Power Ranking Europe's Top 10 Clubs: Toulouse Topple Clermont
As we head into the finale of the Heineken Cup pool stages, Europe's major players are searching for a purple patch of form.
With Ulster facing Munster and Toulouse going at it with Clermont Auvergne, there was plenty of movement in the top 10 this week, and there is bound to be more over the coming two weekends as these clubs duke it out for the last eight places in Europe's elite competition.
10. (Last Week 10) Castres, Top 14
Castres remain in the top 10 thanks to an ugly Friday night win, 15-9 over Bordeaux-Begles at home.
All the game’s points came from the boot with Castres’ Geoffrey Palis kicking 12 points and Cedric Garcia adding the other three.
It put the champions into second spot ahead of the rest of the weekend’s action, although Stade Francais knocked them down a peg with their away win in Biarritz.
Castres and Stade meet when Top 14 action resumes in a match that will go a long way to establishing the order of things in the league.
Before then, Castres entertain Leinster in a game they must win to keep their Heineken Cup future in their hands.
9. (7) Leicester, Premiership
The Tigers left it late to salvage a 27-27 draw against Bath.
They made up a 10 point deficit with 10 minutes remaining and could have won it at the death if Owen Williams’ conversion had gone over.
The draw leaves the Tigers in fifth on level points with Harlequins, but their stuttering form doesn't bode well for the impending do-or-die clash with Ulster.
8. (3) Toulon, Top 14
Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal is never far from the headlines and he hit them again after his star-studded team sank to a late defeat against Grenobles.
A 78th minute interception try downed Bernard Laporte’s men 22-21 and prompted Boudjellal to question whether his coach would hang around much longer.
7. (4) Munster, PRO12
Munster remain top of the PRO12 despite their defeat to Ulster, and they have a five-point cushion at the top of their Heineken Cup pool.
They travel to Gloucester on Saturday where another below par performance could leave them needing something out of their last match of the pool to seal a home quarter-final, but Rod Penney would rather see an impressive performance at Kingsholm to make a statement.
6. (6) Northampton, Premiership
The Saints dealt Quins a major blow with a comprehensive 23-9 beating at Franklin's Gardens.
George North’s muscular try was the highlight of an unspectacular match but the win keeps Jim Mallinder’s side on Saracens’ coat tails.
They have a job to do against Heineken Cup pool stragglers Ospreys if they want to reach the last round of the group stage with a shot at the last eight.
5. (8) Ulster, PRO12
The Ravenhill roar urged Ulster to a fine win over league leaders Munster.
They raced into a 20-0 lead in the first half but were pegged back in the second to 23-19 before two Ruan Pienaar penalties made the game safe.
Ulster head back into European action on a high after a win that cuts the gap between themselves and Munster to six points.
They top their pool in the Heineken Cup at present and will be hoping to stay there with the visit of Montpellier this coming weekend.
Then it’ll be all down to their trip to Leicester in what is shaping up to be the fixture of the pool stages.
4. (5) Leinster, PRO12
Leinster beat Connacht to remain second in the PRO12.
Their Heineken Cup credentials will come under severe pressure this weekend when they head to Castres.
If they can find a performance at the home of the French champions similar to that they produced at Northampton, they’ll send a serious message to the other main contenders.
The loss of Sean O’Brien is a blow to the reigning PRO12 champions though, and they will miss his physicality in what promises to be a tight match.
3. (9) Toulouse, Top 14
Toulouse regained some momentum with a win over league leaders Clermont Auvergne, 19-12.
Maxime Medard scored the game’s only try, with Jean-Marc Doussain playing at No. 10 and notching the rest of the points with the boot.
Beating a dominant Clermont side is a welcome boost for Guy Noves’ men ahead of the visit of Saracens, the contest that should settle the winners of Pool 3.
2. (1) Clermont Auvergne, Top 14
Clermont tasted their first league defeat since October, which was proof to the rest of Europe that they are still fallible on the road despite their formidable home record.
Their lead is down to three points at the top of the Top 14 log and they will not want to give Quins a sniff in Europe.
They head to the Stoop this weekend where a win will see them through to the knockout stages.
1. (2) Saracens, Premiership
Sarries meted out a 29-8 beating away to Gloucester to re-establish themselves on top of the pile in the Premiership.
It will take something special to stop them from marching to the Grand Final this season. The only question mark will be if they can keep their Heineken Cup campaign on track at the same time.
This weekend’s decisive clash away to Toulouse will give some major clues.