This weekend sees the much-anticipated return of the Heineken Champions Cup, with 15 of the 20 teams that had such high hopes in October heading into round 5 still in the mix, although some hopes are more realistic than others. The final rounds have been set up nicely by the pre-Christmas double headers, where so many campaigns can be made or lost in just seven days. But all of the good work in December will count for naught if the foundations are not built upon in January.

Weeks five and six of the pool stages are where the Quarter-final line up takes shape as contenders consolidate their advantages or fall away from the pack. As each team faces their final 2 pool games – we take a look at the picture in each pool and preview this crucial weekend:
The round five fixtures will go a long way in shaping the look of this year’s knockout rounds.
Pool 1
Still in the hunt: Toulouse (17 points) & Leinster (15)
Both Leinster and Toulouse certain of a top two finish and are both likely to attain a quarter-final berth but their clash in Dublin will go a long way to deciding who gets the all-important home quarter-final. The Frenchmen will know that a repeat of their surprise victory from round 2 will seal the deal with a week to spare. However, knocking over the Irish giants at the RDS is a completely different prospect!
Pool 2
Still in the hunt: Munster (12 points), Casters (9), Exeter (8) & Gloucester (8)
Pool 2 is without a doubt the toughest to call, it is highly likely, that this pool will only produce one quarter-finalist and all four teams still have a realistic chance, which may still be the case on Sunday evening. In theory, it’s in Munster’s hands with an away trip to Gloucester on Friday night before hosting Exeter in the final game. That match in Thomond has the potential to be an epic pool topping decider. Nobody gave Exeter a chance after round 3, but a good showing at home to Castres this weekend will leave them within touching distance of an unlikely knockout spot. Saying that, Gloucester are still hanging on and a win against Muster will muddy the waters even further. Castres rarely find themselves in European contention at this stage of the season, but they too will fancy their chances.
Pool 3
Still in the hunt: Saracens (18 points) & Glasgow (14)
As with Pool one, the top 2 has already been finalised and with both Glasgow and Sarries expected to win this weekend, their round 6 clash at the Allianz is likely to decide the group winners by which point Saracens may already have secured qualification.
Pool 4
Still in the hunt: Racing 92 (19 points), Ulster (14) & Leicester (6)
One of the ties of the round has to be Ulster v Racing on Saturday, a win for the Frenchmen will secure them a much-expected home quarter-final. But Ulster will know that they have an opportunity to close the gap and give their own knockout hopes a boost. Historically, not many French teams leave Ravenhill with the W, so this promises to be a corker. Leicester head to West Wales needing a series of minor miracles to even remain as an outsider, in reality their hopes are all but mathematical and they will undoubtedly be concentring on their domestic campaign.
Pool 5
Still in the hunt: Edinburgh (15 points), Montpellier (11), Newcastle (8) & Toulon (6)
Surprise package Edinburgh top this pool ahead of Montpellier and as its shaping up their clash in Murrayfield in round 6 may end up being a winner-takes-all tie. Montpellier have targeted this competition for a long time and will expect to take the points against Newcastle, who after early promise surely need to concentrate on Premiership survival? Heavyweights Toulon, who like Leicester require a minor miracle, may put up a fight at home but it is unlikely to see them remain in contention as we head into the final round.
Written by James Jones – 11/01/19