Which Guinness PRO12 clubs will make it through in Europe?

Guinness PRO12 Rugby Editor

11 Jan 2017

Guinness PRO12, RDS, Dublin 6/1/2017
Leinster vs Zebre
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip celebrates his try with Sean O'Brien 
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The Guinness PRO12 clubs return to European action for the next fortnight and they will be desperate to make up for last season’s disappointment.

The final two rounds of action will decide which clubs make the knockout stages and which ones will miss out altogether.

And here we take a look at the runners and riders across the European Champions and Challenge Cups to see which sides are best placed to progress.

CHAMPIONS CUP

SURE THINGS

No Guinness PRO12 teams made the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions Cup but that is all set to change this time around.

Two-time champions Munster virtually rubber-stamped their path into the quarter-finals with a bonus-point victory over Racing 92 last weekend.

In their re-arranged fixture against the French champions they ran riot to take charge atop Pool 1 with 16 points.

European Rugby Champions Cup Round 1, Stade Yves-du-Manoir, Paris, France 7/1/2017 Racing 92 vs Munster MunsterÕs Donnacha Ryan during the minutes silence Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

They head to Glasgow Warriors this weekend before finishing off their campaign at home to their conquered French opponents and a victory in either game would confirm their passage.

Victory in both would confirm a home quarter-final in Limerick for the side who, in the season that they lost their talisman Anthony Foley, are looking to repeat the famous No.8’s title triumph in 2006.

Munster’s chief rivals Leinster, second and third in the Guinness PRO12, are also well-placed to progress and look likely to top their Pool.

They welcome Montpellier to the RDS and victory would all but guarantee a quarter-final back on home turf, ahead of a trip to Castres in the final round.

Three-times kings of Europe, Leinster look back to their best and with Jonathan Sexton now fit and firing they are going to take some stopping.

VERDICT: Both Munster and Leinster to top their Pools and confirm home quarter-finals

IN WITH A SHOUT

While those two Irish champions are sure to progress, there is still hope for Glasgow Warriors.

They welcome Munster to Scotstoun this weekend in what is a very tight Pool 1.

Leicester Tigers lurk in the background and Gregor Townsend’s men would need to win at Welford Road in a fortnight’s time should the worst occur at Scotstoun this weekend.

Victory in one of the two games would be enough for a runners-up spot and the Scottish side, who have never before made the last eight, will be desperate to make history.

Meanwhile Connacht are in an equally tight pool with Wasps and Toulouse, all three sides are currently tied on 13 points.

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Anything less than the full five points would be a disaster this weekend when Pat Lam’s side take on Zebre and then if they can go to South West France next weekend and get a losing bonus point they should be into the last eight.

It is calculators at the ready in that Pool but after their fairytale title last season in the Guinness PRO12, you write off the men from Galway at your peril.

VERDICT: Both Glasgow Warriors and Connacht to progress, albeit as best runners-up in tight Pools

LONG SHOTS

Scarlets go into the last fortnight of games knowing they must take ten points from ten to have a chance of progression.

They welcome defending champions Saracens – on the verge of a record-breaking run of European wins – this weekend to Parc y Scarlet so their task is a tough one.

But their win over Toulon before Christmas will give them some confidence that they can upset the odds against Sarries.

Meanwhile Ulster face a similar equation but their task is made harder by the fact that they head to in-form Exeter Chiefs this weekend.

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

The Ulstermen did beat them in the reverse fixture at the Kingspan but the Chiefs have been in inspired form since then.

Fail to take all five points and their chances of success are all but over before they even welcome Bordeaux to their ground on the final weekend.

VERDICT: Ulster could cause an upset in Devon but both they and Scarlets look likely to miss out

CHALLENGE CUP

SURE THINGS

Ospreys are a perfect four from four in Europe this season and are averaging eight tries a game with Keelan Giles on seven and counting.

They will confirm a home quarter-final with victory in either of their final two games at home to Lyon or away to Newcastle Falcons.

©INPHO/Simon King

©INPHO/Simon King

Meanwhile Edinburgh face a tough trip to Harlequins in a clash that will decide who tops Pool 5.

But even if they lose, a bonus-point win over bottom side Timisoara Saracens in the final round would confirm their passage as one of the best runners-up.

VERDICT – Ospreys to top their Pool while Edinburgh go through as best runners-up

IN WITH A SHOUT

Cardiff Blues’ impressive win over Bath at the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park before Christmas has given them a shot of making the knockout rounds.

The 2009/10 champions would be all but through with victory in Pau this weekend before welcoming Bristol to the Welsh capital in the final round.

Victory in either game should confirm their passage however.

VERDICT: The Blues will make the quarter-finals, but as runners-up as Bath will top the pile

LONG SHOTS

Last year’s semi-finalists in this competition, Newport Gwent Dragons are up against it this year to make the last eight.

They must take all ten points from their last two games, starting against Enisei STM in round five but a lot tougher against Pool toppers Brive on the last weekend.

The same applies to Benetton Treviso who must beat Gloucester and La Rochelle to stand a chance.

They lost both the reverse fixtures against those two teams but after back-to-back wins over Bayonne will be filled with confidence.

VERDICT: The Dragons could cause a stir but look set to agonisingly miss out while Benetton Treviso would need two major scalps to progress

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final