all of their games and been finalists in two of the last three seasons.
Toulouse have been a bit of a surprise package as not many people would have picked them to win all three of their opening games but Leinster are still well-placed to win that pool. With two home games left against Wasps and Bath, though, you can ink Toulouse in as a best runner-up already.
I think Racing, Saracens and Munster will be the teams to join Leinster as home quarter-finalists because everyone is beating each other in Pool 5, so it’s hard to see the winner of that one getting enough points to avoid being on the road.
Montpellier are still the team to beat in that pool for me, though, despite Edinburgh and Newcastle looking like they’re sitting pretty at the moment. I can see them beating Toulon and Falcons at home and then travelling to Scotland knowing that a win will see them through.
Montpellier against Toulon is one of the games of the round this weekend because whoever loses that one is out. The last time Toulon didn’t have European rugby beyond January was a decade ago back in 2009 but they’ve been woeful at times and are looking to a avoid a 10th defeat of the season already and this is just the 15th match.
Exeter and Scarlets have been the two major disappointments of the tournament so far, with the Welshmen failing to build on their semi-final appearance last time around.
The Chiefs will still have a major say in who comes out on top in Pool 2 but they need a miracle bigger than the one they pulled off a couple of years ago to win the group from here.
It’s going to be tight in the race for the three best runners-up spots but Gloucester have given themselves a hell of a chance with their victory at Sandy Park last week. I still feel like Munster might be the only team to progress from that pool though.
Glasgow have been really impressive so far and their ability to pick up bonus points as well as wins means I think they’ll make it through but there’s no stopping Saracens in Pool 3. They’ve learned their lesson from not finishing top of their group last season, which meant they had to travel to Leinster in the quarter-finals, and aren’t going to let that happen again.
Ulster’s win at Parc y Scarlets was the big result of Round 3 and that’s given them a good chance of finishing second in Pool 4. Leicester will still feel they can grab a best runner-up berth if they win all of their remaining games but their form hasn’t been good enough and the men from Belfast look more likely.
Lyon and Scarlets are the only two teams to have lost all three of their opening games and the first half of the pool stages has shown that the tournament is even more competitive than last season and anyone can beat anyone else on their day.
The likes of Toulon, Cardiff Blues, Castres and Leicester, if they don’t produce a big performance at Welford Road, are set to join the list of teams to have fallen by the wayside this weekend as the men are separated from the boys.
The cream is rising to the top, though, with ‘moving day’ set to see the big names edge closer to securing a home quarter-final and it’ll be a major shock if the winner doesn’t come from the elite trio of Leinster, Racing and Saracens.
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