Power Ranking Europe's Top 10 Clubs
With one week of action left in the major European leagues, the big guns are positioning themselves for the second half of a season that promises much.
In France, the top five sides are separated by just six points. Things are a little more strung out in England after a great weekend for Saracens, who are already 14 points clear of Exeter in fifth place.
In the PRO12, Munster and Ulster lead the way, but both have high hopes for European glory this season and could yet suffer on the home front as a result.
Here’s how we stand.
10. (Last Week 7) Leicester, Premiership
A bad news week for the Tigers. They look set to lose fly-half Toby Flood to France at the end of this season, and they got well and truly battered by Saracens this weekend.
Flood was missing for this horror show, having tweaked a hamstring in last week’s win over Montpellier.
Tigers boss Richard Cockerill turned to Ryan Lamb in Flood’s place, but the former Gloucester and London Irishman could only muster one penalty and a conversion as his side was blown away in a 49-10 demolition.
Leicester remain well-placed in their European pool, which keeps them in this list, but their league form is in strife. They have dropped to sixth in the table, seven points off a play-off spot.
9. (10) Castres, Top 14
The 2013 Top 14 champions gave Perpignan a good 37-13 hiding on Saturday.
Scrum half Antonie Claassen bagged a double alongside tries from Remi Tales and Seremaia Bai, as the Catalans went down to a third straight defeat, losing three men to the bin along the way.
Castres have come to the boil nicely at the end of 2013, nestled in behind Clermont Auvergne at the top of the tree in France.
8 (9). Northampton, Premiership
The best sides can win ugly when they need to, and Saints backed up their belligerent display in Dublin with another gritty win on the road.
Their 17-15 triumph over London Wasps at Adams Park came thanks to a Christian Day try and the boot of Stephen Myler.
The latter broke Wasps’ hearts with the winning penalty in the 80th minute that handed Saints a win they scarcely deserved according to ESPN's scrum.com.
Boss Jim Mallinder was even more satisfied with a result achieved while England trio Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Lee Dickson warmed the bench.
7 (2). Toulouse, Top 14
Toulouse are certainly not firing on all cylinders at present. Having lost at home to Connacht two weeks ago, they only squeaked past Bordeaux Begles 18-16 over the weekend.
All their points came from the boot of Lionel Beauxis in a nip/tuck affair at Stade Ernest-Wallon.
The visit of Saracens in January will decide who tops their Heineken Cup pool, and the form book points to the Fez Heads storming their fortress.
6 (3). Leinster, PRO12
Leinster's fluid backline ran dry in Edinburgh as they went down 11-6 to the Scottish side. That's two defeats on the spin for the three-time European champions.
They could only muster two penalties from the boot of Ian Madigan, despite the presence of Brian O’Driscoll in a back line usually so capable of pulling defences apart.
Their work in Europe is not yet done, with a trip away to Castres still to come. Matt O’Connor will need to find the magic dust in the new year.
5 (8). Ulster, PRO12
Ulster moved up to second place in the PRO12 with a 13-6 win over Zebre.
Hands up from this columnist, they have perhaps deserved a better ranking for their feats in Europe so far this season. Now that they have put together some good form in the PRO12, they are firing on both fronts.
The 2012 Heineken Cup finalists will be licking their lips at the prospect of January’s visit to Welford Road with Leicester looking well below par at present.
4 (5). Munster, PRO12
Munster sit atop the PRO12 table, six points clear of Ulster, having left it until injury time for the second week in a row to steal victory.
They were down 9-10 to the Scarlets at Musgrave Park until Ronan O’Mahoney scored in the third minute of injury time.
Their line-up was much changed from that of the side that downed Perpignan in France. Boss Rod Penney will be pleased with the strength in depth that has seen them boss their pool in Europe and top the pile at home.
3 (4). Toulon, Top 14
Jonny Wilkinson was restored to the starting XV as the Heineken Cup champions took Montpellier apart.
Five tries contributed to a 43-10 walloping in front of their home crowd, who have yet to see their side lose at home this season.
Juan Smith, David Smith, Steffon Armitage, Drew Mitchell and Jean-Charles Orioli all crossed, with Wilko and Matt Giteau sharing kicking duties to pile on the agony for Montpellier.
Toulon are on equal points with Castres, four behind leaders Clermont.
2 (6). Saracens, Premiership
Saracens gave the Tigers a mighty mauling at Allianz Park on Saturday. Six tries, including a brace from much-maligned England wing Chris Ashton, made quite a statement to the rest of the Premiership title contenders.
Even the loss of influential England man Owen Farrell to a nasty concussion couldn’t halt the Saracens’ fluency.
They travel to league basement dwellers Worcester next, where they will expect another bonus point try-fest in this sort of form. Warriors fans be warned, it could be X-rated at Sixways next Saturday.
1 (1). Clermont Auvergne, Top 14
Four tries for the league leaders in France put paid to a sorry-looking Biarritz in a 35-6 hammering at the Parc Des Sports Marcel Michelin.
Julien Malzieu, Gerhard Vosloo, Regan King and Thierry Lacrampe all crossed in a dominant display from Clermont, who look in great shape as they lie in wait for third-bottom Oyonnax next weekend.
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