With quarter-final places still up for grabs, and home advantage still not decided, there is everything to play for.
Montpellier v Northampton (Saturday, January 21, 3.45am HKT)
Despite their humiliation in Dublin last week, when they lost 57-3, Jake White’s Montpellier still have an outside chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals. Admittedly, it would take a miracle – but to have even an outside chance they have to pick up five points at home against Jim Mallinder’s rejuvenated Northampton. Expect the home side’s monstrous pack and almost equally monstrous backs to be on a mission. But pool 4 rivals Leinster and Castres have both highlighted a weakness in Montpellier’s size-is-everything line-up. The question is: can Northampton exploit it?
Clermont v Exeter (Saturday, January 21, 9pm HKT)
Morgan Parra’s tournament-ending brain fart in the closing moments of Clermont’s match against Bordeaux in the final pool phase match of last season’s tournament gifted Exeter an unexpected quarter-final berth. This time around, a small part of the Premiership club’s future is in their hands. It’s the part in which they have to pick up a bonus-point win at Stade Marcel Michelin. Easy. Apart, obviously, from the slightly inconvenient truth that almost no visiting team wins at Stade Marcel Michelin. The rest of Exeter’s hopes – in which fans have to pray that other results go their way – rests in the hands of the rugby gods.
Saracens v Toulon (Saturday, January 21, 11.15pm HKT)
Vengeance and qualification, it’s an intoxicating Champions Cup mix. When the pools were unveiled, these two sides were widely expected to qualify from pool 3 – and both still could, but Toulon really need to bonus-point win at the Allianz Arena, a place where bonus-point wins for visiting sides are as rare as rocking horse droppings. Still, if there’s a side that could finally end the defending champions’ unbeaten run, which stretches back to the 2015 semi-final, it’s the one from Stade Mayol in blue-collar Toulon. To add a little extra spice – back in October, Saracens were the team that ended the Var side’s long-standing unbeaten Champions Cup home record …
Toulouse v Connacht (Sunday, January 22, 11.15pm HKT)
Talk about an all-to-play-for game. Connacht head to Stade Ernest Wallon knowing they are one big performance away from a place in the quarter-finals. This game is one for the mathematicians, as both sides are chasing a last-eight berth. A win, draw or even close defeat would be enough for Pat Lam’s Irish side, after their demolition of Zebre last week and Wasps late, late win over the French side. If Toulouse win, expect a mad scramble for the calculators, as points difference between the two sides will come into play – and currently Connacht are 4-1 up courtesy of their 23-21 win in Galway back in October. If that does not separate the sides, tries scored in the two meetings is taken into account.
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